News / Asia

Iconic Cyclo Disappearing From Phnom Penh's Streets

Oum Sok began working as a cyclo driver when he was 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.
Oum Sok began working as a cyclo driver when he was 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.

Multimedia

Audio
Robert Carmichael

The cyclo has been a distinctive feature of Phnom Penh's streets for 70 years, stretching back to the days when Cambodia was a French colony. But this form of transport has begun to fade away.



New York has its yellow cab. London has its red bus. But Phnom Penh has its cyclo - a three-wheeled bicycle with the driver perched on high above the rear wheel, and the passengers in a bucket seat slung between the two front wheels.

This iconic vehicle has proved a comfortable - if slow - way of getting around Cambodia's capital for the best part of a century. But that is changing.

Sharp decline

In the past decade the number of cyclos on the city's streets has declined sharply. Im Sambath heads the Cyclo Conservation and Career Association, which looks out for the interests of the drivers.

Im Sambath is the head of the cyclo association. He says tourism is the way forward for the city's embattled cyclo drivers.
Im Sambath is the head of the cyclo association. He says tourism is the way forward for the city's embattled cyclo drivers.

"Now we have around 1,300 cyclo drivers in Phnom Penh. But from our survey, in 1999 [we had] around 9,000 cyclos," he notes.

He estimates in five years, there could be only 500 or 600 cyclos left.

Why it's happening

Im Sambath says there are a number of reasons for the decline - from the changing travel habits of the Phnom Penh's citizens to the rise of the tuktuk - a motorized rickshaw.

"And tuktuks are quicker than cyclo, and can take their equipment from the market or something else easier than a cyclo," he says.

Im Sambath is the head of the cyclo association. He says tourism is the way forward for the city's embattled cyclo drivers.
Im Sambath is the head of the cyclo association. He says tourism is the way forward for the city's embattled cyclo drivers.

Cyclo drivers pay around 25 cents a month to join the Cyclo Association. The hundred or so members get washing facilities, HIV/AIDS education and other health benefits.

But most valuably, they get access to foreign tourists. Im Sambath says as local demand drops, foreign tourists are the future.

The association works with travel agents to arrange cyclo tours of Phnom Penh, in which tourists are pedaled around this flat city's compact array of sights.

Oldest driver

The association's oldest member, Oum Sok, 75, began working as a cyclo driver at age 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.
The association's oldest member, Oum Sok, 75, began working as a cyclo driver at age 18. He says the city has become very expensive over the years, making it much harder to earn a living.

The association's oldest cyclo driver is 75-year-old Oum Sok. He has been pedaling the city's streets since he was 18.

Like most drivers, Oum Sok is from rural Cambodia where there is little work. Like them, he parks his cyclo on the sidewalk each night in a gaggle of other drivers, and sleeps in the bucket seat.

Ferrying tourists provides a reasonable living. Oum Sok earns $8 from the association for a day's work, plus any tips.

But it is no fortune. While waiting outside the city's National Museum for the tourists to emerge, he talks about the changes in his half century of pedaling people around Phnom Penh.

Down, but not out

He says when he was young, he could earn a lot, but now everything is expensive. Another thing is that the customers do not want to take a cyclo with an old man like him driving.

But he acknowledges his age can prove a benefit. In a culture that respects age, Cambodians tend to tip better than the tourists.

But tourists may be the way forward for most cyclo drivers.

Australian Margie Edmonds has just spent the morning as part of a cyclo tour with about 20 tourists.

"Well I just thought it was the most amazing way to do it," she says. "Their [the drivers] understanding of the traffic, and their kindness. It was one of the best experiences I've had in Asia. Great fun, very safe and very comfortable vehicles too."

Back at the association, Im Sambath says the cyclo is down, but not out.

He is optimistic that targeting the two million tourists visiting Cambodia each year will allow the dwindling stock of drivers to provide for their families in the provinces.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More