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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid