On a recent afternoon, Chdou Kosey, a third-year student at
the National University of Management, sat on his cyclo reading a book of
conversational English. He peddled his cyclo, he said, to support his studies.
"If I used my family's money for my studies here, it
would be too much for them," the 22-year-old said. "Therefore, I
decided to peddle a cyclo in my free time."
Unlike other cyclo drivers, who are typically of an older
generation, Chdou Kosey said he merely wished to explore the life of cyclo
peddlers. Besides, he said, there are stories of many successful people who
started off as cyclo drivers.
"In fact, I heard from my teacher that some
excellencies also peddled the cyclo," he said. "The cyclo is just my
The cyclo has been a ubiquitous vehicle since it was brought
by the French under colonization. An estimated 2,000 can still be found, mainly in Phnom Penh,
but the numbers are dwindling.
The cyclo has been a traditional job provider for many provincial poor. A
typical cyclo driver often has no place to sleep but the street, or in pagodas,
and they are often hustled away by police. Some people say the cyclo, though
pollution free, may be on its last leg, as demand for them decreases.
Still, cyclo drivers persist. Pich Moeung, 66, who was
waiting one day for a passenger outside the National Museum,
said he had been peddling since Sangkum Reastr Niyum; his father had pulled a
rickshaw for the French.
Now, he has a cyclo purchased on loan from a local
organization. He pays about 1,000 riel per day from his 15,000 riel daily
earnings, he said, "and the rest is used for buying food and for savings."
Keo Chantha, who sells cyclos from a shop in Phnom Penh, blamed the
decrease in demand on the increased purchases of tuk-tuks and other passenger
"There are many three-wheeled motorbikes, so I sold out
[most of] my cyclos because there are fewer peddlers," she said. "I
may stop doing this business in a year. Now there are about 10 cyclo shops left
in Phnom Penh
because there is no space for parking and no peddlers. I think it will
disappear in the next four or five years."
With prices of food and other goods increasing nationwide,
cyclo drivers say they have not seen an increase in their own fares. Faced with
penny-pinching dilemmas, cyclo passengers seem lothe to part with increased
"The riders are former customers, no new
customers," said Chdou Kosey, the student. "Some dare to buy
motorbikes, so they do not mind spending money for the high fuel. The price for
cyclo remains the same."