Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cambodia's cyclo drivers pin hopes on tourism

Phnom Penh cyclo driver pedals one of the shrinking number of local 
people who use the 70-year-old method of travel. [Robert Carmichael]
Robert Carmichael
Thu, 17 Jun 2010 08:55:00 +0700

Cambodia's iconic cyclos are dwindling with decreased demand from residents in the capital, Phnom Penh, but drivers are hoping an increased tourist trade will help them survive.
The three-wheeled cyclo, with its bucket seat between the two front wheels for the passengers, and the driver perched high up behind them above the rear wheel, pedalling away, was brought to Cambodia by the   French 70 years ago.
Ten years ago, 9,000 drivers made their livings pedalling cyclos around the capital - today there are just 1,300.
Im Sambath, the head of the Cyclo Conservation and Career Association, says with locals preferring faster transportation on motorbikes and tuk tuks, drivers are relying on tourism to maintain their careers.
"The tourists like what is the new thing, the strange thing, like the cyclo - the foreign countries they don't have the cyclo," he said.
"So when they visit Cambodia they want to see what's strange, what's new. So that they can see the cyclo - [it is] very strange for them. Sometimes they say relaxing on the cyclo along the riverside, so it is a good thing for them."
Seventy-five year old, Oum Sok, who has pedalled the flat streets of Phnom Penh since he was just 18, is the oldest member of the cyclo association.
He says what was once used by locals is now being emraced by tourists.
"When I was young I could earn a lot, but now everything is expensive," he said.
"Another thing is that the customers don't want to take a cyclo with an old man like me driving."
Most drivers are from the rural provinces of Cambodia where work opportunities are few.
In Phnom Penh their living costs are low - at night they congregate on the pavements with their cyclos and sleep in the bucket seats, so they can send more money home to their families in the provinces.
For ten dollars a head, drivers take tourists to on a day-tour of the city's major landmarks, which are all located within a three-mile radius, meaning the slower pace of the cyclos is not an issue.
Margie Edmonds, an Australian tourist from Melbourne, says the cyclo journey ranks among the best experiences she has had in Asia.
"It's the only way to go," she said.
"Been right around the city - I'd get on another one in a minute." 

(source from ABC radio Australia)

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