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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

‘Cyclo-Cambodia’ pedals for a better life and a greener city


‘Cyclo-Cambodia’ pedals for a better life and a greener city

Cyclo drivers pose for a photo with tourists in central Phnom Penh.

Kris Dhiradityakul
Through bustling traffic in the dusty and smoky town of Phnom Penh, a group of cyclo drivers are taking tourists on a journey of discovery. Sitting in the open front of the cyclo, with the driver at the back, I was transported back in time, feeling like an elegant Chinese mandarin riding in his rickshaw to collect his taxes from the peasants, as they did back in the good old, bad old days.
Packed with all kinds of vehicles, Phnom Penh is rapidly becoming more and more urbanized, with more and more people from rural areas moving into the city looking for employment. Phnom Penh has a population of 1 million, packed into an area of five square kilometers, out of the entire country’s population of 14 million. The town’s economy has been thriving on the growth of tourism for the last five years. With this fast pace of economic growth and urbanization, it is inevitable that Phnom Penh is experiencing environmental problems.
“It’s very good, very exciting,” said a tourist from Canada. “Riding along the Sihamouni Boulevard, I could see the locals staring at us - some smiling and waving. Cyclos are a good idea to promote clean, non-polluting transportation, thus protecting the environment, and providing tourists with a fascinating travel experience. The government should definitely support it.”
This is the opinion of one of the tourists from GAP Adventures, a company based in Canada, which has been supporting the Cyclo Foundation in Cambodia for the last five years. With many tourists embracing cyclos, their drivers, all from the poorest class of society in the rural countryside of Cambodia, compete for road-space with noisy and smoky vehicles ranging from old, worn-out motorbikes, tuk-tuks to luxurious and expensive large cars.
At times, while riding in cyclos, I found myself sandwiched by motorbikes and land cruisers, with horns being over-used by all the motor vehicle drivers to intimidate our cyclo driver. “It’s noisy, dusty and smoky, and it’s not an easy ride on the streets of Phnom Penh. You’ve got to be very careful,” said Paula, 22, a polite young cyclo man from Kampong Thom Province. “Constant blowing of horns can make you feel irritated, even though everyone has the right of way and the streets belong to everyone.”
With no signs of worry on his face, Paula tries his best to ensure a safe and fun ride for the tourists who visit this great capital city of Cambodia. The cyclo drivers show no fear of the horns and the other vehicles trying to force them to move faster or even run them off the street, and just keep riding calmly. According to Paula, “The noisy horn is quite normal in Phnom Penh, so I’m used to it, especially during the rush hour. But the most annoying thing is the smoke emitted from all those old vehicles. I don’t know about other countries, but here in Phnom Penh it really is bad.”
Paula is one amongst thousands of cyclo drivers who come from the rural areas to look for better opportunities - but end up driving cyclos for tourists as a living.
“Driving a cyclo is a start for us in Phnom Penh, as you don’t require any educational background, paperwork, or complicated skills. You can do it as long as you can pedal. Fortunately, I was lucky to be able to join the Cyclo Foundation, which helped me find a cheap cyclo to rent and provided basic training in English as well as helping to find customers.”
When asked how he found and joined the Cyclo Foundation, Paula gave credit to friends and relatives who persuaded him to join this forward-looking, not-for-profit organization set up to help cyclo drivers from rural areas. According to Sambat, Cyclo Aid Project’s Coordinator, the foundation was set up, not only to provide support to the cyclo drivers, but to help alleviate poverty and reduce or solve the city’s environmental and social problems through using cyclos.
“We came up with the idea of helping cyclo drivers because they are a group of desperate men from the countryside who come to the big city to look for a job,” says Sambat. “Yes, these people are desperate in terms of their lack of education, qualifications, skills or money. They don’t have money to invest in anything. They don’t have a place to stay in town - they sleep in their cyclos. Imagine what it’s like when it rains! They come to the city with friends, and they can’t find any other job because of their lack of qualifications. This job is for those living below the poverty line - most of the drivers are too poor to even live in poor communities, with many still living in their vehicles on the streets of the city.”
The foundation provides cyclo drivers with a place where they can take a shower, socialize, and get together for their regular meetings and training sessions. Driving cyclos enables them to earn money from tourists with the possibility of big tips if they please their passengers.
According to Sambat, “Basically, Phnom Penh has no public buses - the more it grows the more motor vehicles are used because of their convenience, fast pace, and better social status. Now, in the city, we have motorbike gangsters who enjoy causing air and noise pollution. They think they are better than others, just because of their irritating motorbikes.
“Through this project we can reflect on the social and environmental situation and also run an anti-smoking campaign as it is related to the environment. I am pretty sure that the cyclo drivers are not only proud of their clean, carbon-free service to tourists, and also proud of their clean life with no smoking puffing out of their mouths!”
The Cambodian government has invited the project’s organisers to run an environmental campaign - Sambat considers that such a project would benefit the entire Cambodian community. The Cyclo project currently supports over 1,000 drivers from poor, rural areas, who undergo a training and rehabilitation programme when they join the foundation. Perhaps this is a seriously fine idea for other large cities in South East Asia – Chiang Mai, for example!
For more details, or to support the project, please visit www.cyclo.org.uk.
Kris Dhiradityakul is a freelance travel journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Phnom Penh cyclo drivers find an ingenious way to sleep with their vehicles.


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