They’re an iconic image on the streets and around the markets of Phnom Penh. Usually older men, legs stretching down from atop their mounts as they pedal and push the city’s citizens and their market goods home or groups of tourists along the capital’s long, tree-lined boulevards, cyclo-drivers are a reflection of Cambodia’s past and an essential part of its present. They preserve a languid romanticism in the midst of a city whose foot is otherwise glued to the accelerator.
In January this year, Prime Minister Hun Sen reached out to this community of around 400 men, offering them free health care, a recognition not only of their importance, but also their need. Cyclo drivers are among the most vulnerable people in the city.
For almost ten years, the Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association (CCCA) has been working to protect the interests of this ever-dwindling pool of pedal power. They took over the activities of an earlier organisation founded in 1999, the Cyclo Centre Phnom Penh (CCCP), and maintained their commitment to the welfare and futures of these men who come to the city hoping to earn a little money to send home.
The CCCA provides invaluable health care, education, hygiene and supports services for the drivers, including a campaign to encourage them to give up smoking. Meanwhile, cyclo tours in Phnom Penh help them to earn them an income while giving tourists a unique perspective on the city and its historical buildings. Indeed tourists might be the only real hope of survival for a form of transport that is eternally romantic, but no longer meets the needs of a city on a surge.