PHNOM PENH'S 'Cyclo Kings' have fallen on hard times. The men who own and hire cyclos
to, in general, the city's poorest say most of their fleets are idle in their yards
Even though cyclos are still popular in the rainy season, motos have taken over as
the most favored means of transport.
Poorer workers, many of whom traditionally come in to the city from the provinces
during the dry season to make some extra cash, are finding it tougher to rent out
cyclos from those who own the cyclo fleets.
Teang Pon traded his way to become one of perhaps 20 or so 'Cyclo Kings' in the capital
during the 1980s and early 90s - a most profitable time for him. But today he is
a worried man. His children are poor, he doesn't have access to an old age pension
and at 65 he's looking for another job.
"But I don't know what job I can do," he sighed softly. "Now I am
an old man and I am not strong."
Pon tells a "Rise and Fall" story that is echoed by other cyclo "magnates"
spoken to by the Post.
Pon was born and grew up in Saang district, Kandal province. Working hard to live
off the land he never had time to go to school but prospered well enough to move
to Phnom Penh in the early 70s, when he and his family opened a shop.
That business disappeared in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge marched down Monivong
Boulevard. The next three years was simply, he said, a struggle to survive: "I
had to go to Battambang and work building houses but at that time there was no food
to eat. Life was terrible - three of my daughters died of starvation."
Pon, unlike so many others, somehow made it through three plus years of the Pol Pot
regime and returned to his land in Kandal. In 1980 he moved back to Phnom Penh where
he sold stoves and within a few years had enough money to buy eight cyclos.
Things went well and within a short time his fleet had expanded to 16 three-wheelers,
busy all the time, hired out to itinerate drivers for 2,000 riel a day.
"Then I never had to do anything. All my cyclos were busy and they gave me a
lot of money. With the money I made I could feed ten people," he said proudly.
But that was then and this is now.
"In 1983 it was easy to earn money with cyclos because there were no motos.
But now there are many motos, they are cheap and get people around the city quickly."
Now, only two of his cyclos are routinely rented out and "I can not live on
4,000 riels a day - I do not know what to do," he said.
Most of his drivers came from Prey Veng, Kompong Speu and Takeo where, according
to Pon, irrigation schemes have improved productivity to a point where many people
no longer need to come to Phnom Penh for seasonal work.
"Now they can grow rice in the dry season so they don't come to the city looking
for work. If they do come most are rich enough to buy a moto - sometimes when their
moto is stolen they come back and they can sleep in my house without paying money.
But not many are interested in being cyclo drivers anymore."
Pon said that unless business picks up soon, he will have to find another job, if
"I have told my children to work in construction to make money because driving
cyclos doesn't make enough money for me to live.
"I have no choice. Our society has no homes for the old people, we just have
pagodas. I must depend on my children to give me money to live.
"But my three children earn only 50,000 riels a month. They can not live well
so they find it difficult to feed their parents as their parents used to feed them.
"I do not know what I shall do."