Sin Sokhum has been plying the streets of Phnom Penh on his trusty cyclo for 34 years.
The $5 the 59-year-old grandfather of seven earns most days goes a long way to helping his family buy fertilizer and livestock for their two-hectare farm back home, in Kampong Speu.
In the capital, however, Sokhum spends each night huddled together with a small group of fellow cyclo drivers on the corner of street 13 and 130 to sleep in their pedicabs parked on the sidewalk. Sleeping in the open is not without its peril.
“Last time, there were men who sold drugs on the same street and it can be dangerous,” he said.
Im Sambath, president of the Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association (CCCA), said they have tracked a number of cases where cyclo drivers have had money stolen while sleeping rough.
The challenges faced by cyclo drivers are something the government and CCCA are trying to tackle in the hopes of staunching their dwindling ranks; now there are fewer than 500 drivers. Yesterday, representatives from the CCCA met with Tourism Minister Thong Khon to discuss if safer accommodation or night-time parking space could be found for cyclo drivers.
Among the ideas floated was to arrange shelter within pagodas, something Sambath said he would discuss with chief monks.
As cyclo numbers continue to drop amid an ever-widening landscape of cars and motorbikes, Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for keeping the iconic cyclo a viable mode of transport in Phnom Penh. The Tourism Ministry, meanwhile, has latched on to the idea as a way to charm visitors.
“Cyclos are a green mode of transport and a favourite with tourists. It will contribute to making Phnom Penh a green city,” said Khon.