Tuk-tuk tales: life inside the lady lane

Tuk-tuk tales: life inside the lady lane

9 Chantham Um

More than 3000 tuk-tuk and motordop drivers work the streets of Phnom Penh today. The vast majority are male: there are only a handful of women who work what is widely regarded as man’s work, according to Von Poy, President of the Independent Democratic of Informal Economic Association (IDEA) which acts as an informal union for tuk-tuk and motodop drivers. Ruth Keber and Khouth Sophak Chakrya heard three different stories about life on the road as a woman.

Chatham Um
when Um Chanthan learned from a friend that her husband had taken a second wife, and the two were raising children, what was her first response? She decided to become a motodop.

Friends and family counselled her against her decision, saying that it was a dangerous and unsuitable job for a woman, but she didn’t listen.

“They said I should be a housewife or work in a factory, in a restaurant or beer garden but I did not care,” she said.

Her first customer was a friend, who she drove to her office. Then, realising she could earn a living and support her children this way, she began to take other women who lived close to her to the markets in the mornings.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Neth Sagn was one of Cambodia’s first tuk-tuk drivers. Photo by Ruth Keber

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
“They are jealous...They say it is no job for a woman,” driver Sarah* said of the men that taunt her. Photo by Ruth KebeR

She went on to work as a motordop for the next 13 years.

Her typical day starts at 3:30am, when she drives her first customer to the market.

She works until 11am when she then goes back home to cook lunch for children and herself and then takes her children to school by 12.30pm.

She then works into the day, not stopping until eight or nine in the evening.

With no real formal education or schooling, Um learned basic English from her early customers who helped pay her English schools fees.

She said she now knows Phnom Penh very well and knows the areas to keep away from at night.

She has never been in an accident, she says.

The only problems she has encountered have come from the men she works alongside.

“They always say “if you (the customers) take a motorbike with her you will have problems because she is a bad driver.”

“However, my customers believe in me and my driving.

“I do not care what they say.

“My family do not discriminate against me.”

Neth Sagn
One of The Kingdom’s first female tuk-tuk drivers, Neth Sagn, has driven a tuk-tuk since she married her husband five years ago.

The now 30-year-old used to work as a waitress at Taboo on River Side and her husband worked as a motordop driver at the same spot.

Chemistry between the two grew and they married after dating for a year. Now they have two children.

After they married, Neth’s husband taught her to drive a motorbike and she swiftly got into the tuk-tuk business.

She now owns her own tuk-tuk and drives everyday.

She also works at a TchouTchou School, cooking twice a week to earn extra money.

“For me I love it, I want to drive a tuk-tuk forever,” she said.

She said on a slow day she would only earn between $10 and $15 but on a good day anywhere up to double or triple this.

Once she made $120 in a day, she said.

Her dream is to run a small restaurant out of her tuk-tuk where she can provide her clients with food and cocktails as she ferries them around the capital.

Sagn said she has had problems with customers over the years that she has been driving.

“I picked up a Scottish man from near FCC once and drove him to near street 136, the fare was only worth one dollar.

“But when we got there he said if I wanted the dollar I would have to sleep with him.

“So I said I didn’t want his money and left.”

She has had two other customers that have not paid.

“It’s no problem, it’s only a few dollars so I just leave.”

For Sarah, the charms of being one of the city’s only female tuk tuk drivers wore off fast.

“I have been driving for four years, but now I have no customers,” she said.

“First I went to university, studied English, and afterwards got a job working for a tour company as a driver.

“I did that for four years before taking on my own tour guide company from 2009 to 2010.

After the first year of her own tour company business she did not have enough money to renew her contract so she started tuk-tuk driving instead.

“I was very scared when I first started - I like to drive but the traffic in Phnom Penh is scary.”

When she had saved enough money, she bought her own tuk-tuk - a $2000 investment.

But annual slow seasons with few tourists, as well as harassment from male drivers has meant the once busy driver has been forced to sell her tuk-tuk.

She said the male tuk-tuk drivers that work in her area chastise her and make it difficult for her to find customers.

“They are jealous of me, they say this is no job for a woman.”

The male drivers began to tell her regular clients that she is busy or away in order to take her business, she said.

“They also tell customers that I charge too much and not to come with me.

“They tell them that I am lazy.”

She only has one or two customers per day.

“This job is no good. My family doesn’t know, they think I am working in an office.

“They don’t want me in a difficult job.”

“I want to change but I do not have another job or a choice.”

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.


  • Protests planned in New York as Hun Sen to attend the UN

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. But US-based supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) plan to throw eggs at his car as part of a series of protests to coincide

  • CPP: ‘Behave or Sokha suffers’

    The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman warned Kem Monovithya on Thursday that her attempt to damage “national reputation and prestige” would lead to her father, Kem Sokha, receiving even harsher punishment. Sok Eysan issued the warning as Monovithya, who is the court dissolved

  • News Analysis: Defiance can last for how long?

    The Cambodian government has so far stood strong in the face of mounting international pressure over its treatment of critics, but analysts, diplomats and ruling party officials now wonder how long the defiance can last. The European Union has led the firestorm of criticism, threatening

  • ‘Freedom fighters’ or ‘foreign puppets?’

    Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Meach Sovannara was joined by supporters at a rally in California on Saturday, where a US lawmaker hailed members of the outlawed opposition as “great freedom fighters”. However, a Cambodian government spokesman said such a phrase belonged to