Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The French mother navigating the capital in her own personal tuk-tuk

The French mother navigating the capital in her own personal tuk-tuk

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cecile’s used to getting her fair share of strange looks as female ‘barang’ who uses a tuk-tuk as her daily vehicle. Husain Haider

The French mother navigating the capital in her own personal tuk-tuk

French woman Cecile Dahome gracefully manoeuvres her tuk-tuk through the manic streets of Phnom Penh with the precision of a Japanese katana before a herd of motorcyclists, attempting to perform illegal U-turns, cuts her off.

The riders, like baby ducklings following their mother’s tracks, grant themselves right of way, bringing traffic to a standstill on Sisowath Quay.

“It’s times like these you wish you had those magic shells [as seen in computer game Mario Kart] to throw at people,” Cecile says in jest.

In fact, the 37-year-old likened the entire experience of driving a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh to “playing a game of Mario Kart”.

She bought her white, three-wheeled, four-stroke, Indian-made Bajaj Re Mk II straight from the showroom on the very week it became available in Cambodia nearly two and a half years ago.

While the MK II is certainly a step-up from its predecessor – with its increased storage capacity, the addition of a reverse gear and improved build quality – Cecile says her relationship with the tuk-tuk was initially very much a marriage of convenience.

The tuk-tuk, she says, is her third attempt at trying to secure a safe, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to navigate the capital’s clogged and chaotic streets.

First, she had a bicycle, but Cecile says she quickly learned she couldn’t continue showing up to business meetings drenched in sweat.

Next, she and her husband bought scooters, but upon learning that she was pregnant, Cecile knew she had to find a safer way to get around the city that wouldn’t jeopardise the baby’s wellbeing.

A car wasn’t on the cards, says Cecile, not least due to the cost of purchasing and insuring one, as well as the time she would waste in Phnom Penh’s famously bad traffic jams and the negative environmental impact.

As the founder of Sevea Consulting – which assists NGOs and stakeholders on environmental, humanitarian and infrastructure projects meant to improve the livelihoods of everyday Cambodians, particularly those in rural communities – she says she couldn’t justify the environmental impact of having a car.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

“The initial intention was not to be a model [citizen], the initial intention was really security for my family. But after having driven it for two years now, I really think that it should be a way of commuting that should be more accepted by everyone … because it pollutes a lot less,” Cecile says of her liquefied petroleum gas-powered machine.

At a petrol station near Central Market, Cecile’s tidily groomed Pomeranian dog Lilou more closely resembles toy than beast as it basks in the attention of attendants and curious passersby who crane their necks to see what all the fuss is about.

The curiosity and crowds are an inevitable reality for Cecile; it isn’t everyday that a foreigner is seen at the pumps filling up a tuk-tuk, much less a woman.

Later on, at the corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk boulevards, a curious lady pulls her motorbike alongside Cecile’s tuk-tuk with a broad grin.

Moments earlier both women had been shopping at a nearby convenience store where the motorcyclist had snapped a picture of Lilou in the back seat with her mobile phone.

“Really? It’s yours?” asks the commuter while keeping an eye on the traffic lights.

Cecile says that this is one of her favourite things about driving a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh – the reaction from locals.

“Honestly, one of my favourite things about driving a tuk-tuk is the reaction from people . . . before we bought it we asked a bunch of people – locals [Cambodians], tuk-tuk drivers, foreigners as well – and everyone said it was just a great idea,” says Cecile.

“The interesting part is that I have both Cambodians and foreigners asking me ‘How much did I buy it for? Is it safe?’ When I tell them that I bought it for around $2,500 and it’s now [selling for] $3,500 — they really become quite interested.”

Beyond the convenience, safety and cost, Cecile also sees her tuk-tuk as a way of life and a message to others.

“It has become a way to show people that you can do things differently without having to compromise so much on your way of life.

“That’s my day-to-day job, convincing people that things need to change, but things cannot happen in one day. So how can you mitigate the impact of your day to day life? Driving a tuk-tuk actually is one!” she says.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon