The Cyclo Men of Phnom Penh

6am is the ideal time to be out and about in Phnom Penh. Not only is the temperature cooler but also the streets are relatively free of traffic and noise; Khmer families are sitting out on the streets, sharing a noodle soup, many locals are returning from the markets with fresh supplies of vegetables, egss, meats and poultry. It’s at this time of day Phnom Penh’s cylco riders are often at their busiest.
The cylco men of Phnom Penh, sleep, lounged back, in the recliner chairs of their three-wheel contraptions. On the street corners at night, cyclos bunch together, forming a sleeping gang and rest throughout the night, waiting for the ‘wake up uncle” from an early morning customer, usually a young woman heading to, or returning from, the markets loaded-up with supplies. Still, there’s a lot more cylcos than jobs and this brotherhood of pedal pushers - the cyclo men, is a living sample of Phnom Penh’s past. A glimpse of life in more relaxed times or perhaps an insight to life in the sleepy capital – then the Jewel of Indochine. The halcyon days, calm years of the sixties and early 70’s, a time of peace back when the thenKing of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk spent much of his time directing films and recording pop songs seemingly oblivious to the looming shadows of war. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to picture characters such as KGB or CIA operatives sometimes riding a cyclo to or from clandestine meetings or a shady rendezvous’ at a time when various factions of the Cambodian elite began to split as the Cold War increasingly encroached upon this small, powerless but newly independent and determinedly neutral nation. At this time, the cyclo men must have been kings of the road, perched up high upon their seats, peddling all manner of passengers about the city, then and still today, such a well preserved example French colonialism. Once upon a time, the cylco men must have ruled the commuter trade, a trade now dominated by the city’s endless stream of tuk tuks, motos and taxis. Still the cyclo men seem proud as they continue to seek out passengers along the streets of a city where many of these elderly men can remember well, days when the air wasn’t so thick with deisel and two-stroke, traffic pollution now such a part of Phnom Penh’s distinct aroma.