Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The tuk-tuk

Another quintessential element on Cambodian roads is the tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are essentially 3-wheel motorized taxi's, found mostly on Asian roads as an improvement of the non-motorized rickshaws. Some enterprising personalities have started up a Wikipedia page on this Asian phenomenon. also delves into the tuk-tuk theme. Apparently there's even a book entitled 'Temples and tuk-tuks', though it seems the tuk-tuk was chosen as it is a word starting with a t. One surprising factor underlying the existence of the tuk-tuk are the many forms in which they reveal themselves. Each form is often relevant to just a part of the country or confined within 1 country.

Oddly enough, Cambodian's local version looks more like a chariot without the horse in front. Instead there's a non-descript motorcycle which pulls the two wheeled cart, everything connected to a knob on the motorcycle. The driver is of course on the motorcycle, the chariot has two facing sofa seats. This allows for roughly 4 passengers and that also seems to be the limitfor the motorcycle, more people slows the contraption down substantially. This probably explains why the locals shun tuk-tuks as if you get a contaigous disease from sitting in them! Cambodia's public transport rule number 1 is: if it fits, it must be ok. Taxi's with 10 paying passengers (two sitting on the same seat as the driver), pick-ups with 70 (rough estimate) buses with complete mid-size cities in them... But in the tuk-tuk you can easily put 10-15 passengers but the motor is not upto it. So the tuk-tuk service is mainly geared to the foreign market.

What more can be added? Well possessing a tuk-tuk is the pipe dream of every moto-driver. But the qualifications are high. You need to be a character, speak fluent English, probably be well off and know your way around town, the latter qualification proving to be stumbling block for most moto's.

Tuk-tuk's are reasonably comfortable, a bit slow and come with custom made raincoats. The backseat is used for various advertisements, smart and savvy thinking there.

I've tried looking up web-sites on Cambodian tuk-tuks, non-existent! Stickman ,though, from Thailand observes:
Why not a tuk-tuk? Because they're not the same as in Thailand. Tuktuks are merely a four seat tuk-tuk styled trailer that gets towed behind a motorsai (he means a moto!) and appear to be by far the most popular form of transportation among tourists. During the dark hours I noticed that only about one in ten of these tuk-tuks had working tail lights and was actually worried we'd run up the back of one filled with tourists. I asked Mr. Phansey about this and he went into some interesting tales about tuktuks in Cambodia. The most popular theme is when the yoke breaks off from the duct taped on seat mount and the tourists go flying onto the cement. Supposedly it happened rather badly the day before I arrived and two men ended up with severe head injuries. Wheels also fly off he claims (I believe this, ride behind one and watch them wobble around) causing less serious injuries.

Stickman is either very imaginative or has been on a roll back then, because the tuk-tuk phenomena he describes are not common, though Crossing Cambodia certainly does not rule out this happening.

After this insight there's not much to add to the tuk-tuk story. But let me tell you that the Cambodian tuk-tuk is slowly evolving, there are many different forms, so many that the typical Cambodian tuk-tuk has not been photographed by Crossing Cambodia, so I freely 'lend' someone else's.

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