As our guide warned
us, the country is poorer than the previous countries we visited over the
last month. Many people cannot work and beggars gather around the tourists
asking for money. We saw first signs of this as we drove to our hotel:
The Angkor International. Right beside our stop was a man, all bones, injured,
lying on a a rag with a tin cup. All along the street were "goods" for
sale, and later, we noticed that they were all old -- used sandals, clothes,
etc. The people were not dressed as neatly as in Vietnam - and many seemed
to be struggling more to stay alive.
After a rest, started off on
a tour of the downtown area that featured many heritage sites. The tour
we took was on cyclos (pronounced see-cloe). These three-wheeled
conveyances were introduced to Phnom Penh streets in 1936 and are a very
silent and graceful way to travel through the busy city streets.
We sat in a bucket seat between
two large bicycle wheels in front of a collapsible canopy. The driver perched
behind on a high seat above the third wheel, which gave him good visibility
of the road ahead. The cyclo was pedal powered and the brakes were operated
by a hand-pulled lever behind the driver. The seat had a footrest which
the driver tilted to help us get in and out, and which also provided some
protection from other vehicles.
We were told that the Cyclo drivers
are among the poorest of the urban poor in Cambodia. They tend to be older,
often from the countryside and they generally don't speak much English.
Their curious cyclo vehicles provided a unique and exciting way for us
to see the multitude of sights as the hectic activity of this bustling
city whirled around and past us.
Sadly, the cyclos are apparently
dying out as the younger generations lean toward faster motorcycles
and tuk tuks for city transportation. The slower more romantic cyclo, however,
is an ideal way to observe the city population, streets, trees, architecture,
landmarks, and all the points of interest in this vibrant and densely populated