If it is your first time travelling in South East Asia, the ubiquitous tuk-tuk would have fascinated and frustrated you in equal measure. It’s an interesting way to get around but tuk-tuk drivers can be a hassle and bargaining with them is a skill not many of us have. However, beyond this superficial contact, I sometimes wander what they are like; to see them more than a tuk-tuk driver – a person.
So when I was in Siem Reap, I contacted my friend, the founder of Krousar Thmey, who arranged for a tuk-tuk driver to bring me around. Piset was one of the street children that Krousar Thmey helped. Seizing this chance, I sat down with Piset for a chat about his life and the organization.
Q: What’s your name and how old are you?
P: My name is Piset and I’m 28 years old.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself?
P: I am married with 2 daughters, a 5 year-old and a 2 year-old. I am a tuk-tuk driver and my wife works in the hospital.
Q: You were a street kid before?
Q: How did you end up in the street?
P: I am from a small village called Saitu, near the Thai border. There were lots of fightings and wars going on when I was young and both my parents were killed in the wars. I was about 8 years old then. So I started living in the streets in order to survive; begging and scavenging for food. It was a very tough and difficult times.
Q: How did you come to know about Krousar Thmey?
P: I was about 10 years old and living in the market at that time, when some workers from the organization came to me and told me that they could provide a place for me to live and study. That’s better than living in the street, so I went with them. So in 1991 they brought me to Phnom Penh and put me in a protection centre. There were many other children, most of them were from the street too, like me.
Q: What was life in the centre like?
P: Life got much better. We had a bed to sleep, we went to school, studied English, learnt music and dance, etc. Life in the street was freer, I could do whatever I wanted. However life in the centre was more controlled, less freedom, more rules and regulations, but they are for our good. Unlike in the street where I had to fight with other children, in the centre, I had more friends and we all got along very well.
Q: I understand why you study English, but what about music and dance?
P: That was to give us more options. When I was older, I started performing music and dance in restaurants and hotels to earn money for myself.
Q: What did you do after that?
P: I went to a cooking school for 1 year. Then I worked as a chef for 4 years with a company that prepared food for the airline.
Q: Was it a good job? What happened later?
P: It was a nice job with good pay. But it closed down in 2006.
Q: So since then you became a tuk-tuk driver?
P: Yes. I am renting this tuk-tuk I have, every month I pay an instalment and after 2 years it will be mine.
Q: How is the earning as a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap?
P: It is good especially in high season (Nov-Mar). I get work everyday. But in low season (Apr-Oct) there aren’t enough work to go around, so I stay at home and spend time with my family. I rear chickens, plant fruits and bring my daughter to and from school.
Q: Is it hard being a tuk-tuk driver?
P: Yes, it is very competitive. There are many tuk-tuk drivers and sometimes we have to compete with each other for customers. Some tuk-tuk drivers are more aggressive so they get more customers. I’m more mild manner so sometimes I lose out to them. Most of the times I get customers referred to me by Krousar Thmey, that helps me a lot.
Q: Did you ever have any problem with customers?
P: No, thankfully. But I’ve heard some of the tuk-tuk drivers have had problems with customers. Some tourists treated them badly or did not respect them. But so far I’ve been lucky, most of my customers treated me very nicely and I try my best to provide a good service to them.
Q: Tell me more about your time with Krousar Thmey.
P: Krousar Thmey is a good place. Without them, I don’t know where I would end up, what I would have done with my life, or who I would have become. The organization gave me a life and an identity, they gave me what I otherwise wouldn’t have. They gave me education and opportunity to get jobs. I now have a normal life because of them. They are a blessing to me.
Q: Are you still involved with the organization?
P: Yes, whenever there is an event I will go and speak to the children to give them hope. Using myself as an example, I tell them how I could break away from a miserable life and become who I am today, with a job and a simple but good life.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
P: I met her at Krausar Thmey. We were living in the same place.
Q: I can tell that you are very contented with your life.
P: Yes I am.
If you are looking for a friendly, reliable and honest tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap and your tour around Angkor temples, I’d strongly recommend Piset. He charges a normal rate and has a very comfortable tuk-tuk. To find him, call Borann Hotel at (855) 63 964 740.