Streetlife: A Man’s World?

Finding a dependable, safe motorbike driver (motodup) is a difficult feat, even in Phnom Penh where an excess of drivers roam the streets, ranging from the unemployed college graduate to new migrants from the provinces. Oum Chanton, a familiar face in Boeng Keng Kang, has been getting her passengers safely to their destination for seven years.

It is an unusual choice of vocation for a woman, but motodup-ing suits Oum Chanton just fine. Occasionally driving a moto as a side job in the year 2000, Chanton discovered that it offered steady wages and flexibility. As a single mother who is also supporting a younger sister and mother, it gradually became the main source of income for her family. She soon found herself driving even up to the day that she gave birth to her youngest son, Chandy, now 5.

Safety issues
This line of work is not without hardship. Chanton’s 14-hour days start at around 6am, seven days a week. Besides full-time exposure to the elements, reckless drivers share the streets. She has to be on constant alert of bag snatchers targeting her passengers. When hired for the night she sometimes waits on dark secluded streets until late.

She often overhears unkind comments from the hordes of territorial male drivers on her routes. They feel she is stealing potential customers from them. There is little regard for her from both her peers and the general population because people are unaccustomed to women having such a job.

At first the difficulties intimidated her, particularly safety issues on the farther routes or late in the night. Now she concentrates on doing her work well, taking care of her passengers by driving carefully. In this way she is able to support her family.

The helmeted Chanton also takes her own safety seriously. “Everyone should use one for safety while riding on a moto,” she says.

No job for a woman?
Asked to describe herself, Chanton replies that she is a strong woman. While the more “appropriate” jobs for women of her skill level, such as waiting or cleaning, have their own hardships, she found them dull. Her earning potential was also greater as a motodup. Experience as a single mother and the difficulties she overcame in her career as a motodup have made her critical of the typical views of women. Strength and independence are assets she feels are not yet appreciated by the more traditional mindsets.

This is the reason for her preference to work in the popular expat district of Boeng Keng Kang. Chanton began driving passengers around when she lived there. Soon it became difficult to keep pace with the escalating cost of living in Phnom Penh, and she was forced to move her family across the Japanese bridge to a small space in Chruy Chungvar.

When she attempted to work in the nearby areas she found that fellow Khmers – even the women – were more comfortable taking the traditional male motodup than going with her. Because foreigners are open to the idea of a female driving a mototaxi she is able to get more business there.

Determined that her two sons, Kunthy and Chandy, have better opportunities, this motivates her through her days. One day when she retires from motodup-ing, she wants to run a breakfast shop or sell items from her house. But this is far in the future as her family often lives from day to day.

Ultimately her goal is very simple. “I want to earn enough to feed my family every day, and to make sure that my sons never have to work as a motodup.”
AsiaLIFE Phnom Penh, March 2008

Without a functioning public transportation system, many rely on motobike transportation.


  1. Anonymous says

    I want to add that Khmer speakers (and those learning to speak) can see an interview with this woman done by Frank Smith done in November 2006. It is available on his website as a podcast at this address:
    Scroll down to Episode 4 to check it out!

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