It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…

To get anywhere in life, you need contacts. This is especially true in Phnom Penh. One thing I noticed is that quite often people would talk about having a particular tuk tuk driver. I’ve been recommended about three in the two and a bit weeks I’ve been here. But, not to brag or anything, I’ve got my own tuk tuk buddy.

He’s called Vitou, and he often waits outside Jars of Clay (JoC as I mention them way too much to write out in full every time). I first used him on my Cambodian genocide tour, and he was reasonably helpful. At first he did charge me quite a bit for the journey from JoC to Tuol Sleng, but at that point I was just another white, western tourist and he was just another tuk tuk driver. But I quite liked that he was reasonably efficient but not ridiculously fast like some of them are. Also, his English is far better than my Khmer, but he still puts up with my attempts at saying where I would like to go (“Ngom, er, doe…street, er, buy roy, er, samsup.” “You want to go to 330? Oh, you go to the church? I know it.” “Bah.”). So I decided he was the tuk tuk driver for me. Yes, his brakes are really squeaky, but it’s something I was willing to overlook.

I don’t know if it’s the same for others, but the emotional investment I have in this driver-customer relationship is possibly a little over the top. I think when you’re new to a place, anything familiar is extremely reassuring. I’m definitely a person of habit; I create little routines and will often go to the same place again and again. So, knowing a tuk tuk driver is a way to feed my need for consistency as well as being really helpful. It takes away the anxiety of working out how to get somewhere. It’s got to the point where I feel I can trust him to give me a reasonable price (he wouldn’t have charged me $6 for a short journey). Even if I’m not planning on going anywhere, I always feel slightly less anxious if I see his tuk tuk parked on the street.

However, I wouldn’t be British if this social interaction wasn’t marked with some type of guilt or anxiety. Burdened with my country’s colonial past, I can’t help think that I’m somehow taking advantage of my white privilege. He’s the lowly driver; I’m the entitled westerner. I often feel somewhat petulant when I seemingly demand his services at a moment’s notice. Yes, I know it’s his job (I also feel rude when I ask someone at the customer information desk a question). I also worry about whether to tip or when I should barter. Does tipping come across as offensive? Do I come across as the rich beneficiary helping the pitiful and poor local better themselves? If I don’t tip or if I barter, am I the miserly and heartless colonialist, trying to extract what he can at the lowest cost? There’s so much to think about. (Yes, I’ve heard of “over-thinking”. Yes, I’m probably doing it. I’d rather over-think than be a brainless clot though.)

At the end of the day, Vitou gets paid for the job he does and having a regular customer makes his income a little more reliable. I definitely benefit from Vitou and knowing I have someone to ask for transportation. However, in a couple of months, I’ll be heading up to Siem Reap, and I’ll have to find myself another tuk tuk driver. (I already have a few drivers’ business cards from while I was up there.) Either that or I’ll just buy myself a moto (just don’t tell my mother).

2 thoughts on “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…

  1. Hi Mr Ashmead, I just want to say well done for everything you have done in Cambodia so far!! . We are all following your website and we just want to say good luck for the future in Cambodia. We can’t wait for you to come home and tell us all the gossip and you bragging about what you have been up to!


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