Adventure with Khmer Oxcart

By Chan Sovannara
Under the sunshine while many modern vehicles such Lexus, Camery, and motors of the latest design are driven on the streets, a Cambodian traditional two-wheel vehicle dragged by two oxen, moves slowly in a speed of walking. Out of date, it may be seen, along with the presence of modern technology, let alone the ox-cart used as transportation for business.
Chean Cheily, 21 years old from Kompong Chhnang province, forcing his white oxen with a whip, is riding through the city centre with his ox-cart overloaded with pottery and crafts made of clay.
ox-cart used for business

Such a normal scene of ox cart used for business can be seen sometimes overloaded with pottery or accessories. His ox-cart stops many times while calling for any prospective customer. His fragile products are laid on a thick layer of yellow straw on the cart to avoid cracks or break.
Ox-carts still carry its popularity till today. In the past, it was the sold transport to carry Cambodians and goods from place to place. Selling pottery products on the ox-cart like Chheily, was historically conducted in the ancient period, and especially from those native in Kompong Chhnang, famous for making craft products made of clay. [Kompong Chhnang means the port or place of pot.]
Some of Kompong Chhnang boys normally spend their time during the dry reason riding their ox-carts to crowded places of Cambodia to sell pottery such as water pots, vases, cookers, pans, and other souvenir stuff – all are made of clay. Whenever their products sell out, they will immediately come back to their home province.
Chheily is a seasonal seller on his ox-cart. He normally works on rice fields in rainy reason and starts selling on the cart in dry reason. [Each season lasts for six months.]
Now struggling far away from his hometown and spending four days and nights selling his clay products in Phnom Penh, Chheily says he has been on his selling mission twice to Phnom Penh and once in northwest Siem Reap.
“I can get more income in Siem Reap which is too far from my hometown. It takes me almost a month to arrive there by ox-cart,” says Chheily, who now can been seen on his ox-cart in Phnom Penh.
Chheily has to drive his cart on the road and stops whenever someone calls him for any purchase. Sometimes, callers just see around the products on the cart and go way without buying anything. He says that he does not mind it ever since he has started selling along Phnom Penh streets.
However, danger from such a lonely journey with his ox-cart does not leave his mind. He does not own a house in the city nor is able to afford a guest-house, let alone rent a hotel. As a mobile seller, he sometimes sleeps alone on the cart in a strange place, and has to get up to check his belongings and products several times a night.
“I’m really scared with this adventure, but luckily I never meet any trouble. I always pray for good spirits to protect me. My friend used to be beaten for money. If we do not give them money, they will break our stuff on the cart,” says Chheily.
“We have to give them money if we want to come back home alive.”
“I do not want to do this kind of business, but I have no choice. I left school in grade 8 in my province,” he says.
Besides the security issues, raining is also the main problem for Chheily trying to sell his products made of clay. He has to cover his cart with a big plastic, sitting and waiting for the rain to go away with a pathetic sight of covering his soaking-wet body with a traditional scarf.
Products which he sells are from whole-sellers in his village who accept deposits. Chheily occasionally earns 20,000 riel per day or nothing at all. He says he gets a commission from any product in between 500 or 1000 riel. And that money almost goes to support his everyday expense, and sometimes leaves none for his family.
Aside from selling products on the streets, he takes them to market but sells in a rather reasonable price accepted by retail sellers. However, it is difficult for him to keep a good relation with those retailers because they can hire trucks and motor-carts to buy similar products.
In the city, ox-cart businesses are banned on small streets as they can block the way, and are usually seen at the outskirt where the traffic is not less hectic. With the ever-changing rule in the city, Chheily says he has to re-consider selling his products in the city, but going on his traditional work is seen as a pride to him.
“It is the hardship I always meet, but I have to bear with difficulties so that I can bring some money back home,” says Chhiely. “I also want to carry on this tradition, because without my ox-cart, I will not be me.”

4 thoughts on “Adventure with Khmer Oxcart”

  1. it’s a good story! However, at this moment, it’s really hard to blame anyone about that. It’s city where traffic is busy. Somehow, ox-cart can interrupt the traffic and that causes another problem. In my view, it’s best if there’s a place where people from province can come and sell their product properly. It’s easy for them, and easy for customer as well

  2. I really support the idea of farmer markets in Phnom Penh….Also, I think there should be a some places for mobile sellers sleeping at nigh along the street…I see some rest hall for travellers (called Sala Sam Nakk in Khmer) by the road in provinces but not in Phnom Penh….:D

  3. Chan Sovannara

    Thank Nila that you post my story. I support Soratha’s idea to build some public place for those mobile seller. I interview them, and I think their life are more struggling which most peole ignore on them.

  4. Hello Kounila,
    My name is Carmela Mendoza of asia! magazine, I chanced upon your very informative blog and found this post
    Adventure with Khmer oxcart
    of interest to our publication. May we ask your permission to reproduce it (or parts of it) on our website? All credit and link will be given to you.
    Thanks very much and looking forward to hearing from you positively.
    Carmela Mendoza

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