August 21, 2023
PHNOM PENH – A local Siem Reap man, passionate about infusing vintage allure into the tourism scene, has reinvented a classic French colonial mode of tourist transport, the bicycle drawn remorque – but with a modern twist.
Bo Sophea and a colleague began their retro adventure several months ago, whisking an Italian pair of newlyweds through the vibrant streets of Siem Reap town to the world-famous Angkor Archaeological Park. From the first day, the duo claimed the experience was seamless, with the two guests settling comfortably into the quaint rickshaws of yesteryear.
Sophea’s extensive knowledge breathed life into the revered Angkor Wat Temple, allowing his visitors to step back in time. The tour proceeded to the Bayon Temple, where the intricate stone faces evoked wonder.
As the sun set, Sophea and his partner led the couple to a romantic vantage point, where they were privileged to witness an incredible sunset above the spires of Angkor, creating cherished memories which were sure to last a lifetime.
Behind the scenes, Sophea’s dedication to his project shines through. He has meticulously gathered vintage bicycle remorque parts from various corners of the Kingdom, each piece evoking a gentler, slower-paced time.
With the help of a friend’s expertise, they assembled five of the vintage carriages, two of which have been adapted to transport curious travellers.
“I aim for tourists, especially foreigners, to immerse themselves in a nostalgic experience through this traditional mode of transportation,” Sophea explains.
Several social media users have expressed their admiration for the vintage remorques that are once more navigating the Angkor Park.
One user, Chee Hoeur Heng, joins the chorus of voices in favour, while highlighting the importance of seeking approval from pertinent authorities, notably the APSARA National Authority (ANA).
He suggests that an emissions-free zone be established within the park, exclusively for these environmentally friendly cycles.
“If feasible, this would be beneficial for the environment and could also generate employment opportunities for local residents,” he notes.
Recognising the broad expanse of the Angkor Park, Sophea ingeniously upgraded the bicycles used to draw the remorques. Now equipped with electric motors, his clients’ explorations are effortlessly extended, allowing them to visit far more attractions.
As tourists soak in the sights, Sophea and his friend can conserve their energy for ensuring their guests learn as much as they can about the unique history of the many temples.
“I pondered why we weren’t incorporating modern technology into traditional remorques,” Sophea tells The Post.
“I dedicated an additional two months to retrofitting them with battery motors,” he adds.
Now he has struck a balance between vintage charm and modern convenience.
“When I started carrying passengers, they were delighted, and I received many supportive messages. My friends also praised the concept.
“Many tourists were surprised when I informed them that these were vintage vehicles that are no longer in use,” he says.
Sophea elaborates on his motivation for dedicating such a substantial amount of time to sourcing the vintage components needed to keep the remorques running.
Utilising new parts, he says, would dilute the historical and distinctive essence of the vehicles, even if he meticulously replicated the original designs.
He acknowledges that the constant nationwide search for spare parts means it is challenging to achieve the precise original appearance of the remorques, which are estimated to be up to 50 years old.
The French and English speaking guide says he often sources parts from neighbouring Battambang and distant provinces like Kampot and Kampong Cham.
“Before the 1960s, tourists often used these to traverse Angkor. This practice continued into the 1970s; however, the Khmer Rouge era marked their disappearance,” he explains, noting that larger motorised tuk-tuks began to dominate the scene during the early 1990s.
Sophea believes the old-fashioned mode of transport will attract tourists and provide excellent economic opportunities when visitor numbers return to their pre-pandemic levels.
“As soon as there is a substantial influx of tourists seeking rides in bicycle remorques, local residents will begin to establish transport businesses for visitors to the Kingdom,” he says.
He remains realistic, however, noting that the current tourist footfall remains modest compared to the pre-Covid-19 period.
Amid the global shutdown spurred on by the global pandemic, he transitioned from being a tour guide to a food delivery man.
Sophea has now returned to his first love, sharing his deep-seated knowledge of Angkor. He says that in the two months he has been operating, he has already catered to several large groups.
He points out that while the remorques are particularly appealing to foreign visitors – due to their spaciousness and the unique experience they offer – accommodating multiple riders can be challenging. Smaller Cambodian guests can share the vintage carriages more comfortably, he explains.
Sophea describes the remorques as suitable for those who relish nature, fresh air and an authentic traditional encounter.
Long Kosal, a spokesperson for the ANA, shares his appreciation for and endorsement of the use of all environmentally friendly transportation, while highlighting the importance of abiding by the authorities’ guidelines and protocols.
“I encourage the use of environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Naturally, it is my hope that all operators strictly adhere to the established rules and regulations, and utilise the designated parking areas as outlined in the ANA’s guidelines,” he tells The Post.
Bunthoeun, a resident of Banteay Meanchey, is one of the domestic tourists who took the opportunity to explore the temple sites aboard one of the vintage remorques.
“It was like a journey back to the French colonial era,” he enthuses, noting its eco-friendly nature and comfortable ride.
As one of many with a deep affection for Siem Reap’s abundant attractions – from lush forests and rivers to captivating temples – Bunthoeun urges his compatriots to endorse Sophea’s vintage remorques.
“By doing so, they will contribute to the livelihoods of local people, and simultaneously champion the preservation of the environment,” he says.