• River Wetlands

Mobile Women 'Tru' The Horizon

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

ABOUT | Living on water means that essential necessities are supplied on water. This article looks into the ways in which villagers in the river community of Chhnok Tru operate businesses, by taking a case of female mobile sellers. It particularly illuminates the relationships that they have built with households and other businesses as well as unique gender roles that empower them.

Team members:  
Brindabella Neo, Xie Yuchen, Koun Kunnlakanna


Living on the Tonle Sap Lake requires a significant reliance on the water pulse for conducting daily activities. For example, villagers in Chhnok Tru sell and buy basic amenities at ‘mobile shops’. The shops traverse through the village on boats.  This business style adapted to the water environment propels a self-sufficient river community; the exchange of basic necessities between households can be assured regardless of water conditions and distances from the central market. This article illustrates how mobile sellers operate their businesses in the floating community, based on the findings collected from our observations and interviews with two women, Nika and Paa, who own mobile shops.


There is a large variety of products sold by mobile sellers, ranging from simple snacks and beverages to more specialised items such as groceries and apparel products. There are approximately 50 mobile sellers like Nika who engage in the sale of simple items alone.  The goods sold by these mobile sellers were initially purchased from either the central market located in the outskirt of the village or one of the permanent floating shops on the lake. In this sense, mobile sellers can also be seen as middle-(wo)men ‘transportation agents’ who enable households to access to certain products without traveling to a fixed shop.  Some households become regular customers to particular sellers like Paa and wait for them to come over to their houses. Furthermore, other businesses that support mobile shop operations thrive too. For example, motor repair shops can sustain their business as the sellers require the maintenance of motorboats they use everyday. This creates, among the community members, a mutually complementary business relationship.

A mobile shop selling grilled food products


The Chhnok Tru community has fostered a spirit of mutual support between sellers and households. For example, some sellers like Nika accepts future payment. They provide the customers with a slip of paper with the cost written. They feel assured that money would be paid in the future. On the other hand, households also offer cares to those mobile sellers. In times of thunderstorm, for example, all the households would be willing to open up their homes as shelters for the sellers. It seems that every community member contributes to the welfare and survival of the entire village by forming deeper trust and dependency among each other.

Nika, a mobile seller of Vietnamese coffee and other beverages for over 10 years


Gender roles in Chhnok Tru differ greatly. Men seem to engage in manual labour that warrants no fixed working hours. For example, our host fixes boat motors on an ad-hoc basis. One of the mobile sellers also mentioned that her husband engage in motor repair at home while looking after their children. In contrast, women tend to have fixed jobs like mobile shops that stipulates daily working hours. This may be because they have to engage in more stable work to ensure a constant source of income, as their husband or family members may have an unstable income. This occupational choice by women in Chhnok Tru instead leads to empowering them. Mobile selling, for example, assures women like Nika of an avenue to financial independence despite a lack of manual labour skills and a loss of their partners. It can be also viewed that men here are open to the idea of taking on traditionally ‘female’ jobs like childrearing. This case of the Chhnok Tru’s gender role demonstrates a perspective that women “can do more than take [their] husband’s clothes, wash them, and hang them”[1].

Paa, a mobile seller of vegetables and poultry for over three years


Mobile sellers in Chhnok Tru are so integrated into the community that many of them have a sense of belonging regardless of their birthplaces, backgrounds and ethnicities. For example, Nika, who is ethnically half Vietnamese, finds it comfortable to live in the community, while conducting her daily business for over 10 years. However, authorities are currently looking to move the Vietnamese in Chhnok Tru to land in an attempt to reduce anthropogenic pollutions entering the Tonle Sap[2]. But as Nika has mentioned, she does not have a land asset and do not possess manual labour skills. What will happen to her when she has to leave the Chhnok Tru community?



  1. Brickell, K., 2014. “The Whole World Is Watching”: Intimate Geopolitics of Forced Eviction and Womens Activism in Cambodia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104(6), pp.1256–1272.

  2. Promchertchoo, P., 2017. Anti-Vietnamese sentiment likely to run high ahead of Cambodian elections. Channel NewsAsia. Available at:–7618896 [Accessed November 8, 2018].

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