Is Cambodia safe? It’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string?
In short, it’s relatively safe. But you have to be a bit savvy, just like you would at home.
Stuff happens. But stuff happens everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are in Sydney or New York, Singapore or Berlin or walking down the street of your home town. There are no guarantees in life.
Increased reports of bag snatches, attempted rapes on night buses, spiked drinks, extortion and robbery seem to have sparked a wave of fear in would-be visitors to Cambodia. The thing is, these are risks in many countries. So we’ve put together a few tips on travelling safely through Cambodia.
Safety tips for travel in Cambodia
Don’t flash your money around
Cambodia is one of the poorest nation’s in the world. It is not hard to understand why some people see foreigners as an opportunity. Don’t flash your money around.
If I have to carry big notes or extra money on me for any reason I keep it in a separate compartment of my wallet so everyone can’t see it as I’m looking for small change. I also don’t wear a lot of jewellery, especially expensive jewellery. That doesn’t mean leave all your jewellery at home, but choose what you wear and where you wear it.
Don’t carry all your valuables with you
Unless you are arriving or leaving from a destination, leave your valuables somewhere safe. Don’t carry your passport, credit cards, all your id etc with you everywhere you go. It gives peace of mind that at least if your bag is snatched you are not going to be left penniless with no identification. This is an incredibly stressful situation to find yourself in. Have copies of your documents — passport, travel insurance, license etc stored somewhere safe so you can prove who you are if you need to.
Be vigilant during holidays
If you happen to be in Cambodia during one of the big holidays, or in the lead-up to one, it is wise to be extra cautious. Bag snatchers and pick-pockets seem to increase their activities during these times.
The biggest holidays are Khmer New Year in mid-April, Pchum Ben in September/October and Water Festival (Bon om touk) in November.
Keep your bags close to your body and away from the road side of walkways. Don’t put anything valuable where pick-pockets can easily access it.
Be careful late at night
Just like any city, be careful when you are out late at night — especially if you are walking around alone. This applies to men and women, especially if you have had a few drinks. You don’t have to go far out of town before the streets become dimly lit and fairly isolated. Walking obviously makes you more vulnerable, but an increasing number of women on bicycles seem to be targets for opportunistic thieves. They’ve been followed by guys on motorbikes, who grab their bags when they are on quiet streets. At least one has resulted in serious injury when a girl was pulled from the bike. If possible don’t go out alone. If you are out at night alone, get a tuk tuk or motodop home. Even better if you can find one who has been recommended. Don’t get the one parked outside the pub you’ve been drinking at all night, watching you increase your alcohol intake.
Watch out for scams
Most of the scams we are aware of are aimed at getting money from you. However, there are a few more sinister than that. A friend of ours left a drinking establishment in Siem Reap and was approached by some girls offering to take him to another venue. He somehow got persuaded to go with them and was ushered to a tuk tuk. No directions were given to the tuk tuk driver and the next thing he knew he was whisked off down the back streets with no idea where he was and taken to a big establishment. After a few beers he wanted to leave and they presented him with a bill for $100. An exorbitant amount. He managed to negotiate it down to $50, which was still outrageous, and somehow found his way home. It’s a scenario that could have gone wrong in so many ways but in this instance he was lucky to just be out of pocket. There are plenty of people, like everywhere, who are out to get your money.
Be sensible about drinking alcohol
Alcohol is cheap in Cambodia, which has given it a bit of a party reputation. Siem Reap and the beachside town of Sihanoukville and Otres Beach have certainly become party hubs. But if you are going out drinking you really need to make sure you have a mate with you who will remain relatively sober and can keep an eye on you. There have been reports of drinks being spiked. And there are certainly people waiting in the sidelines to take advantage of you. In Phnom Penh, there have been incidents of people being taken up dark alleys and mugged, of tuk tuk drivers setting them up. The best way to stay safe is to stay sober and be in a group.
Don’t take drugs
Drugs are illegal in Cambodia. For all the same reasons you need to be sensible about drinking alcohol, you need to think this one through. Enough said.
Buses and transport
There’s no two ways about it, the roads are dangerous.
Something like six people die every day on Cambodian roads. It’s a pretty staggering figure. The road rules exist but are either ignored or not known and often not enforced. Many people drive without a licence — the list goes on. But road transport is the main way of getting from A to B. We often book private taxis and while there have been some hair-raising experiences, for the most part we’ve found reliable people who organise reasonably sensible drivers. The night buses have a bad reputation. One in particular has had reports of attempted rapes by single female travellers. This is alarming so you need to be careful. Try and travel with someone or book a single seat. And do your research before booking with a company.
We are not legal experts but our understanding is it is not legal to hire motorbikes in Cambodia. There are however, opportunities to do this. If you are going to go down this path you should check the details and requirements of your insurance policy. Some policies require you to have a Cambodian licence, regardless of whether you have a licence in your own country or an international licence. You should also be aware that while the road rules are often not adhered to, there is some crazy system that seems to work. Foreigners not used to the road conditions can easily get into strife. Drive carefully. Don’t drink and drive. Make sure you wear a helmet.
Look after your health
Health is fragile in Cambodia. After a year of coughs and colds, stomach issues, sprained ankles and most recently a broken collar bone, we know all too well the need to look after health. The medical system in Cambodia is inadequate. There are doctors, there are hospitals. But you don’t want to visit them if you don’t need to. That said, we’ve found some good clinics and some competent specialists. Still, it is no fun getting sick while travelling. And accidents are more common than you’d like to think. So look after your health. Be careful crossing roads and riding bikes or motos in traffic. Practice safe sex. Get your necessary vaccinations before you visit. Dengue fever and malaria are problems in some parts of the country. Make sure you carry insect repellent and cover up to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Cambodia is hot. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, try and avoid being in the direct sun for long periods if you can and use sunscreen and hats.
Take out travel insurance
It might seem obvious, but there are an amazing number of people who travel without travel insurance. We don’t advise it. If you are visiting a country like Cambodia there are a range of health issues that could arise in a nation with an inadequate health system. You need a policy that will medi-vac you to a first world hospital in the event of something terrible happening. And you need to know the ins and outs of your policy and the things that are excluded, which might include some more adventurous activities.
So is Cambodia safe? We think it’s pretty safe if you use a bit of common sense. You have to have your wits about you and be a bit smart but you have to do that wherever you are. For the most part, Cambodians are the warmest, friendliest people you can meet and they love it when you are enjoying their country.