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Cambodia is pretty safe for travelers, but like elsewhere in Southeast Asia, it does have its share of petty crime – and troubles with the police. So long as you're aware of the issues, you'll no doubt have a safe trip.
Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travelers to Southeast Asia. Generally, Cambodians are warm, open, friendly and appreciative of tourists - and the economic benefits. Unfortunately, trouble can rear its ugly head from time-to-time. From bag snatches and pickpockets to rip-offs and scams, here are our top tips for staying safe in the kingdom.
The most common crimes in Cambodia are bag-snatching and pickpocketing. Whether you’re in a tuk-tuk, on the back of a motorbike taxi or just wandering around the crowded markets or countryside, non-violent petty theft can happen anywhere.
Some thieves will simply lift your bag while you’re sitting at a restaurant, and others will make a quick snatch and grab from a tuk-tuk. The one to be most wary about is the moped snatch and grab. While the driver is concentrating on the road, the passenger will grab your bag and hold on tight. If the straps don’t break they will just drag you along the road with them. So, it’s best to let it go rather than risking serious injury.
Aside from leaving the backpack at home and only carrying the cash you need, here are our top tips for minimizing risk.
One of the other big issues in Cambodia is police corruption. The majority of police officers are not paid enough to support themselves and their families, so they often seek out small donations or bribes.
If you're traveling by car or moped you will most likely be fined at some point by the traffic police. This might be for something as simple as having your headlights on during the day (which, according to the locals, attracts ghosts), riding a bike without a helmet (which you must do to be covered by travel insurance), and not having the “correct” licence.
There are a couple of ways to avoid police corruption here: forget the moped and take tuk-tuks and public transport everywhere. Avoid paying the bribes – this encourages future behavior.
If you need to get a police report for a travel insurance claim, chances are you’ll meet more corruption. You will be charged for a translator, and the “stamping fees” will be a little higher than locals pay. It’ll set you back about US $10. Avoid the translator charge by asking a staff member from your accommodation to accompany you as a translator.
If you don’t want to be a part of the bribery/corruption/extortion racket, you can ask to escalate to a superior officer, but you’ll get sent to the provincial office and you’ll waste hours or days lost in the bureaucracy.
Drugs are illegal in Cambodia, so it’s always best to avoid them under any circumstances. When purchasing both pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs, you can never know exactly what you’re getting, and drug-related deaths, freak-outs, and psychotic breaks are unfortunately not uncommon.
There are also plenty of police set-ups and sting operations which can result in you ending up in a Cambodian jail indefinitely, with little or no legal help, a hefty fine or facing deportation. There aren’t many worse places to end up, so it’s definitely worth erring on the side of caution and avoiding drugs and similar risky situations at all costs.
Although Pub Street in Siem Reap and the bars around the riverside in Phnom Penh may have a bit of a checkered reputation sometimes, they can make for a very enjoyable night, especially if you leave all your valuables at home and know your limits! It’s always worth going with a friend and not walking home alone at night. Go, have fun, but keep your wits about you as much as possible, even if it means calling it a night one drink earlier than usual.
There are other shadier areas around Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville that are famous for their girly bars and as places to pick-up. These are generally best avoided as much as possible, as it is all too common for a man to fall prey to a beautiful lady, only to go home with her and wake up 24 or 48 hours later with no memory and no valuables to be seen!
Listen to 22-year-old British backpacker, Zoe Eleftheriou, who was riding a scooter in Siem Reap, Cambodia the unexpected happened – a petrol station caught fire and exploded just as she rode past, resulting in burns to more than 30% of her body.
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Scammers are common in Cambodia, so you need to be aware of what cons and dodgy operators are up to before you go.
Find out how you can be a responsible traveler in Cambodia with these 8 tips.