Generally the Cambodians are warm, open, friendly and appreciative of tourists - and the economic benefits. You've just got to be aware of the threat and take precautions to keep yourself safe from those elements who will take advantage of the less-aware traveller.
Here are a few tips that will help you to avoid becoming a target for the local criminals. While these might seem fairly obvious, they should get you thinking a little sharper.
So, you're out in the crowded streets of Phnom Penh, trying to enjoy the sights of the captivating city, but you're locals are constantly approaching you, trying to sell you stuff you don't want. Although selling over-priced merchandise (or pestering relatively wealthy tourists) isn't a crime, some find it really annoying.
They can tell you're a tourist, but what gave it away? Was it the backpack weighing you down, the shiny brushed metal camera dangling from your wrist, or the crumpled map in your hand?
The truth is, of course, that even without these things the locals will take one look at you, as you examine the local sights with more interest than your average Cambodian, and know straight away that you're not from around here but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to make yourself a little more invisible.
You'll take the street vendor hassle level down a notch, and have the added advantage of being less attractive to the criminal element looking for an easy target.
The pubs and clubs in Cambodia's cities, including in the tourist hotspots of Street 51 in Phnom Penh, or the aptly named Pub Street in Siem Reap, tend to be open buildings with square holes for windows, and in some cases, not even any walls.
This open design is adopted by most public buildings on purpose - the humid and tropical Cambodian night air doesn't lend itself well to enclosed spaces - but is also favoured by the lowest form of Cambodian crook, the Pickpocket.
These cons are masters of weaving in and out of the sprawling bar stools and lounge seats that spill out of the pubs and onto the walkways, relieving unsuspecting, and often inebriated tourists, of their wallets as they go. And if you do happen to notice their delicate touch, don't expect to catch them - these cities are littered with more un-navigable backstreets than a Minotaur's maze.
Here are a few secrets to avoid becoming a target:
English is the world's most common language, so you'll probably find that most people who approach you will automatically start talking to you in English.
It's tempting to talk back, especially if you're asked a question. But beware, the criminals and con artists know this too, and engaging one of them in conversation is like offering a shortcut to your bank card.
Once he thinks he's made a connection, he's really unlikely to leave you alone, and where one con artist shows an interest, others will follow.
To avoid this situation, definitely don't answer any questions that could cause you further problems, so if you're asked where you're staying in Phnom Penh, for example, announcing your hotel and room number is probably ill advised.
If you suspect you might be being scammed, and if you can keep a straight face, pretend you don't speak English. It's amazing how quickly you'll be left alone by petty criminals if they can't communicate with you. This works particularly well for travellers who speak at least one other language - unless that language happens to be Cambodian of course, because that might defeat the purpose.
The infamous tuk tuk is a three wheeled vehicle, a little like a bike with a carriage on the back. Sometimes these vehicles are powered by an engine, and sometimes they're pedal power alone. They're the main form of transport around towns and cities.
Occasionally, as a tourist, you'll come across a driver who's on a commission to deliver you to a particular shop/temple/restaurant/hotel/bar. You might find yourself miles away from your intended destination, and being pressured to buy/consume/stay.
That's not to say that you mustn't sample this traditional Asian transportation device if you really must, but try to do that safely, either by sharing with another tourist or travelling companion you know well, or by taking a trip along a route you'll recognise. That way you'll be able to spot the danger signs if you end up straying from the main drag.
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the detour experience, but be very strict about not falling for the ruse.
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