- Cambodia is a pretty safe country for travellers these days, with few incidences of petty crime.
- Remember the golden rule: stick to marked paths in remote areas (due to the possible presence of landmines).
- Phnom Penh Post (www.phnompenhpost.com) is a good source for breaking news, so check its website before you hit the road to check the political pulse and catch up with any recent events on the ground such as demonstrations.
- Take care with some of the electrical wiring in guesthouses around the country, as it can be pretty amateurish.
In the run-up to major festivals such as P’chum Ben or Chaul Chnam Khmer, there is a palpable increase in the number of robberies, particularly in Phnom Penh. Cambodians need money to buy gifts for relatives or to pay off debts, and for some individuals theft is the quickest way to get this money. Be more vigilant at night at these times. Guard your smartphone vigilantly and don’t take valuables out with you unnecessarily.
Crime & Violence
Given the number of guns in Cambodia, there is less armed theft than one might expect. Still, hold-ups and drive-by theft by motorcycle-riding tandems are a potential danger in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. There is no need to be paranoid, just cautious. Walking or riding alone late at night is not ideal, certainly not in rural areas.
There have been incidents of bag snatching in Phnom Penh in the last few years and the motorbike thieves don’t let go, dragging passengers off motos (motorcycle taxis) and endangering lives. Smartphones are a particular target, so avoid using your smartphone in public, especially at night, as you'll be susceptible to drive-by thieves.
Should anyone be unlucky enough to be robbed, it is important to note that the Cambodian police are the best that money can buy! Any help, such as a police report, is going to cost you. The going rate depends on the size of the claim, but anywhere from US$5 to US$50 is possible.
Violence against foreigners is extremely rare, but it pays to take care in crowded bars or nightclubs in Phnom Penh. If you get into a stand-off with rich young Khmers in a bar or club, swallow your pride and back down. Many carry guns and have an entourage of bodyguards.
Mines, Mortars & Bombs
Never touch any rockets, artillery shells, mortars, mines, bombs or other war material you may come across. The most heavily mined part of the country is along the Thai border area, but mines are a problem in much of Cambodia. In short: do not stray from well-marked paths under any circumstances. If you are planning any walks, even in safer areas such as the remote northeast, it is imperative you take a guide as there may still be unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the American bombing campaign of the early 1970s.
Most scams are fairly harmless, involving a bit of commission here and there for taxi, remork-moto (tuk-tuk) or moto (unmarked motorcycle taxi) drivers, particularly in Siem Reap.
There have been one or two reports of police set-ups in Phnom Penh, involving planted drugs. This seems to be very rare, but if you fall victim to the ploy, it may be best to pay them off before more police get involved at the local station, as the price will only rise when there are more mouths to feed.
There is quite a lot of fake medication floating about the region. Safeguard yourself by only buying prescription drugs from reliable pharmacies or clinics.
Beware the Filipino blackjack scam: don't get involved in any gambling with seemingly friendly Filipinos unless you want to part with plenty of cash.
Beggars in places such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap may ask for milk powder for an infant in arms. Some foreigners succumb to the urge to help, but the beggars usually request the most expensive milk formula available and return it to the shop to split the proceeds after the handover.
Watch out for yaba, the ‘crazy’ drug from Thailand, known rather ominously in Cambodia as yama (the Hindu god of death). Known as ice or crystal meth elsewhere, it’s not just any old diet pill from the pharmacist but homemade meth-amphetamines produced in labs in Cambodia and the region beyond. The pills are often laced with toxic substances, such as mercury, lithium or whatever else the maker can find. Yama is a dirty drug and more addictive than users would like to admit, provoking powerful hallucinations, sleep deprivation and psychosis. Steer clear of the stuff unless you plan on an indefinite extension to your trip.
Government Travel Advice
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
Canadian Government (www.voyage.gc.ca)
German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen.mofa.go.jp)
Netherlands Government (www.minbuza.nl)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz/cambodia)
UK Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/cambodia)
US Department of State (travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cambodia.html)