It’s difficult to get the balance right about the dangers of travelling in PNG. As with any destination, if you read about violent crimes, you may exaggerate the danger and not visit and so never understand that Melanesians are by nature among the most gentle, hospitable and generous people in the world. While urban drift has undoubtedly caused ‘law and order’ issues, it’s not like the Wild West where gun-law rules and stepping outside is to put your life in danger.
If you use your common sense, especially in larger towns, the chance of encountering the notorious raskols is small. Violent crime is not unusual, but the victims are rarely tourists.
So what does this mean for the traveller? Most importantly, don’t be paranoid. Those who have travelled to developing countries probably won’t be overly concerned, but inexperienced travellers may find the lack of obvious civil structure in the cities intimidating.
Bear in mind that everything is much more relaxed outside Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. Tribal fighting is still common deep in the Highlands, and while this can make things unpredictable it rarely embroils outsiders. Expats may tell you not to ride the buses and PMVs, but that’s an over-reaction as long as sensible precautions are taken. It would be silly to flaunt the obvious discrepancy in wealth, for example.
It would be highly unusual to encounter any trouble in the areas that travellers are likely to frequent in the daytime with people around. The mantra is common sense. Here are some tips:
- Don’t flaunt your wealth – wear unremarkable clothes and keep your camera hidden.
- Always keep at least K50 ‘raskol money’ in your pocket to appease any would-be thief. Hide the rest of your money in a money belt or your shoe.
- Speak to people rather than being aloof.
- Be especially careful on the fortnightly Friday pay nights when things can get pretty wild.
- If you get held up, as in this situation anywhere, stay calm. Most robberies are fairly unsophisticated affairs.
Government Travel Advice
For the latest travel warnings and advice log onto the following (overly cautious) websites:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)
- Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen. mofa.go.jp)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad)
- USA Department of State/Bureau of Consular Affairs (www.travel.state.gov)