Cambodia Safety & Security

By comparison to other major tourist destinations around the world, Cambodia is a relatively safe travel destination, though is still subject to petty crime, dangerous traffic, and the same cons and scams common to most Southeast Asian countries. That said, there has been a steady increase in crime over the last couple of years, particularly street crime like bag snatching and muggings, including some violent incidents.

 

1. Crime

Outside of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, violent criminal activity directed against foreign tourists occurs but is still quite rare. Bag snatching and mugging is not uncommon in Phnom Penh as is petty theft in Sihanoukville. Siem Reap town seems to have fewer incidents though there have been reported bag snatchings and pickpocketing. Over the last several years there have also been a few violent crimes against foreigners traveling alone in other provincial cities. But at least at this point in time, these crimes are exceptions rather than the rule.

Phnom Penh  Street robberies of tourists in Phnom Penh are being reported with increasing frequency. Most occur at night, near popular tourist destinations and almost always to tourists in tuk-tuks or on foot. The robbers are sometimes armed with a handgun and usually only want money. Though the robbers generally avoid applying violence, they will become violent if challenged, and it is also happening more often. The surest way to avoid robbery is to take a car taxi when traveling after dark. If you choose to take a tuk-tuk, it is best not to go alone, avoid carrying a bag if possible, stay on main roads rather than dark side streets and be particularly careful as you exit the tuk-tuk at your destination. If confronted by robbers, do not resist. Give up your money quickly and they will probably leave as quickly as they showed up.

Snatch and grab robberies are also regularly reported, targeting both locals and tourists -  bag, camera, iPhone/iPad or necklace is grabbed by a passing motorcyclist. Be particularly aware when you first arrive by bus/plane and are taking a tuk-tuk to your hotel. When walking down the street, keep your camera/bag on your inside shoulder away from the traffic side. Most tuk-tuk drivers will advise you to keep your camera and bags in front of you in the middle of the tuk-tuk, not near outside where it can be grabbed. Also note that when riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi, keep your bag or backpack directly between you and the driver, or let the driver place it in front of him. There have been several reports of people pulled off of the back of motorcycle taxis when thieves grabbed the bag or backpack they were wearing.

Other non-violent, non-confrontational crime does occur, but should be obvious enough to almost go without mentioning: Do not leave money or valuables in your hotel room unattended. Do not leave money or valuables unattended on the beaches in Sihanoukville. Do not leave your bags in a taxi or tuk-tuk while you go into a hotel to check in. Be very careful of your belongings if you take a prostitute to your hotel room. Be careful of pickpockets in tourist areas, in crowded discos and clubs, particularly clubs filled with prostitutes, and at the traditional markets such as the Russian Market and Phsar Kandal in Phnom Penh where the pickpockets are often seemingly friendly children. 

 

2. Political Tension And Terrorism

You should avoid all political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Local police and security forces have responded with force on occasion, and may not distinguish between demonstrators and bystanders. Foreigners involved in protests and demonstrations may face arrest and deportation. You should monitor local media for information about protest locations.

In Phnom Penh, possible sites for rallies include political party offices, the National Assembly building, the Prime Minister’s residence (by the Independence Monument), Wat Phnom, the Phnom Penh Municipal Government Office (also known as Phnom Penh City Hall, located on Monivong Boulevard, near Freedom Park), Phnom Penh Municipal Court and other government and military buildings or compounds.

Freedom Park in Phnom Penh (also known as Democracy Park – on street 106, between street 61 and Norodom Boulevard) is a common site for public gatherings and demonstrations. Violent clashes between security forces and protestors have occurred there and in surrounding streets. You should avoid this area.

Some people were killed and a large number injured in separate protests in Phnom Penh in late 2013 and early 2014.

Roadblocks restricting access through the city have occurred with little warning. Monitor local media for information about protest locations and road blocks. Avoid these areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

You  should be particularly vigilant in the lead-up to and during religious or national festivals, days of national significance and commemorations. Large crowds may present an added safety risk. You should show an appropriate level of respect, particularly in areas where commemoration activities for the royal family or religious activities are taking place.

In recent years Cambodian authorities have averted a number of attempted bomb and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.

 

3. Local Travel

Landmines remain a danger in many parts of Cambodia, especially along the border with Thailand. Large areas of rural Cambodia are still contaminated with unexploded ordnance. Visitors to the north and northwest of Cambodia should not stray from clearly marked pathways. Exercise caution if travelling beyond the Angkor Wat temple complex to outlying temples in the Siem Reap area.

 

   a. Road Travel

Foreigners wishing to drive in Cambodia, must hold a Cambodian driver’s licence. The licence can be applied for in person at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport using a valid driver’s licence from your home country or a recognised international driving permit.

You should familiarise yourself with Cambodian Traffic Law before considering driving. If stopped by police, you should obey their orders. In January 2016, police announced a ticket system to replace on the spot payment of fines. Tickets will be issued and payment should be made within 30 days at a payment centre. It may take several months for the ticket system to be implemented across the country. If paying a fine, you can ask for a receipt. Speed limits in Cambodia restrict motorcycle drivers to 30kmh in towns and 60kmh on the outskirts, whilst other vehicle drivers are restricted to 40kmh in towns and 80kmh outside. You must wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle.

Travel by roads, especially at night, is dangerous because of poor road conditions, wandering livestock and the risk of crime. Driving standards and vehicle and road maintenance are generally poor. Road rules are often not followed. Serious injuries from road accidents occur daily in Cambodia. Motorcycle and coach/bus travel have particularly high accident rates. Large crowds can form quickly after road accidents and the occupants of the vehicle are at risk of becoming victims of extortion. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Streets are crowded in major cities and road rules are routinely ignored. Be very careful when crossing busy streets as traffic can appear from any direction.

There is no formal public transport system in Cambodia, except for one bus route travelling through the centre of Phnom Penh. Motorcycle taxis (moto) and motorised three-wheel vehicles (tuk-tuk or remork) are commonly used for short distance transport. Three-wheel bicycle taxis (cyclo) can also be found in some cities. Fares are not metered and may be set according to distance travelled, number of passengers and time of day. Negotiating the fare prior to travel can help to avoid confrontation on price. Occasionally drivers accept passengers without full comprehension of the requested destination. Destinations are often identified by common landmarks, such as the nearest pagoda. It is good practice to carry a map and have some idea of the direction you are required to take to reach your final destination.

Given the common use of motorcycles for urban public transport, you should ensure that your insurance policy provides coverage for riding motorcycles, either as a driver or passenger. It is illegal to have more than two adults and one child travelling on a motorcycle. You should take precautions, including the use of a helmet and protective clothing when travelling on a motorcycle or moto-scooter, even as a passenger. Most locally purchased helmets do may not meet international  standards. If you are travelling to Cambodia to participate in a motorcycle tour or you are expecting to travel by motorcycle extensively, you should consider bringing a helmet and protective clothing .

 

   b. Boat Travel

Travel by boat in Cambodia can involve safety risks. Boats ferrying passengers to islands off the coast of Sihanoukville have sunk, most recently in February 2016. Even modern vessels may be overcrowded and lack basic safety equipment (such as life jackets, life rafts and fire extinguishers). You should take appropriate precautions for your personal safety.

After a 14 year hiatus, passenger train services recommenced in Cambodia in 2016. Services operate between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.

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