Safety in Cambodia
Roadside robberies, druggings, extortion and blackmail. They’re the kind of things to put any wary traveller off a destination but they’re also the things you’re more likely to expect from South or Central America than Asia. But recently I’ve been hearing reports of an increase in crime in one of my favourite countries – Cambodia – and it’s got me worried.
I’m not worried for travellers, though. To be frank, I take these reports with a grain of salt. But I do worry about the reputation of such a friendly and open country which is finally getting a huge economic boost from a much-needed surge in tourism.
“Within a few days of being here, we’ve been warned repeatedly in Phnom Penh about thieves on bikes snatching bags from tuk tuks, ” Mario wrote on his Facebook page. “Shortly afterwards my friend was attacked by five guys on bikes while in a tuk tuk, but he fought them off.”
I wrote to Kate to ask her about what she’s experiencing there at the moment. She’s told me that she’s been to Cambodia before and loved it but feels like it’s changed. The constant warnings about the bag snatchings, being a perfect example.
“Before this trip, I had Cambodia in my top 5 favourite countries, indisputably. And while the people are still some of the warmest, friendliest and kindest people you’ll meet anywhere, it’s not the same place it was a few years ago.”
Kate was extorted by a man who demanded money to return her phone which fell out of a tuk tuk. Mario’s friend was robbed by a gang of small children who threw bottles at him. And then there are plenty of tales of danger.
“In PP (Phnom Penh) I heard a story of a Westerner who did drugs with guys in a rough part of town, then unsurprisingly they robbed him, ” Mario wrote. “When he finally got a tuk tuk back to his hotel, the driver blackmailed him, saying he knew the guy was in a part of town where drugs were found and that he’d tell the police if he didn’t pay the driver off. Obviously this chap’s behaviour was pretty stupid all round, but the driver saw an opportunity to take advantage of him, and used it.”
That last story probably captures my view on Cambodia. If you follow my blog regularly you’ll know that I spent about a month in the country earlier in the year. I found the people to be hospitable and friendly, although many will try and make an extra buck or two from a foreigner. I found it easy enough to get between the towns and cities, assuming you don’t need too much legroom. And I found vibrancy in the chaos, rather than vulnerability. I never even came close to any danger.
But there is a dark side just beneath the surface and it’s up to you, as a traveller, whether you dig down and find it. More than twenty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line (US$0.93 a day) and with deprivation comes desperation and with desperation comes deviance.