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Cambodia Security

Australia Department of Foreign Affairs Travel Information Security
US State Department Consular Information Sheet
US - CDC: Travelers Heath, Southeast Asia


Safety is a very difficult subject to write about. Bear in mind that the following words about safety in Cambodia come from personal experience and observation. It is not to be taken as official, gospel or the final word. If there is one truism about security advice it is that it all comes from limited information, a particular perspective and contains bias of some sort.

When seeking information about safety and security, seek out multiple sources, look for common threads and try to take into account the bias that each source may be conveying. For example, advice from embassies and international organizations tends to be conservative and politically driven. Advice from tourist books and guides is almost always seriously out-dated.

Advice from fellow travelers is up to date and first-hand but comes from narrow, individual experience and is often cavalier, springing from the specious "I didn't get hurt or killed so it must be safe" rationale. In short, understanding safety and security requires your active participation. You must think about and evaluate the advice received. And regardless of the advice, you must apply it with reason and common sense.

Safety & Security

By comparison to other major tourist destinations around the world, Cambodia is currently a fairly safe travel destination. Provincial destinations in Cambodia such as Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor are exceptionally safe by comparison. The only notable security concerns include: 1) traffic/transportation safety; 2) petty and sometime violent street crime in Phnom Penh.

Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge, as a viable political, military or even criminal force in Cambodia, is dead and buried. The Khmer Rouge is no longer a security concern and hasn't been for several years.

Landmine Security

When the topic is landmines, Cambodia is usually one of the first countries to be mentioned, but fortunately, mines are not a concern for the average tourist. The remaining mines are concentrated in border areas (particularly the Thai border), some mountain areas and other old war zones. There are no mines in major cities and towns where most tourists frequent. The areas around heavily touristed temple ruins in Siem Reap were demined long ago and is generally considered quite safe. If you plan to visit less-frequented, distant temple ruins it is best to stick to paths. Adventure travelers to remote sections of Cambodia need to take extra mine safety precautions.

Disease and Vaccinations

Remember that AIDS/HIV and Hepatitis B are very prevalent amongst Cambodia's sex workers.

Traffic and Transportation

Traffic accidents are not uncommon in the chaotic traffic of Cambodia, particularly Phnom Penh. The most common and convenient form of public transportation is the motorcycle taxi, Everybody uses them at some point but there are safer ways to get around. The moto drivers are usually not licensed. Car taxi is the safest way to move around the city and traffic security.

Transportation: Phnom Penh
Transportation: Siem Reap

In Phnom Penh, moto-romauks ('tuk-tuks') and cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) offer somewhat safer security (though not as safe as a car) alternative to mototaxis. If you insist on using motorcycle taxis, try to select your driver carefully. If he appears drunk, reckless or drives too fast do not hesitate to get off (pay him a bit) and get another moto. There are plenty to choose from.

For those who choose to rent a motorcycle and drive themselves, be forewarned that traffic in Phnom Penh is chaotic in the extreme. Between cities, road conditions can be poor and taxi and truck drivers are reckless, taking little heed of motorcycles. Only very experienced riders should attempt driving in Cambodia.

Ferry to Siem Reap The safety security of the popular ferries that ply the Tonle Sap between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap may be of some concern. Though by third world standards the public ferries are relatively fast and modern, they in no way meet international safety standards. Little or no safety equipment is available. If you are looking for international standards of safety, do not take the local ferry. If you are accustomed to traveling on ferries in southern Asia, you will probably find the Siem Reap ferry to be a rather tame adventure.)

Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong offers deluxe/luxury ferries that meet international safety standards.

Criminal Activity

Like most countries around the world, criminal activity is probably the greatest threat to the tourist after traffic accidents.

Security Outside of Phnom Penh, violent criminal activity directed against foreign tourists is almost unheard of. There have been some bag snatchings and a few night-time robberies and assaults in Sihanoukville and now Siem Reap but, at least at this point in time, these are exceptions rather than the rule. Generally speaking, provincial capitals such as Siem Reap, Battambang and others are exceptionally safe.

Phnom Penh Street robberies of tourists in Phnom Penh, though not common, are reported with some regularity. Most occur at night, near popular tourist destinations and almost always to tourists on the back of a motorcycle taxi or on foot. The robbers are sometimes armed with a handgun and usually only want money.

Though they generally avoid applying violence, they will become violent if challenged. The surest way to avoid robbery is to take a car taxi when traveling after dark. If you choose to take a motorcycle taxi, it is best to stay on main roads rather than dark side streets. It is best not to travel long distances by foot after dark. If you are confronted by robbers, do not resist. For security, give up your money quickly and they will probably leave as quickly as they showed up.

Tourists also report snatch and grab robberies in which their bag, camera or necklace is snatched by a passing motorcyclist. When walking down the street, keep your camera/bag on your inside shoulder. 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.

Nightclubs Security: Some posh Cambodian night clubs draw a dangerous crowd of the rich, connected and armed. The mixture of alcohol and guns can and too often does lead to violent confrontations and gun-play, inside and immediately outside the clubs. As a general rule, this is not the case at foreigner and tourist oriented clubs and bars.

Other non-violent, non-confrontational crime does occur, but should 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 on a motorcycle or cyclo 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 Phsar Toul Tom Pong and Phsar Kandal in Phnom Penh where the pickpockets are often seemingly friendly children.

The vast majority of tourists that visit Cambodia will never face any of the problems mentioned above.

Do not do in Cambodia, what you would not do in your home country.

Be aware of your surroundings.

Be city-smart in Phnom Penh.

Always use common sense on the Scurity.

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