Cambodia, Travel

Dangerous Encounters in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, and I don’t like it one bit. It is notoriously dangerous, and although many foreigners love it and call it home, I tend to avoid it like the plague. In August 2014 when my friend, Andrea, came to visit, we ventured to Phnom Penh. She treated us to a lovely hotel room, and we spent our days shopping for fabric for Human and Hope Association’s sewing business and sightseeing. We were driven around in a purple tuk-tuk that had mesh on the sides to prevent bag snatchers, though this wasn’t much help. I was looking at photos I had taken on my iPad mini when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Living in Cambodia, I had taught myself to always be alert to avoid potential danger. This came in handy that day, as I looked up just in time to see two men on a motorbike driving beside our tuk tuk, with one reaching over to grab my iPad. I clutched my iPad whilst moving my body to the right and kicked at the man whilst his fingers came dangerously close to my iPad. He had a smile on his face the whole time. Clearly knowing they wouldn’t be successful in this instance, they then sped off. We stopped up the road and our tuk tuk driver told the police that were standing on a street corner what had happened. The incident left me feeling violated, just like I felt when I was robbed. It had an extra level of emotion to it though, as I had been able to clearly look the perpetrators in the eye. I was extremely cautious for that trip, and never took anything out of my bag for a trip in a Phnom Penh tuk tuk again.

In July 2016, I stayed in Phnom Penh for three nights, as my new job required me to attend some meetings in the big smoke. One morning I was feeling poorly, so I missed the morning meetings. My boss picked me up in a tuk-tuk after lunch, and we headed to our afternoon meeting. Before doing that, however, the staff at my hotel reminded me to hold onto my backpack as there were many bag snatchers about. I jumped into the tuk-tuk (truth be told, I climbed awkwardly in) and we set off to our meeting. With my backpack strapped around my front and a lock on the zippers, I still didn’t feel secure, however, it was the best I could do. As we approached our destination, our tuk-tuk driver paused at the top of a small hill. My boss leaned over to talk to the driver and guide him, when at that moment, a man on a motorbike who was also at the top of this small hill suddenly turned his motorbike around, came straight for our tuk-tuk, reached in and grabbed my bosses backpack that had been sitting on the floor, and took off with it. It all happened in a matter of seconds. My boss jumped out of the tuk-tuk and ran after the thief, though it was no use. He was long gone, with a MacBook, cash and credit cards. My boss, being the true professional he is, ensured we still attended our scheduled meeting and stayed calm and in control. Afterwards, we went to the local police station and spoke to a policeman who couldn’t care less about the robbery. It was clear we weren’t going to be getting his possessions back.

Our tuk-tuk driver was very apologetic and kept assuring us that he had worked for the UN as a car driver for several years. He was to be trusted, he explained to us. He hadn’t called a friend with the location of our tuk-tuk, as some drivers had been known to do. We knew he wasn’t to blame, yet the next day when he took me to the airport (placing my suitcase on the seat next to me so that it wouldn’t be snatched), he brought along certificates of recommendation from the UN to prove his innocence. That was thankfully the last time I visited Phnom Penh, and I have no intention to return soon.