A friend of mine recently approached me for advice on how to travel safely in Cambodia. Although Cambodia is a relatively safe country, there are health risks, scams and unscrupulous people you should be alert about. These tips will help you enjoy your holiday whilst also ensuring you don’t need to end up at the police station.
Don’t use your phone/iPad/electronics in a tuk-tuk – I know multiple people who have had their personal possessions stolen from them whilst riding in tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh. I also was the victim of an attempted robbery whilst browsing the photos on my iPad. Thieves will ride close to your tuk-tuk, then the person on the back will reach in and snatch your prized possession from you. Before you can even blink, they will be out of sight and you are never seeing that item again. Although electronics can be replaced, and many photos are on the cloud nowadays, the item that is much more difficult to replace is a passport. Again, I know numerous people who have had their passports stolen, all in Phnom Penh. If you are carrying it around with you, it is best to have it tucked into a sleeve in your body, never keeping it in a bag.
Always wear mosquito repellant – I became complacent during my five years in Cambodia and stopped wearing mosquito repellant. Then, in 2016, I woke up one day with every part of my body in immense pain. I had contracted dengue fever. I was only working 7km from Siem Reap town when I contracted it, so don’t feel as though you can only get sick in rural areas. ALWAYS wear mosquito repellant, and make sure it is powerful.
Be careful travelling by yourself in the evenings – Again, I have friends who have been seriously injured when travelling by themselves at night. One was pulled off her bicycle and received serious head injuries. Another was accosted by a gang of men near the river and fortunately got away from them in the nick of time. My Khmer workmates and I always had a system to drive each other home in groups so that we were never alone. Thieves target Khmers and foreigners; no one is exempt. If you are travelling around Cambodia solo, it pays to be extra alert and find a regular, trustworthy tuk-tuk driver to cart you around. It is best not to carry bags with you in the evenings.
Avoid political gatherings – If you see what you assume is a political gathering, run away. Things can easily get out of control, and you don’t want to be a bystander when the guns are brought out.
Wear face masks when in dusty areas – Many roads in Cambodia are not paved, and you will literally inhale dust every time you travel down them. Don’t contract pneumonia, like both my parents and I did last year. Buy a mask to cover your nose and mouth and use it. Many people in Cambodia do the same, so you won’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Only drink filtered, boiled and sealed water – The tap water in Cambodia is not safe to drink. Ensure that you only drink filtered water, boiled water or sealed water bottles. It is estimated that 4.6 million water bottles are generated by the tourism industry alone in Siem Reap, so consider purchasing a refillable bottle on arrival in Cambodia and fill up at any of the clean water stations around the country.
Avoid wearing jewellery – I don’t like to give this advice because I believe that you should wear whatever you want without being attacked for it. However, if you wear jewellery, there is a high chance it will be snatched and grabbed, and you will be taken along for the ride. Not only will you potentially lose a valuable or sentimental piece of jewellery, you may also be injured. Snatch and grabs occur with both Cambodians and foreigners, and those who steal from you are so well trained that you won’t even realise what is happening until it is too late. Leave the jewellery at home.
Be alert on your bus journeys – I only travel with Giant Ibis in Cambodia. I have read many horror stories of people being sexually abused on buses, having their possessions stolen, or ending up in horrible traffic accidents. My friend one time woke up with a stranger spooning her on the night bus. Ensure you keep your valuable possessions close to you and not stored below the bus, as there are crime rings set up just to steal from unsuspecting tourists!
For in-depth information, it is worth heading to the Smart Traveller website. Most importantly, make sure you have fun! Cambodia is a beautiful country and I know you will love it.