Readers' Submissions

Is Cambodia Safe



Is Phom Penh safe?

Like most questions this can be answered with either a yes or no and it depends on you.
First, most of the street lights are out in all but the main boulevards.

One should not be out walking along the streets at night except for Sisovath Quay which is the street that runs along the river and is filled with restaurants and stores that stay open in the evening. There is a limit to this though. On the far ends of the street, when the shops and lights fade away, you should also. Even then one must be alert.

Getting robbed in Cambodia is a bit different than getting robbed in Thailand.

Let me digress a bit here. I was almost mugged right on Sukhumvit Road between Soi One and Soi Three. There was some construction going on and I was walking with a girl in the evening, (no, not a girl of the evening) when a huge man stepped out of the darkness smack in front of us. Her hand tightened on my arm. Even she could see we might be in for some trouble. I turned around and another man appeared on the sidewalk. He was pretty big too. They meant to sandwich us in-between them but they were just a bit too far apart. I grabbed my girl and pulled her out into the Sukhumvit traffic. Jeeze, I don’t know which was more dangerous but we got away.

The second time was in Yogyakarta, Java. A beautiful town full of tourists and close to Prambanan and Borobudur, two fabulous temple sites, not to be missed. I was walking down a narrow alleyway during the day. It was filled with locals selling fruits, vegetables and all kinds of stuff. Really interesting.

I noticed three boys in their late twenties behind me and they didn’t look like they were the type to go food shopping for their mothers. Were they after me? I wasn’t afraid as all they probably wanted to do was grab me and go through my pockets but the alleyway was too narrow to turn around and get past them. No telling if I was walking towards a dead end either. I made the next left and they were right behind me getting closer and looking larger.

I made another turn and stood against the wall, my arms folded against my chest. My arms would already be up and I would have a good head start for a defensive position. These guys were so hot on my trail now that they walked right past me. They stopped, looked at me and spoke a few words to each other. I don’t understand the language but it seemed something like, “Let’s get him now.” I swiftly turned back the way I came, down the alley way and walked out onto the middle of the street. The bad boys were foiled again.

In Cambodia it usually does not happen like this. What they do here is to shove a gun in your face. They will shoot you, believe me. If you are stupid enough to be wearing your Rolex or the watch your grandmother gave you for graduation, too bad for you.

Give up all your valuables. Well, almost. I usually carry money in my front pocket or my wallet but I also have an ankle wallet attached with Velcro. These are sold in many travel stores and on line. I doubt I would give that up and I doubt I would be searched there due to the Asian aversion to a person's feet. As for hiding your money in a money belt or in a carry bag around your waist – they will take that for sure.

As for the person who said they carried pepper spray. I would rethink that. These people want your money and are accustomed to violence. Are you? Is it worth it?

You already have with you a few of the most powerful weapons on earth. Your eyes and your brain. If you sense there is something wrong with a situation, get out of there.
Don’t let someone saying, “Hey don’t you like Asian people. You are offending me,” stop you, keep walking. Don’t be flattered by complements or attention either.

Violence, robbery and murder rarely happen at random. They are usually planned. They do not happen ‘all at once’ or ‘out of the blue.’ If you are alert and have an open mind you will receive a warning first. Something odd will happen. A stranger will nod in your direction; someone will start walking very close to you. Listen to your sixth sense. Pay attention. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. A touch of fear or uneasiness can be your best friend. Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

When the fellow went to Martini’s in Phom Penh did he notice the signs they have pasted over the urinals? It reads something like this. “Martinis does not employ moto-dop (read motorcycle drivers), and are not responsible for their actions.

This sign arises from the practice of the driver, if you get on the back of his bike for a ride home costing you only a dollar, driving on a dark road past his friends who will pull up next to you on a motorcycle. The rear passenger will be carrying a large hand gun and in a little while, your money also.

The best thing to do is not be a cheapskate. (The guy that wanted to walk to Martinis must be totally unawares, sorry about that). Hire a moto-driver or better yet a car from in front of your hotel. They work in these spots the year round and are usually good, responsible people. Keep them for the entire night. A moto-taxi driver will usually only charge you ten bucks. If you get one on the street or in front of a bar you are taking a chance. The exception to this rule may be in Sihanoukville where all of the drivers are nasty pieces of work. I would ask the hotel to recommend a driver.

There are many interesting things to see in Cambodia and it's worth it to travel a bit. When it starts to get dark, no before that, find a place to stay for the night.

Do not travel at night anywhere in the country in Cambodia. Want to go out for a drink at night? Don’t stray too far from your hotel and if it looks like the locals are drinking heavily as is mostly the case-don’t stay. If you are walking in the woods during the day exploring the countryside and have to go to the toilet, don’t step off the path to be a nice guy and make poop in the woods. There are plenty of land mines still around.

My apologies to the last writer but never take your wallet out of your pocket unless you are in the customs office or police station and even then hold on to it. I carry my wallet in my front pocket on which I have sewn Velcro, very hard to get into and then small money in my other pocket. The big money is in my ankle holster. Speaking of which I have also invested in a zippered cloth night deposit bank bag which can be locked. You don’t want the guy at the front desk to see you dumping all your cash into the paper envelope he gives you. A friend of mine did this with a few thousand dollars and lo and behold it disappeared overnight.

A guide book if you are traveling around is always a good thing to have and here may I throw in a recommendation for the absolutely best and most complete guide to Cambodia. Adventure Cambodia written by a dear friend Matt Jacobson and published by Silkworm Press in Thailand but available all over. Having said all of this, I want to make it clear that the Khmer people are some of the nicest on earth and I have had many wonderful experiences in Cambodia. Please don’t let my ramblings put you off.

Stickman's thoughts:

I too enjoyed Cambodia and really must go back for another look.