Preah Khan is a large temple. After visiting Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som and Neak Pean temple ruins, I was a bit spoiled because each of them was relatively small (not that small, but compared to most temples along the Petit Circuit, these were smaller) and didn’t take all that much time to explore. Coming to a temple that counted as one of the largest I have visited anywhere in Angkor yet, I had to mobilize much of my strength to still pull it off after 4 stops full of thorough explorations in this heat. It was already mid afternoon so the temperature were soaring, but the realization that I’m doing pretty good keeping up with schedule, and this is the last big task of the day, I was very eager to get right down to it.
Preah Khan was built during reign of Khmer king Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery which also housed a centre of Buddhist studies. Finalized in 1191, Jayavarman VII dedicated the temple which was built on the site of his victory over the invading Chams to his father Dharanindra. Temple’s central sanctuary originally housed the statue of Lokesvara, the savior god of Mahayana Buddhism which was carved in the image of the king’s father. Unfortunately, this image, as well as all other images representing Buddhism were vandalized during the reign of king destroyer Jayavarman VIII who initiated the reform of Angkor’s religion in favor of Hinduism.
Being similar in layout and style to Ta Prohm (which Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother), Preah Khan bears further similarities to the former in the many trees which grow among and over the ruins. I found Preah Khan to be the second most jungle overgrown in a huge-trees-intertwined-with-ancient-rock way temple – after Ta Prohm. That just about made it the second most photogenic temple as spots with those monster roots running down the crumbling walls like spilled honey were the most visually appealing feature of Angkor Archaeological Park that drew me to Cambodia in the first place.
Preah Khan, whose name means ‘sacred sword’ (derived from its original name of Nagara Jayasri – meaning holy city of victory) was built on an area covering 56 hectares (138 acres). Including the moat (now dry) which surrounds the outer enclosure, Preah Khan measures 800 x 700 meters. The Jayatataka Baray (huge artificial, rectangular shaped pond) which had the unusually round Neak Pean temple in its middle, was right to the east of Preah Khan. The temple is oriented to the east (as are all Buddhist temples) with eastern wall bearing the main gopura (entrance gate). Each of the exterior walls (each cardinal point) has its own gopura and each has its own causeway over the moat lined on both sides with (now headless) asuras and devatas carrying a body of a naga serpent – similar to what can be found at each entrance to Angkor Thom (best seen at the South Gate).
Preah Khan’s central sanctuary (now housing a Buddhist Stupa) is surrounded with four rectangular enclosures. Coming from the east (that’s where you will most likely come from), when you reach the second wall (third enclosure), you will have come to its, rather large gopura which has two huge silk trees growing over its southern side. One of the trees was leaning too much and threatened to take the entire structure down and had to be cut down. Its roots, which hold the coridor together, were however left in place (along with the other tree) and offer a fantastic opportunity for photography. Except that if you come in the afternoon, like I did, you will have the sun creating strong backlight, pretty much ruining what could have been an otherwise awesome picture. You can also take a picture from the opposite side of the wall and have a sun nicely illuminate it, but it doesn’t look nowhere as impressive from there.
Needless to say, the corridor over which the two giant trees grow is crumbled up and very unstable, presenting a very realistic danger of crushing down hence there are signs warning the visitors not to enter that spot. I had to be the one with the death wish and climbed over rubble to get in there for a picture from within the roots and even though nothing happened to me, I must strongly discourage anyone considering doing the same. If you decide to copy my reckless behavior and the weight of the trees delivers the wall its final blow, there will be no saving you. I could think of better ways to die than by being crushed by giant stones. Don’t do it!
Further into the temple you would find another photogenic spot with what was once a huge tree growing over an ancient wall however the wall below that tree already did crumble down and only parts of it still stand supported by the roots and a wooden frame made by the restorers. The tree was too big and threatened further damage to the structure which sealed its demise. Only a stump is left of this once monster, however the stump is atop a big set of roots still encompassing much of the former wall in a composition that is sure to leave the viewer in awe.
Unfortunately, I only got a chance to go across the temple all the way to its western gopura (via the south which is flanked on both sides with cool stone guardians) and back before I started feeling uneasy about leaving my bike out of my sight while only locked against itself and went to repark it only to catch a group of greedy Cambodians attempting to steal it. This unpleasant experience had me abandon further exploration of Preah Khan and even though rather shaken, I moved on to the last few ruins on the Grand Circle.
There is an exceptionally unique two storey high, stand alone building just north of the Hall of Dancers which is on the west side of the third gopura (second wall from the east to cross, aka the one with two trees growing over it). This unique building features round columns – something that’s not found anywhere else in Angkor. Because of the bicycle stealing episode, I did not go back to Preah Khan and as such, didn’t get a chance to take a picture of this unique building (and a bunch of others).
Overall, I did enjoy my time exploring Preah Khan – too bad a bunch of self righteous locals had to totally ruin the experience for me. Its location on the Grand Circuit makes Preah Khan a less attractive target which results in incomparably fewer visitors crossing its gates. If you’re an enthusiast, I’d say the temple is definitely worth the time and would reward the you with great photo opportunities. If you can time your visit for the morning, you’d also get good light for more captivating shots which would make the whole experience so much better.
By the time I got to explore Angkor temples on the Grand Circuit, I have been in Cambodia for one and a half weeks. I adopted to the local way of thinking quickly and took all the precautions to minimize chances of being a subject of crime. The local way of thinking – as it exists in Cambodia – revolves around personal enrichment that involves anything other than working for money. Theft, robberies, assaults and various forms of violent crime (including murder and rape) are a daily happening.
As an observant person, I kept my eyes wide open while I was making my way around the country I have temporarily become a part of. The number of people I securely observed checking my pockets and bags to estimate whether they bore content worth a move was frightening. Frustration I observed in their eyes as I let them know that I am aware of what they are thinking and will be keeping a keen eye on their every move so they can’t make me a victim was noteworthy. I did stand my ground firmly and faced the dangers even though it continuously jeopardize my personal safety.
I did good though. By the time I reached Preah Khan temple, almost two weeks into my stay in Cambodia, I still have not had anything stolen from me. Few people who visited Cambodia can say that. With majority of the local population being constantly, round the clock on the lookout for a foreigner who would drop their guard for a second, it’s always a mere question of time before one succeeds with their pull. And after years of doing nothing but perfecting their art of crime, they’ve become masters of theft capable of getting almost anything from anyone. It’s unfortunate, but no matter how careful and vigilant you are, you cannot be 100% alert 100% of the time. There is bound to be a moment during your visit to Cambodia when you have had a long day and as you blink your eye to sooth your mind, your possessions will be gone. There will always be a local in your vicinity checking out whether an opportune moment to rob you has come. And when it comes – which is something that comes upon each and every one of us – you can bet your Scooby Doo Panties that Cambodians will be there to take advantage of you.
Cambodians are well aware of the above mentioned fact and rely on it for their daily thieving missions to be successful. They are ridiculously skilled in thievery and often work in teams to keep you distracted while the one with the most skilled fingers makes the pull. They are so skilled as thieves, many foreigners who were deprived of their possessions would actually believe that they must have forgotten their wallet, camera, laptop, or whatever the thieves attempted to steal in the restaurant where they dined earlier.
It only gets better in the fact that the restaurant staff, the police and virtually everyone else you encounter as a tourist in Cambodia would also never pass on an opportunity to steal from a foreigner so even if they don’t happen to be around skilled thieves themselves, locals you are around will be well connected with groups who are skilled thieves and will tip them off. You visit a restaurant and the server notices that you are a potentially easy target because you left your camera on the table while you were reading the menu, thus neither holding the camera securely in your hand nor keeping your eyes firmly locked on it, or they would notice that you keep your wallet loosely in your pocket and don’t have it on a chain fastened against yourself, or would simply notice that you carry on yourself something that seems of good value (laptop, jewelry, SLR camera, etc.) and you are a marked man. Cambodia is both a breeding ground for thieves as well as a well connected network of commission seekers. Nobody does anything in Cambodia unless there is a kick back in it for them. And since they are also inherently lazy and always looking for personal enrichment that doesn’t require working for money, vast majority of your day to day encounters will be with locals who will either try to steal from you themselves or will set somebody who is better at it than themselves on you.
Taking all that into an account, there are hardly few people who visited Cambodia and lasted for a week and a half without having something stolen off them by the locals. Being a rare one of the few, I knew that my “luck” if you can call it so was not because thieves never stumbled across me – that is impossible in Cambodia where there are more thieves per cubic meter than there are mosquitoes. It was only and solely because I always made sure that stealing from me would be impossible. I always made everyone visually checking my pockets know that I am aware that they are checking my pockets. I always made it clear that my camera or bag never leaves my grip and are always zipped up and across my shoulders. When I sat in a restaurant to do some work on the laptop, I got the laptop chained against an unmovable bar and laptop bag locked against the chain. When someone came within an arm’s reach of me, I increased my mental alertness to 100% and watched every move of the person closely while at the same time periodically checking my surroundings to make sure nobody else is getting close enough from behind to take advantage of me while the other fellow/lady is keeping me preoccupied.
The reason why virtually everybody who comes to Cambodia ends up having had something of their stolen, is that they do not do it the way I did. It has absolutely nothing to do with being paranoid and everything to do with reading people who surround you well and not fooling yourself they are nice when they are not. Being extra cautious when your environment warrants it is smart, not paranoid. But that’s why I lasted for a whole week and a half without having anything stolen, unlike vast majority of other people who visit Cambodia.
It was only thanks to that utmost vigilance that those suspicious individuals who kept checking my pockets and trying to take a peek inside my bag, started to back off instead of crawling nearer and took their stare away instead of systematically continuing to assess the contents of my pockets. And after whole week and a half, I still had everything that was rightfully mine under my control. And then I came to Preah Khan.
At the Preah Khan Temple
When I was at Angkor, I only carried my camera with me and always made sure I could physically feel it. The only other possessions I had with me while exploring Angkor temples were the cell phone in my pocket and my mountain bike. Cheap and beat up as it was, the bike was still mine and I wanted to keep it for future use as my transportation means to avoid having to deal with the aggressive tuk tuk drivers. However in order to ensure that Angkor touts can successfully bother foreigners out of their money, it is not possible for the visitors to Angkor to take bicycles inside the temples. You will see the locals entering temples with both bicycles and motorcycles, but if they allowed for tourists to do that, it would be much more difficult to for touts to pester them, hence ban.
As a result, if you come to a temple on a bicycle, you have to leave it outside of the entrance gate. This is usually not much of an issue on the Petit Circuit, as there is always a busy flow of tourists coming in and out at all times and some have small structural fences around parking areas you can use as unmovable bike racks. However it’s a whole different story in temples that are less popular. Cambodians are always on the lookout for something to steal from tourists. They won’t hesitate stealing if they have to pull it out of your pocket so when you make it easy on them and leave your possession in a stealable form don’t keep a keen eye on it, you will have created an opportunity for which they would hate themselves if they passed up on. It’s a way of personal enrichment without work, which fits their profile to the dot.
Fake Orphanage Kids
When I came to Preah Khan, I did just that. It was incredibly hot and all I could see in the vicinity were trees too big to wrap my chain around. So I merely leaned my bike against one of them and locked the wheel against the frame. This would make it impossible to ride the bike, but if someone were to come with a truck, they could easily load the bike up and ride off. Then once safely in their home, they would deploy whatever tools they had (or borrowed) to remove the chain and voila – they would have just become the new owners of a mountain bike.
I sort of suspected that something like this could happen, but fooled myself for a second that since Preah Khan is on the Grand Circuit and it doesn’t see that many visitors, local traffic in and out of it is not as heavy either so perhaps no truck would come while I’m inside. To further secure my position and have the locals who saw me leave the bike there be on my side and watch it for me, I responded to a swarm of kids who jumped me as soon as I was done locking my bike and insisted that I donate to their orphanage cause they are oh so poor orphans and will starve to death unless I give them money.
Cambodians, in their divine greediness will not hesitate to pull off lies that will stop your brain just to get money off of gullible tourists. They play with visitor’s feelings and try various things until a certain something proves to work. In less visited temples, such as those along the Grand Circuit, they really have to get creative in order to succeed because these temple simply don’t receive traffic comparable to the traffic popular temples along the Small Tour get. So they set up booths, print out a sign and pose as people from an orphanage to make their efforts more fruitful. Knowing darn well that they are fake orphans only using the sob story because it works better in getting money off tourists, I was reluctant to contribute. However since there was nowhere to securely lock my bicycle, I thought that if I gave them money, they would feel grateful and would in return ensure that if someone did try to steal my bike, they would prevent them from doing it. What foolish thinking on my behalf!
Exploring Preah Khan While Bicycle Easily Movable
Feeling slightly better about leaving my bike out of my sight while not properly secured, I walked into the Preah Khan temple and started exploring. The temple looked pretty good – overgrown with jungle intertwined with collapsing walls kind of like Ta Prohm, it offered many great opportunities for photography. It was early afternoon, though, so face of the temple and all of its important elements which were built to face the east had sun behind them, creating a mighty strong backlight which spoilt most of the pictures, but the impressive size of the trees growing over the structure left me in awe never the less.
Still, while I was exploring Preah Khan and taking pictures, I started feeling uneasy about my bike being out of sight and not fastened to anything unmovable. It was extremely hot so any extra steps to take would lead to extra wastage of energy of which you never have enough in this sun, but I decided to backtrack anyway, take my bike down to the paved road and look for a thin enough tree there to lock the bike against. Granted, a dedicated thief could saw the tree down to gain possession of the bike, but the likelihood of one armed with a saw walking around just after I locked my bike there seemed minimal. Plus the effort needed to mow the tree down would take some time which could serve as a deterrent because if it takes an extra time, then chances of the bike’s owner returning to get it increase dramatically. Plus it takes quite a bit of work to take a tree down and Cambodians don’t like to work hard. Locking the bike against a tree simply seemed like the only way to get a more realistic peace of mind, even if it meant extra walking in this unbearable heat. So I interrupted the exploration of Preah Khan to move my bike somewhere where I could lock it against a tree.
Thieving Fake Orphanage Kids
As I come out of the temple unexpectedly early, I see the group of kids and their supervising adults to whom I previously donated money all packed up, leaving with their table used for donations and my bicycle lifted up on their shoulders because they couldn’t roll it due to a locked up wheel and dashing off. The group, after I donated money to them even though they were no orphans, saw the bike was stealable and as I got out of sight, they quickly started packing to be gone the hell out of there along with my stealable bicycle by the time I was done exploring the temple. Somehow early on, I had my guardian angel watching over me and the feeling of uneasiness because I left my bike out of my sight while improperly secured continued to grow until it reached the level of being unbearable so despite the heat, I invested extra energy to return and have my bike reparked somewhere where I could lock it up securely.
I just spotted the thieving kids in the last moment, let out the deadliest shout I could summon and charged full speed towards the group. Scared by my yell of doom, the thieves dropped my biked and took off for their lives. Happy to know that in this, furthest from home point on the Grand Circuit I am still left with my transportation so I’m not at the mercy of greedy tuk tuk drivers who would only see it as an opportunity in itself and would take advantage of me for being out of options, I did not return back to Preah Khan and abandoned this temple never to return. Quite shaken and distressed, I rode on to my next destination. Not only was I shocked to have just nearly had my bike stolen, I was also disgusted by the fact that it was done by the kids to whom I previously donated money. Greed of Cambodians knows no limits whatsoever. You can simply never trust one as giving them a finger merely translates into an opportunity to snatch an entire hand.
The First Mistake
I guess all you can do is give them the finger the right way – by giving them the right one and nicely upright. For one and a half weeks I was able to keep relentless Cambodian thieves at bay only to make my first mistake by fooling myself into believing that by giving Cambodians money, they would respect me and in turn watch out for my property while I am exploring the temple. It was a ridiculously foolish thing of me to think and a valuable lesson to learn. Cambodians are not only greedy beyond words, they are also a bunch of backstabbers without a back bone of their own. There is no low to which a Cambodian would not stoop. And to no surprise of mine, I had it later confirmed by my friends from the Sras Srang village that none of these kids were orphans, none of the adults who were with them were orphanage owners and there was no such orphanage under any such name anywhere in the Angkor Archeological Park.
A trip to the Preah Khan Temple is one of those I will never forget. This is where I had fake orphanage kids attempt to steal my bicycle and had it not been for an intervention by the divine providence, they would have succeeded. Not only would I end up without something that was rightfully mine, I would also end up stuck without transportation at the part of the Grand Circuit that just happens to be the furthest from Siem Reap. And that is not a very positive outlook in a country like Cambodia. I would have to rent services of a tuk tuk driver who, seeing that I was just a subject to crime, would take advantage of the situation for his own personal enrichment. For Cambodians, a person in need is not a person to whom to assist. For Cambodians, a person in need is a person easier to exploit because they are out of the options and cannot be choosers.
Luckily for me, in the nick of time I got that funny feeling that I should repark my bike somewhere where it would be more difficult to steal so I interrupted my visit to Preah Khan only to catch the fake orphanage kids to whom I previously donated money thinking that they would gratefully watch over my bike in return, dashing off carrying my bicycle with them. My untimely show-up with a follow up yell from hell made them drop the bike on the spot and run for their lives. It was hot and I was tired from whole day exposure to that devastating Cambodian sun, but when the feeling of uneasiness about the insecurely parked bike came upon me, I interrupted my visit to the temple thinking that I would return to finish the exploration after I had my bike reparked and locked against something unmovable.
Needless to say, the distress the discovery of the theft attempt caused made the return to Preah Khan a no option. I counted my blessings and feeling happy I still had my bicycle, I rode off, away from this God-forbidden place where some of the most horrible inhabitants of the Earth operate as the lowest form of scum imaginable. However, because I was only partially done exploring Preah Khan when I left to repark my bicycle, I don’t have pictures of all of it. The gallery below contains the images I did take, however I left some for after the repark, which I ultimately ended up not having a chance to capture. Those include a picture of that unique two storey stand alone building with circular columns – something very unique for Angkor Archaeological Park as nothing of sorts can be seen anywhere else within the area. And it also includes the missing picture of the central sanctuary itself.
Now to the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple:
The entrance causeway is lined on both sides with the same row of Asuras carrying a body of a huge naga serpent that can be found at the South Gate to Angkor Thom, however all Asuras at the Preah Khan Temple are headless. Locals stole the heads during their looting raids and sold them to rich foreigners who yearned to have a historically significant rock in their possession. Some speculate that presence of these Asuras at the entrance to the temple makes Preah Khan more significant than Banteai Kdei or Ta Prohm, both of which receive incomparably more visitor traffic (mostly because they are on the Small Tour).
As for the pictures with those giant trees growing over the structures – because the passages immediately below the trees are crumbling and no way has been found to secure them yet, the access to these parts is restricted by the warning signs (as you can see from one of the photo in the gallery). However there is no one enforcing the no access requirement so a visitor to Angkor with a death wish can freely proceed and stand right below the crumbling rocks on top of which a monster tree is growing ever so tall. I had to be one of the crazy ones. I just could not pass up on this opportunity to stand right below those enormous trees knowing that the piles of huge rocks that support them could come crushing down at any given time. Utmost stupidity and I was fully aware of it at the time, yet still I wanted to stick my head where the danger was. It was my time at Angkor, afterall. For me it was a one in a lifetime opportunity to stand below those famous silk trees that brace the stones of Angkor in substitute for pillars in a frisk of nature that is as astounding as it is precarious. It was this close knit of nature with ancient architecture that drove me to Angkor in the first place.
Anyway, without further ado, below is the gallery of photos of the Preah Khan temple I took before the attempt to steal my bicycle by the fake orphanage kids took place. The few spots I left for after the bicycle repark I never eventually got a chance to photograph as I could not comfortably walk inside the temple outside of which an organized group of large caliber crooks operated without backbone of any form:
Siem Reap is the main tourist hub of Cambodia. Vast majority of foreigners who visit the country go there to see the ancient temples of Angkor and Siem Reap is where they stay and spend most of their time while they’re at it. Since violent crime in Cambodia can be a serious issue, it is perfectly legitimate to be concerned about personal safety while staying in town. Is Siem Reap safe for visitors or not? Let’s take a look at it:
It is understandable that Siem Reap is a major cash cow for the government of Cambodia. It starts with the purchase of the visa most foreigners who just wish to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park need to buy, takes a whole new level with payment of Angkor entrance fees and continues through fees (and bribes) paid by tuk tuk drivers, guides, tour operators and other “service” providers for the privilege to conduct business in this lucrative area.
With Angkor being such a massive money maker, Cambodian government certainly has the foremost interest to ensure nothing too newsworthy (like hostage taking and murder of a 3 year old Canadian boy in 2005) happens to a foreigner during their stay in Siem Reap. Increased police presence is the result. Luckily for visitors, the police stationed to patrol Siem Reap, including the tourist police the primary purpose of which is to assist foreigners in need of law enforcement, occasionally do what they are paid for. There have even been some cases of businesses being shut down and their owners/operators fined after foreigners complained because they were scammed (scamming happens more often than gets reported, but some foreigners do go through the hassle of reporting it and in some cases in delivered results).
This increased police presence throughout Siem Reap and Angkor area makes the whole Siem Reap province less dangerous than other Cambodian provinces. Rape is a serious problem all over Cambodia and I got to talk to many girls about it (victims who will never see justice being served) and found out that rape truly is less of a problem in the Siem Reap province than it is elsewhere in Cambodia. This allows the girls from Siem Reap to attend evening school classes and go home after dark without male escort.
Things are not as rosy in other Cambodian provinces where dusk brings the end to activities outside of the safety of people’s homes. However sometimes even your own four walls won’t protect you from sexual predators so groups of women who live together always have a male member of the family stay in a nearby house and available on the phone for those many days when someone is trying to break into their house for the score.
Heavy police presence throughout Siem Reap results in less dangerous environment not only for foreigners, but also for locals. Things do get sketchy after dark, though. When the sun goes down, the streets of Siem Reap get emptied out, except from the areas around Pub Street where most foreigners spend their evenings. The police patrol both ends of Pub Street with their bikes blocking entrances off to prevent vehicle access to the street that comes much alive at night.
Because this is where vast majority of foreigners visiting Cambodia spend most of their time, they come and go unharmed, believing that Cambodia is a safe country. Make no mistake, though – Cambodia still has a long way to go before it can be considered a safe country, but Siem Reap, despite not being entirely safe presents few dangers to an average visitor.
One good way to look at how dangerous Siem Reap really is would be by comparing it to Luang Prabang in neighbouring Laos. Luang Prabang is also a heavily touristed place, overrun with foreigners on any given day, with virtually every house on each of the downtown streets being either a guesthouse, a restaurant or some form of an office providing overpriced, pre-packaged tours. Yet even though it’s so heavily touristed, you won’t see any increased police presence there. Tourists wander the streets of Luang Prabang safely in the middle of the night, single woman walking down empty streets long after sunset, yet you won’t get any locals staring you down or throwing verbal remarks your way like it is in Siem Reap. Yet while you’re in Luang Prabang, there would be absolutely no police anywhere in vicinity.
I spent one week in Luang Prabang, exploring it back and forth, starting on some days at 5.30am and staying up on others until well after midnight. While thoroughly enjoying the street life of Luang Prabang on my own, I have not seen one police officer there. If you think about it, the government would only consider stationing more police officers in an area if locals pose a significant threat to the safety of foreigners who flock there with their hard currency. Since Lao people appreciate and value foreigners for who they are and what they mean to their economy, there is little need to police their actions. Draw your own conclusion about why Cambodian government spends extra money to have extra police in Siem Reap.
The premise of child sex tourism is something that has never once in my life crossed my mind. Not once, at least not until I came to Cambodia. From the moment I entered the country to the moment I left it, the billboards plastered all over Cambodia kept reminding me that child sex tourism in Cambodia is a thriving industry enjoyed by many.
I began to seriously question the true purpose behind the posters which albeit written to sound as a warning to child sex tourists, did instead subconsciously remind everyone that even if it would never ever occur to them to engage in sex with a child, many people travel to Cambodia for that very purpose so perhaps they should consider it to.
I honestly wonder how many of those who came to Cambodia with sole intention to see ancient Angkor ruins, planned their follow up visit after they were reminded by the so called anti-sex-tourism posters that Cambodia is a suitable country for the deviants to exploit children. I wonder how many of those who did end up exploiting Cambodian children would never have done it had the posters not suggested to them that in this country it’s possible. Cause if I were to guess, I’d say that most men who exploited Cambodian children did not seek out Cambodia in particular, but found out about the possibility to engage in something like that while they were there.
Drop In The Ocean
Cambodian government is so loud mouthed about targeting child sex tourists it made me question what exactly it was they were trying to achieve? Is targeting foreigners all they care about or do they also give a crap about those poor children? I had to ask this simply because compared to rapes of Cambodian children perpetrated by local men, sexual exploitation of Cambodian children by sex tourists is a drop in the ocean.
But there is no government initiative aimed at eliminating child exploitation by locals. These cases don’t even get filed and perpetrators don’t get prosecuted. They are free to exploit these children as often as they please and by golly, do they ever… So if the government doesn’t give a damn about the wellbeing of children, then what is this war on child sex tourism masquerade all about?
The necessity to target child sex tourists in as urgent and stringent manner as humanly possible has never been more important. The world is far better connected now than it ever was and with travel more affordable than it was in the past, the threat of sick-minded individuals talking advantage of children from impoverished countries is on the rise. It’s an issue that can’t be put off but could it be that it’s also a good excuse to grease a corrupt third world pocket with some western dough?
The sole thought that this could be the case is made even more sickening by the fact that while pockets are being greased, the rate at which children are exploited is not dropping. Their well being simply doesn’t appear to be of concern, but it’s a good opportunity to make the government known for being the most corrupt in the world look concerned and determined to make a difference in the eyes of the international community.
The Power of Good Press
“Cambodian government is dedicated to fighting child sex tourism” – it has a very good ring to it, doesn’t it? To make themselves look like they care about the most vulnerable part of their society could easily make the international community overlook the fact that corruption and human rights abuses are unrivalled in Cambodia. And while the bigger picture and the true problem get lost in the blaze of the child sex tourism fighting glory, the large scale exploitation of Cambodian children by their own kin continues unhindered, but who cares? The government appears to be concerned with children through their self professed war on child sex tourism, so let’s praise them for it!
In a perfect scheme of things, by seemingly targeting foreigners who travel to Cambodia to exploit children, Cambodian government makes itself look like they really care. And that gets them funding. They just need to do three things:
Instruct the police so no rape reports perpetrated by locals are filed
Exaggerate the impact of child sex tourism
Present themselves as an impoverished country with no budget to fight it
If there are no statistics to prove high occurrence of rape perpetrated by locals, no one will have a reason to suspect it could be the case. And if anyone got too eager to investigate on it, they would find nothing they could work with. Furthermore, with war against child sex tourism in everyone’s face, the focus of independent investigative journalists would be drawn that way cause that’s what the international community talks about and that’s what causes all the outrage. And so the government has both its own initiative, as well as the international press creating a picture which portrays them as dedicated fighters for the rights of children.
With focus successfully taken off the real issue and put on a miniscule, but upsetting one, the Cambodian government is now seen in good light so if they bring up the fact that they don’t have the budget to fight child sex tourism, the international community is likely to come together and provide funding.
Problem From Abroad
Child sex tourism is something that Cambodia is hit with from abroad and that makes it something that countries outside of Cambodian borders are responsible for. That’s a pretty good argument to make the international community feel obliged to contribute to the war on child sex tourism. The problem comes from abroad, so let the money to fight it come from abroad too.
Imagine that instead of blaming foreigners for exploitation of children, the Cambodian government would provide truthful rape statistics which would reveal that vast majority of cases involving exploitation of children were perpetrated by Cambodians. Imagine the numbers would clearly indicate that Cambodian government has done nothing over the decades to protect these children in any way.
Would the international community still see the Cambodian government as an entity entirely devoted to protecting the wellbeing of children? Would the international community still feel as obliged to finance the initiative?
Child sex tourists may account for one in a thousand cases of sexual exploitation of children in Cambodia, but targeting them greases the corrupt government pockets, whereas targeting local rapists doesn’t. Where does that leave the children? Well, tough luck for them. They continue being exploited on a large scale because it’s not really them the government cares about. If they did, perpetrators from friendly neighborhoods would be targeted thousands times as often as child sex tourists are but right now it’s the other way around.
All for One, One For All
The child sex tourism issue in Cambodia is a perfect example which explains what I wrote about in the “How Far You Can See Is Determined By How High You Can Fly” article. It is such a serious issue, it deserves utmost attention and immediate action, however unless people who talk about it rise up to see the bigger picture, the sad reality for many Cambodian children will remain unchanged. And unfortunately, I have yet to meet one person who wouldn’t be completely dim-witted to see the real problem, so I took upon myself to call it for what it is here.
I care about the real problem. I care about the well being of innocent children. And because it’s not heaps of positive press and approval of the sheep that drives me, I don’t lower myself to limiting my reporting to merely what delivers said positive press and approval of the sheep. If all I wanted was positive press, then I would do what everybody else does and would write up an extensive post on how awful child sex tourism is and how big a problem it’s become in Cambodia. That would get the sheep bleeping in accord with me, but would keep the real problem in the dark and with it, the real children as exploited as ever with no outlook of positive change in their already miserable lives.
Unless someone talks about the real problem and addresses it for what it really is, instead of hiding behind a popular topic of condemning child sex tourism to boost their popularity rankings as an investigative journalist, the horrifying reality for scores of Cambodian children will remain as bleak as ever. They are out there and they are suffering in huge numbers because all the public’s outrage targets and draws attention to are child sex tourists, while local rapists whose heinous crimes are done with such severity and frequency they literally make exploitation by foreigners negligent, continue abusing these children unhindered.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in absolute and irrefutable support of bringing child sex tourists to justice but even if we’re successful and child sex tourism is put to a complete halt in Cambodia, it will improve little to nothing about the miserable lives of exploited children in Cambodia. Sick foreigners are certainly a problem, but they are not the main problem. They must be targetted, but the initiative should not end with them. Sexual exploitation of Cambodian children by tourists faints in comparison with how much and how often these children get exploited by locals.
All Children deserve a chance at a better life. They all deserve our protection. Let’s stop ignoring where the bigger problem is and start calling it for what it is. Take those rose tinted glasses off your nose for once and step outside the bubble. It’s our turn to be responsible. Let’s support war on child sex tourism, but let’s at the same time insist that rapists who exploit children on much higher scale are dealt with at an adequate pace.
I spent most of my time in Cambodia living like a Cambodian. While I stayed in the village, I became part of the day to day affairs that commanded the village life and became close friends with a number of members of the community. Thoroughly integrated, I took part in the village’s daily routines many of which were so strange to me, they raised questions. Through close ties with a few friends, I was soon filled in on much of what seemed as an unusually uptight lifestyle.
It seemed, for example, rather strange to me that single girls stayed in a dedicated house and would always lock themselves up inside immediately after dark. As was explained to me later, Cambodian tradition dictated the girls to not spend nights in company of men. Children stayed with their parents, married couples stayed together, but adolescent, unmarried girls always stay with one another and would bar outside world’s access to them for the whole night entirely.
Things became even clearer later on, when almost every other night someone would try to break into the house of girls with an intention to rape them. That was the reason why no girl would ever stroll out after dark and why even though they lived separated from men, their close male relatives were always nearby. This was because sexually oriented assaults against girls were so frequent, a male they could trust – usually a father or brother of the girls – was always nearby to fight off perpetrators looking to sexually violate them.
Unfortunately (but not shockingly), despite these rather drastic precautions, an alarmingly high number of Cambodian girls still gets raped before getting a chance to engage in voluntary intercourse with someone they like. Everybody in Cambodia either knows someone who was raped or were victims of rape themselves.
Cambodia, as I found out is one rape happy nation. Being a female in Cambodia carries with it an inherent, very realistic and ever increasing threat of becoming a rape victim at some point in their lives with the least lucky ones getting exploited long before reaching maturity. Children, after all, are easy victims. They are naturally afraid of adults and their dependency on them makes them obedient. Plus a child does not have the matching physical strength to possibly fight the perpetrator off or run away.
However, if a child is not available, your average Cambodian male will not pass up on an opportunity to sexually violate a woman should said opportunity present itself. And if no opportunity presents itself, he’ll go out to create one (remember my post about driving habits of people who like to use their physical advantages against disadvantaged individuals? Cambodians are a perfect example. The entire history of Cambodia is the history of unprovoked aggression, and it still reflects in their inherent lust for abuse of anyone who’s weaker, with aggressive driving and inclination to rape being the most obvious).
The possibilities and opportunities for rapists in Cambodia are endless. Not only can they enjoy violating the weak and not face a threat of punishment, they can even count on the victims to keep to themselves as most will feel ashamed to even admit that they were violated. The place of a woman in the Cambodian society is not particularly enviable.
A society which deems women a lesser human form is not likely to recognize rape as a serious crime to begin with. As a result, rapists are not prosecuted, which leaves victims to deal with the ordeal on their own all the while the rapist is out on the lookout for his next prey. Add to the mix how fundamentally corrupt and incompetent Cambodian police are and it becomes clear that it wouldn’t even make any sense for the victim to report the crime. Why bother if the likelihood of being further victimized by the police is higher than a chance of them investigating on the report?
Because there are no lines that Cambodian rapists would draw, foreigners visiting Cambodia are as likely to become victims of rape as locals. And statistics show that. There are none in the Cambodian police files, because Cambodian police doesn’t recognize rape since it never gets reported, but if you look at travel advisories posted by governments of countries with significant number of citizens traveling to Cambodia, you’ll notice a frightening trend. And all these rapes are perpetrated by aggressors from a country with total population of 14 Million. The ratio here must be some of the worst in the world.
Well here is a question – Is Cambodia Barrier Free? Cambodia, the country of world’s worst drivers and some of the world’s most severe personal safety issues – is it barrier free? This is without doubt a legitimate question as many travellers who like to visit foreign countries either suffer from disabilities themselves, or have someone with them who is disabled. So is Cambodia barrier free enough for them to safely move around? The short answer is simple – “No”. But let me elaborate with the long answer a little.
When talking about barrier free countries, one could divide them into several groups:
Barrier Free Countries – many western countries, such as my homeland of Canada strive excessively to be completely barrier free and most people with disabilities truly can make their way around without major issues
Tricky Countries – moving around if you are a person with disabilities can be tricky, but can be done with some planning or little assistance
Not Barrier Free Countries – some countries, such as Cuba have narrow, cobblestone streets that are tricky to navigate through, however locals are more than happy to help without being asked for it. When they see someone in need of assistance, they will be right there to assist
Barrier Full Countries – those would be the countries that are very difficult, or impossible to effortlessly enjoy by the people with disabilities
Forget It Countries – barriers exist in all walks of life making an enjoyable stay for people with disabilities an impossibility
Cambodia – you take the most advanced barriers that prevent people with disabilities to navigate through, combine them into an impenetrable maze, enhance the level of difficulty by infinity and then add some extra barriers on top of it and you get Cambodia. If you find yourself in need of assistance, instead of being helped, you will be laughed at and mocked straight in your face. Cambodians don’t help others, only themselves. If there is something in it for them, then you will suddenly have more than enough of them willing to assist. Unconditional help doesn’t exist
Cambodia is not, by any stretch of imagination a barrier free country. People with disabilities will find it impossible to exist in Cambodia however Cambodia is also full of barriers and danger even for fully able bodied people. You do not have to be disabled to find it impossible to move around or otherwise exist in Cambodia. To add insult to injury, though – if you come to Cambodia as a fully able bodied, healthy and fit person, Cambodia will put you through some unfathomable dangers so if you leave the country in the same condition you have entered in, you can congratulate yourself for achieving the unimaginable.
In other words, Cambodia is not barrier free for people with disabilities, yet it’s not barrier free for people without either. And if you come to the country without any disabilities, you got to be extremely alert and careful at all times or else you could soon earn yourself some.
Road traffic is so dangerous in Cambodia, that no matter what means of transportation you choose to use during your stay, you will be constantly in danger of getting involved in a deadly accident. However the smaller the vehicle, the bigger a danger. Riding a motorcycle or a bicycle are particularly dangerous activities and one has to be more than careful and have their eyes affixed on the road with peripheral vision checking out the situation in all angles at all times. Yet the biggest danger faces you each time set out for a walk.
Cambodians are extremely rude and self important people who need to repeatedly boost their egos (some say it’s the genitals they need to compensate for, but you will find both males and females behaving that way). You will be shown no respect from other traffic participants and if you’re a foreigner, the respect will be that much lower. Because sidewalks are unavailable for use by pedestrians because they serve as parking spots for cars, motorcycles and tuk-tuks, each time you go for a walk, you will be forced to walk on the road directly in the way of disrespectful drivers. Even though Cambodians should drive on the right, you will have traffic coming at you from both sides. It will be topped up by people pushing food carts around forcing you to go to the middle of the road to get by them and that’s where it starts getting super dangerous.
Yet the gravest danger lurks out from the side, where you would least expect it. Cars and bikes parked on the sidewalks – on those sidewalks you cannot use because they are parked there – will reverse into the traffic without any regard for pedestrians who are forced to walk on the road. They will back right into you unless you jump off their way and that’s where any form of being “barrier free” ends. You will have to be extremely vigilant and alert at all times to avoid getting disabled by a rude driver entering the road from a sidewalk and this will happen to you a hundred times a day.
The fact that you will be pressured, stared down and laughed at each time you get blocked off so you have nowhere to go makes safe decision making extremely challenging. Verbal abuse will be evident and you will know you are a subject to mockery but you will have no option but to take it right where they serve it to you. Many Cambodians carry guns and they are fully aware of the fact that law is not enforced in their country (none exists to begin with). There is nothing preventing them from blowing your brains off if you stand up for yourself. They are used to killing and raping so just take the humiliation and abuse and keep your eyes wide open because another out of control motorcycle is riding down the wrong side of the street and there’s no way he’s stirring away from a pedestrian.
Below is the video that briefly shows how “barrier free” Cambodia is. It’s one of those countless cases where I was walking down the street and because of piled up motorcycles, tuk tuks and cars I had to get on the road facing bikers swishing by me from both sides. Soon after I had a car that was parked on the sidewalk start reversing onto the road, completely disregarding the fact that a pedestrian was coming and had I not responded swiftly by slowing down when I noticed the reverse lights come on, I would have been struck by it. This is by no means an isolated incident. This happens all the time and then some. Motorcyclists don’t even seem to shoulder check at all. They are particularly happy to hit you with their two wheelers.
Considering how crime ridden Cambodia really is, it’s hard to imagine that tourists and expats could be exposed to a danger that’s far more serious than violent crime. Yet it’s true. Traffic safety issues are so severe in Cambodia, they put country’s violent crime to shame. And that’s something that’s not to be taken lightly. Afterall, Cambodia is one of the most violent countries in the world, a country in which mob killings and political violence gain epic proportions. Just imagine how dangerous Cambodia’s traffic must be if it’s even deadlier than their ongoing genocide.
One of the reasons contributing to an extremely dangerous traffic situation in Cambodia are unqualified and uneducated drivers. Thousands of motorcycles are operated by children as young as 10 years old. Proper driver’s education doesn’t exist in Cambodia and since traffic laws are both non existent and not enforced, nobody even tries to get educated and become a safe driver.
Cambodian Traffic Laws
There allegedly are some traffic laws in Cambodia but the enforcement is not a priority of the government which is too focused on securing their position by removing everyone in their path. The police occasionally go out to give fines – when they need an extra cash in their own pockets – but that doesn’t mean anyone in Cambodia gives a crap about the rules. They like to fine foreigners because foreigners don’t know regular traffic fines are about 3,000 Riel (roughly $0.75) and ask for $20 or so. If it ever happens to you, make sure you request a “sombot” which is a Khmer word for “receipt”. Traffic infractions in Cambodia have fixed fines so asking for a receipt may prevent the police from extorting outrageous amounts of money from you.
Speaking of traffic laws – at the time of this post, there has been no traffic law in Cambodia outlawing drunk driving. Not surprisingly, DUI is one of the main reasons for grisly ends to many traffic accidents.
What Side Do Cambodians Drive On?
Officially, Cambodians should drive on the right – same as in the USA, Canada or mainland Europe, but as with other traffic regulations, this requirement is not enforced and is as such completely ignored. You will have all sorts of vehicles coming at you from all sides, joining the traffic by riding in opposite direction, reversing into the traffic, ignoring red lights or stop signs, never ever yielding to anyone whose vehicle is smaller than theirs. The video below contains a footage of a motorcyclist riding in the opposite direction and a Cambodian cop being a complete waste of space:
Cambodian traffic situation can best be described as a complete traffic anarchy. Nobody follows any rules, everybody does what the hell they want even though nobody actually knows what the hell they are doing. And as could be expected from an anarchy – the bigger a vehicle you drive, the more arrogant you get while on the road. As it is with carrying and flashing guns, driving and purposefully oppressing all other traffic participants, including the pedestrians is nothing more than an attempt to compensate for inadequacies and insecurities.
As soon as Cambodians get off their vehicles, they become pedestrians and will have to dodge all the vehicles which will never make any attempt to slow down or stir away for someone smaller in size. Hence when they get back in their vehicle, the feeling of being oppressed goes away and now it’s them who become the oppressors. The full circle gets closed.
There are a few pedestrian crossings (zebras) here and there on the roads with busy traffic to presumably allow the pedestrians to cross the street. I don’t know who came with an idea of painting the zebras on the road as it’s been nothing but a complete and utter waste of paint. As a pedestrian, you can wait as long as you want for someone to stop and let you cross – afterall you are on a cross walk – but no one ever will. Ever. No Cambodian will ever stop for a pedestrian. Not even in your wildest dream. They need to compensate for their insecurities and yielding to a pedestrian when you are on a motorcycle or inside a car simply diminishes their egos.
I first noticed the inability to cross the street on my first ever walk through Siem Reap right after I had landed in Cambodia. I stood at the pedestrian crossing for a good while, I stepped down on the road to make it absolutely clear that I am intending to cross the road on that cross walk, I even made a step forward in an attempt to move across thinking that once I start moving along the zebra, the drivers would stop but even though everyone could see me, nobody stopped. As a matter of fact, nobody even as little as slowed down. Not a slightest attempt to allow me to get through. Complete arrogance and ignorance which was also doubled by local’s mean-spirited nature who had a good laugh watching me stuck, unable to cross because nobody would respect the crosswalk.
Shockingly, as if no respect towards pedestrians by the drivers was not enough, Cambodians also like to park their cars and motorcycles on the sidewalks making it impossible to use them for walking. As a pedestrian, you will spend more time walking on the roads, than on the sidewalks because sidewalks are simply blocked off by rudely parked vehicles of all sorts. But then by having to walk on the road you will be subjected to rude, disrespectful drivers and moto riders swerving through the traffic from all directions, putting you directly in harm’s way.
The danger doesn’t stop there, though. Remember those cars and motorcycles parked all over the sidewalks preventing you from walking somewhat separated from extremely dangerous roads? Well, with so many vehicles blocking up the sidewalk, every time you go for a walk, you will have dozens of them backing off into the traffic on the road, literally reversing right into you, who has to walk along the side of the road because sidewalks are blocked off. Nobody will wink an eye if a pedestrian or a bicyclist is behind them, they will continue reversing, until they either ran you over, or you jumped off to save your life.
The video below shows how sidewalks in Phnom Penh are full of rudely parked cars and motorcycles giving pedestrians absolutely no chance to walk separated from dangerous traffic on the roads:
Riding a Bicycle in Cambodia
Oh boy. I bought a mountain bike when I got to Cambodia to have my own, independent means of transportation and while it means slightly more respect than walking, it surely doesn’t raise it by much. You get buses plowing it down the middle of the narrow road at full speed with zero respect for bicycles. Unwilling to stick to their side of the road, as a bicyclist you are left with mere inches of room and a choice to make – do I kill myself by throwing myself into a ditch at full speed or by staying on the road to let the gust of air created by the speeding bus throw me there?
Unlike it is in Vietnam, when you take a moto ride in Cambodia, the driver will not provide you with a helmet. That slaps the whole road safety right in the face and makes you extremely prone to serious injury. While it is allegedly required by the law for the drivers to wear a helmet, not everybody does and if they do, they are the only ones on the motorcycle wearing one.
You will see entire families, sometimes with as many as 7 members packed up on a scooter whistling away down the muddy roads. For the most part, there is either nobody with a helmet on it, or only the driver has one, the other passengers are without. It’s a massacre in the making.
Cambodians love honking horns. It has everything to do with compensating for their insecurities. Once they sit behind the wheel of a vehicle, they feel empowered and spend their entire time honking horns to let everyone know they are coming. Whether there is a reason to honk a horn or not, they do. The blaring of horns is a constant on Cambodian roads. Check out the horn crazy Cambodians in a video below:
Cambodia’s traffic safety issues are a serious threat to the safety of tourists visiting the country. While Cambodia is exceptionally dangerous for tourists because of its out of control crime, vast majority of tourists stays out of crime’s way by using organized tours and not venturing off the beaten touristy tracks and places. However, even if you’re one of the many who will be spared from becoming victims of Cambodian violent culture, you will not be able to avoid the dangers of Cambodia’s traffic. A combination of drunk driving, speeding and lack of safety helmets, doubled with severe disrespect for other traffic participants with nobody following any traffic rules makes Cambodian roads the most dangerous place you could find yourself in.
There is no law in Cambodia, there is no justice in Cambodia. So what is there to stop anyone from killing you? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! If the person you encounter feels like drawing blood, they will because there is nothing to hold them back. And once you’re lying dead in the ditch, life for everyone in Cambodia, including your killer will go without change, without remorse. Unhindered, undeterred and unpunished, the killer will wait around for another opportunity that offers itself.
Being a lawless country, killing someone in Cambodia carries virtually no punishment and since all of the guns used by Khmer Rouge are still in the country, distributed amongst the populace without any control or regulations, why would anyone hold back? Afterall, even those who killed an estimated 2.5 million people escaped the punishment, so what is a couple of murders compared to the genocide?
But than… how is it possible that some people claim that Cambodia is not dangerous?
It’s simple – if you look at it closely, you will notice that nobody has the balls to go as far as claiming straight up that Cambodia is not dangerous. If anyone does, they always include countless “buts” in each sentence that carries the “not dangerous” statement. One must read between the lines to better understand what they mean when they say that “Cambodia is not dangerous, one just needs to exercise common sense”. So let’s take a closer look at what it means:
Cambodia is not dangerous, but don’t wander the streets alone after dusk
Translation: Being a country that’s close to the equator, daylight hours are identical to the nighttime hours virtually year round. By saying that you shouldn’t wander the streets of Cambodia alone after dark means that you should lock yourself up after 6pm because Cambodia is too dangerous during the 50% of the time you spend there.
Cambodia is not dangerous, but don’t carry more than $15 on you at any given time
Translation: It is almost certain that if you stay in Cambodia long enough, sooner or later you will get mugged, but because of incapable police force, muggings are never reported so people just chalk it up as a terrible experience because that’s about all they can do about it in Cambodia. And since you stand such a high chance of getting mugged with zero chance of recovering your possessions, don’t carry anything expensive on you so that the loss is as minimal as possible.
Cambodia is not dangerous, just avoid confrontations with locals at all costs
Translation: Locals carry guns and are not afraid to use them. They will stare you down, laugh straight into your face and otherwise try to provoke you into a self defense mode so they can enjoy taking another foreigner down. The richer a kid, the more provocative they get.
Cambodia is not any more dangerous than, say… New York
Trust me, getting mugged in Cambodia is different from getting robbed in New York. First of all, unlike in Cambodia, 90% of New York residents don’t spend their time looking out for easy victims of crime they could mug. Likewise unlike in New York, 90% of Cambodians are too lazy to go to work to try to help themselves. They rely on someone else to help them which leaves them with too much time on their hands to kill.
If you do get unlucky and get jumped by a robber who tries to move your valuables from your pockets to his in New York, you stand a good chance that he would take the stuff and run away. Muggings in Cambodia are nothing like that. During the course of an ordeal you will be subjected to an endless violence and even if you manage to diplomatically give them all of your possessions without getting hit, before they leave to move on to the next foreigner, they will either shoot you, or in a better case just hit you with the handle of their gun. This is if you do not try to resist in any way.
If you do try to resist, their natural aggression will come out in all of its glory and you will understand why they refer to Cambodia as the culture of violence. Cambodians are accustomed to violence and live being violent every day. Cambodians seek confrontations and will keep provoking you at all times to give themselves a reason to come at you with violence. If they have nothing else to say, they will tell you that you look too white to be in their country and that it offends them. If you respond to it in any way, you will see them come at you with their naturally violent selves. That is what they want.
Cambodia is not dangerous, but…
So here is the answer to all the riddles. 90% of all visitors to Cambodia will do exactly as stated in the points above. They will get picked up by their hotel at the airport, take taxi everywhere they go to minimize contact with and exposure to the locals, have a guide by them at all times or travel as part of an organized group, etc. As such, the chances of encountering a violent crime Cambodia is drenched with is next to zero. It’s not surprising all of those people will say that they have never felt threatened in Cambodia.
Sticking with popular tourist spots that are always full of foreigners and avoiding self reliant transportation options, such as a bicycle, without ever wandering off the beaten track drops chances of a violent attack to near zero even in a country full of criminals like Cambodia. So if all you care about is an artificial experience, then chances are you will not find Cambodia dangerous. That’s what majority of people do and they come and leave without any major problems. And that’s why you hear so many people say that Cambodia is not dangerous. That’s simply because they were smart and didn’t attempt to meet the real Cambodia which is nothing like what they say. The real Cambodia is without doubt, one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Cambodia is a country with corrupt government so naturally crime prevention is not a priority. Crime prevention is typically not even on an agenda. The result is a lawless country with incapable and underpaid police force. Add to it the fact that Cambodian culture is a culture of violence and you get the picture of a country with super high levels of crime, including violent crime against tourists.
Getting scammed and ripped off on a daily basis is something I won’t even list as a crime against foreigners in Cambodia as petty crime is so frequent, every tourist visiting the country will be subjected to it on every step of their stay. Instead, let’s focus on more serious crimes that happen more often than anyone cares to admit – violent crimes in which foreigners are brutally murdered:
Australian Man John Edward Thompson Clubbed to Death in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is a coastal resort town in Cambodia and is well known for being one of the most dangerous places in the world. While majority of Tuk Tuk drivers throughout the entire country are shady, you occasionally get a chance to deal with an honest driver who tries to make his living by offering decent services. You can even find such in Phnom Penh but they don’t exist in Sihanoukville. Virtually every Tuk Tuk driver in Sihanoukville is a crook with the rest of the local populace consisting of some of the most dangerous individuals anywhere in the world.
47 year old John Edward Thompson of New South Wales, Australia was clubbed to death in a robbery with wooden sticks while living in Sihanoukville, where violent crime against tourists is more than common.
19 Year Old British Student Eddie Gibson Went to Cambodia and Never Returned
According to the words of his mother Jo Gibson-Clarke, Eddie Gibson, despite being a teenager was well travelled and very capable. He was on his way to visit Bangkok, Thailand but also went for a short visit to Cambodia and has never been seen or heard from again. Like so many before him and so many after him, Eddie Gibson simply vanished in Cambodia with no one investigating on his disappearance.
As I have explained countless times before, violent crimes without repercussions are easy and frequent in Cambodia. The cost of a human life is low (you can have anyone offed for $50) and guns are plentiful. With former Khmer Rouge henchmen roaming the country freely, still armed with their military grade weaponry and explosives, killing someone is a matter of simply wanting to, or having been paid a little to. The body would be then thrown in the jungle where wild dogs will eat it and no one will ever hear from you again. Cambodian police will not investigate and no one will be brought to justice.
David Mitchell, Owner of Ginger Monkey Bar Murdered in Phnom Penh
37 Year Old David Mitchell – a British owner of a Ginger Monkey bar in Phnom Penh and his girlfriend, 29 year old Jane Nye – a journalist from Wellington, New Zealand were stabbed in an armed robbery by a nymphetamine addict in Cambodia’s capital city. David Mitchell died as a result of vicious stabbings, while Jane Nye who had her throat slashed and got bludgeoned survived and was recovering in the hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.
If you survive a violent attack that near kills you, the first and most obvious thing to do is to remove yourself from Cambodia immediately. You don’t want any more dealings with this murderous nation and besides, if you come to a Cambodian hospital with life threatening wounds, you’ll leave with life threatening wounds and an HIV.
Canadian Aid Worker Jiri Zivny Beaten and Left for Dead in Sihanoukville
43 year old Jiri Zivny was a member of the team of volunteers from International Humanitarian Hope Society, a Kamloops, BC, Canada based humanitarian agency that specializes in distribution of vitamins and food to orphanages in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Burma. In mid January, 2009 Jiri Zivny was withdrawing money from an ATM machine in Sihanoukville when he was attacked, brutally beaten and left for dead in a ditch. When he was discovered, he was stripped of all of his possessions, including his clothes and in a coma. It took a while to get him to the hospital where he was later proclaimed dead due to severe head trauma suffered during the attack.
In an attempt to play down the crime (or perhaps in an attempt to come with a fabricated “breaking story” to establish himself as a superior journalist), a news surfaced that according to some Canadian, the murder of Jiri Zivny was a traffic accident. Even though Jiri Zivny’s body had no rash or scratches typical of bike accidents, and had his cell phone, camera, money and clothes disappear with the attack, Cambodian officials are in a major rush to make his brutal murder play down as a traffic accident. Such whitewash is something that could be expected. Cambodian authorities are experts at sweeping the story under the carpet if it could jeopardize visitor numbers.
This is the list of just a few documented cases of foreigners – both tourists and expats killed in violent crime attacks in Cambodia. Strangely enough and following truly bad journalism, many reports contain contradicting or downright silly statements regarding safety in Cambodia. For example following statement from the Reuters report about the murder of David Mitchell in Phnom Penh concludes with the following statement:
Despite its reputation for lawlessness, most violence against foreigners in the impoverished southeast nation, which is still recovering from decades of civil war including the Khmer Rouge genocide, is limited to street crime or assault.
Most violence against foreigners is limited to street crime or assault? Hmm… Does that not cover it all, really? Sure there are also foreigners hacked up with meat cleavers in their own bedrooms, like the French hotel owner, but getting violently assaulted in the street is all it takes to get you killed in Cambodia and that’s exactly what happens in this country more often than any politically correct newspaper would like to admit. Tourist safety is in question so let’s stop being politically correct and call a spade a spade. The politically incorrect translation of said statement, without beating about the bush would read:
Foreigners in Cambodia are subjected to considerable danger of being the victims of violent crime.
Then there is an even more ridiculous statement about safety in Cambodia in an article related to the murder of Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blouin who was killed for 2,000 Riel (about $.50). The statement reads:
While muggings are common in Cambodia, where a sense of lawlessness and a gun culture remain after decades of war that ended in 1998, serious attacks on foreigners have been rare.
Wow! So mugging is not a serious crime? Does this reporter mean that unless a person dies, it’s not worthy of mentioning and doesn’t add to how dangerous the country really is? Violent armed robberies are extremely common in Cambodia and just because some people survive them – regardless of how bloodied and near dead they end up – are we not supposed to count them and continue fooling new travellers to Cambodia with statements that Cambodia is otherwise safe?
Many foreigners (including myself) have been and still are subjected to violent assaults in Cambodia, but all know really darn well that reporting the assaults to the Cambodian police is a waste of time. Yet it’s only a waste of time if they are lucky. In a less lucky case, upon reporting, they would be subjected to extortion or ridicule by the police themselves. Thus, foreigners simply chalk it up as a bad experience, try to collect themselves and swallow the pride hoping it will not happen to them again. The scars follow them for the rest of their lives, but there simply is nothing they can do about it in a country like Cambodia. Unless the case involves shockingly gory loss of life, not only will it not be reported to the police, it will not make it to the media at all.
What Causes Violent Crime Against Tourists in Cambodia?
It is important to understand that a country with hundreds of murders each day will not get an international community talking. However if a government arrests just one person outside of standards accepted by the international community, that could cause a massive media backlash. One wrong arrest could result in human rights violations accusations which could result in shrinkage of foreign aid and foreign support for opposition to oust current dictatorship.
Hence for a government of Cambodia it is easier and more “international media friendly” to let violent crime get out of hand, even if it involves tourists, than having any of the criminals prosecuted and put away. Unfortunately, this approach hurts both ordinary Cambodians who needlessly die in the hands of criminals the number of which seem to be growing like mushrooms after rain, as well as foreigners who are far more attractive targets for violent crime than the locals.