I enjoyed my stay as a recluse in a remote Canadian wilderness profusely but anyone who thinks three months in the wild were a romantic dream come true is as detached from reality as those who say that Cambodians are hospitable, Thais smile all the time, Filipino have tasty food and Brazil is not any more dangerous than London or New York. Whatever was the agenda behind all this crap is irrelevant – we live in the 21st century so it’s time we pulled out heads from our behinds and put an end to this fabrication.
Mother Nature, albeit beautiful and awe-inspiring is also harsh and unforgiving. We have evolved to romanticise life in the wilderness and perceive it for something it is not. Fiction presented by books and movies portrays wilderness and people who dwell in it as peaceful and merciful but reality is quite a ways different. Real mother nature is a wicked old witch.
If you want to have a warm and cuddly wilderness experience, go to see a movie or risk getting killed. I got to spend a significant amount of time in Mother Nature’s embrace and grew to respect and admire her. It showed me how small and insignificant I am and how she’ll carry on being the same wicked old witch regardless of whether I live through my encounter with her or die.
This important understanding that Mother Nature is a wicked old witch is one of the primary reasons why so many hikers die in the wilderness. Their fear of reality prohibits them from seeing the whole truth. They see beautiful surroundings and mighty elements, but refuse to acknowledge the very thing that makes Mother Nature tick – the inherent cruelty.
I have, since the inception of this blog, offered nothing but whole truth. I don’t have a huge fan club because my reality is not partial and majority of people are not able or willing to accept unskewed facts. And I know most people are not ready to hear that Mother Nature is anything but majestic so I don’t anticipate much positive response here either.
Do not get me wrong, though. I was out there, I speak from experience yet I will be the first to defend Mother Nature’s beauty and show her respect. I love her more than I love people and enjoyed few short months living side by side with her more than years living side by side with people. There are no words to describe how much I love nature and how much she means to me, but that is not an excuse to leave out the part where Mother Nature is a wicked old witch.
While I was in the wilderness, alone and vulnerable, Mother Nature threw some mighty difficult shots at me and when I responded by bouncing back, she threw another one and then another and another. I came to understand that I exist within nature, not the other way around. Mother Nature has long been here before a sequence of events I had no influence over resulted in my creation and will long be after I and all of my achievements perished.
I am naught but a powerless, unworthy drop in the ocean of life and whether I like it or not, I’m finite. All I was given were a few short years of existence yet I was also granted the freedom to roam the nature a free man. Free to think, free to understand, free to make my own judgement. Free to do things no other creature I encountered had the privilege of doing.
It was this ability to think that set me apart from other inhabitants of the wilderness and provided me with a tool that made survival in an environment dominated by cruel Mother Nature easier – imagination. For no matter how harsh the shots that Mother Nature threw at me had been, I was always able to look forward to what my dreamed of future would hold for me. To be comforted by a thought is to gain solace where there is gloom.
Mother nature is cruel, but she’s also fair. She does not seek out her victims. She throws shots completely oblivious to whether they bring you prosperity or suffering. Her actions are unconscious and uncaring and will come down by the same force whether you worship or curse her. I respect Mother Nature’s power and admire her beauty, but I understand she’s as much my best friend as she is my worst enemy.
Let this be the lesson to you. To enter Mother Nature’s realm is to expose oneself to both the good and the bad she has to offer. Be prepared, or perish. There is heavenly beauty to be seen and endless knowledge to be gained out there, but Mother Nature is as much of a wicked old witch as she is a beautiful bride, a shrewd healer, or a guiding spirit. She’s not out to get you – she’s not out to get anyone. She’s just there, following her own course to which we respond. Sooner or later, you will be recycled. Are you prepared?
To experience life as a recluse, I returned back to my home country of Canada. There were several reasons for it:
Canada Is Safe
I’ve been half way across the world and have seen firsthand how little personal safety means in some parts of the planets. It is a popular thing to say that third world countries are not any more dangerous than most metropolitan areas in North America or Western Europe but this is just the most dangerously misleading statement ever.
I remember vividly when I first returned back to Canada after spending a year in South East Asia. I needed a new passport because I’d traveled so much my old one was out of blank pages, but I also used the trip back to meet with my accountant to file income tax returns and have thorough medical check-up done which after a year in countries with unsafe water and no hygiene standards in food preparation, as well as high prevalence of dangerous diseases, including Malaria, Dengue Fever and AIDS, was long overdue.
While in South East Asia, I had to adapt to omnipresent dangers, inherent xenophobia, corrupt police and criminals ready to kill at the drop of a hat. I learned to live cautiously and remain vigilant at all times to avoid becoming a victim. Just as everybody else, I put up with recurrent verbal abuse without as much as turning my head and stayed put in a hotel room every day after dark. Not that taking the abuse and keeping low profile made much difference, for in many South East Asian countries you don’t have to look for crime – crime will find you.
Needless to say, after spending a year in crime ridden countries, I returned back to Canada with a mindframe which dictated me to always remain aware of my surroundings, put up with continuous abuse and never leave home after dark. But… then I realized that I had never been abused, nevermind victimized in this country, that going grocery shopping at 11pm is normal here and done by many, and that after you’re done midnight shopping, you can safely carry your groceries home through empty back alleys and won’t experience as much as someone making inappropriate sound.
Even in my home city of Edmonton, Alberta – generally considered to be one of the most crime prone cities in Canada – you’ll have young girls strolling home alone late at night after having a few drinks in a bar and it won’t even cross their mind that it could be dangerous in any way. The worst thing that could happen to them is that they would stumble upon someone they’d like to have sex with and end up getting Chlamydia which they then merrily pass on (yep, talking from experience).
Whoever spreads the misinformation that a visit to third world countries is not any more dangerous than life in most first world cities is a delusional liar. I lived in, or visited New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris, Berlin, and many other western cities and have never experience anything remotely dangerous to every day existence in SE Asia. While living in London, UK at the end of the 20th century, I stayed in Brixton where I socialized every night by going to clubs and returning from them in the middle of the night every night. I also attended many concerts at the Brixton Academy pacing my way through the borough back and forth on foot.
Brixton, for those who don’t know, is what – to be politically correct – is referred to as a vibrant multi-cultural neighborhood. In other words, it’s considered to be a crime ridden area, a ghetto, however crime ridden in the UK is not the same as crime ridden in Thailand or the Philippines. The nearest I got to crime after 6 months of living in Brixton was being offered ecstasy in a club called Panic. Wicked music in that bar – all really heavy house with guest DJs the world over. Wonder if this club still exists. Since I do not do drugs, I just said I didn’t want anything and that was it.
I’m not trying to say that there is no crime in western cities. Crimes do most certainly occur – sometimes serious crimes – however, one must put things into a perspective before making an assumption. A chance of an encounter with a criminal on a mission in New York exists, but is negligent compared to chances of encountering millions upon millions of people going on about their lives, never engaging in criminal behavior. Most back alleys in New York do not have criminals lurking around at night. I wish I could say the same thing about back alleys in Indonesia or Cambodia.
As someone who’s well aware of dangers, I could not possibly consider any third world country for an extended stay in the wilderness. Being generally safe, my homeland of Canada was a solid bet. I would have liked to do it in other safe countries, such as Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, Japan or Ireland, but because of the 21st century world limitations, these options were either impractical or downright impossible.
Lots of Undisturbed Wilderness in Canada
As far as landmass is concerned, Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia) but our population is relatively low – only 34 million people, most of whom live within 200km from the border with the USA on the south of the country (which happens to be the longest land border between two countries in the world). With population density at mere 3.4 people per square kilometer, Canada is one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
To put it into a perspective, the population of the United Kingdom is almost twice that of Canada, but their land area is 41 times smaller than that of Canada, which using unrounded figures adds up to 75 times as many people per square kilometer in the UK than in Canada. And since vast majority of Canadians live near the border with the USA, much of the country remains very sparsely populated.
According to the 2001 census by Statistics Canada, 79.4% of Canadians live in urban centres. That means 27 Million Canadians live in the cities which account for less than 3% of total Canada’s landmass, leaving mere 7 Million to occupy the rest of the world’s second largest country.
According to the same census, only 0.3% of Canada’s total population lives in the polar territories (the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut), yet they account for 41% of Canada’s total landmass. In mathematical terms, there is on average one person per 50 square kilometers in these territories. With this type of population density, finding undisturbed wilderness should not be a problem.
To offer a better perspective on 1 person per 50 square kilometers population density, consider this: population of United Kingdom is just over 62 Million. If their population density was the same as that of northern Canada, there would be all together 4,872 people in the UK. If Lebanon had the same population density, the country would only have 200 people (population of Lebanon is currently 4.2 Million).
Canada is simply an ideal place for people seeking remote, undisturbed wilderness. What’s better yet – not only is there nature and solitude aplenty, the vast stretches of Canada’s north are still sure to have places where no human foot stepped before. How is that for an adventure?
Canadian Wilderness is Safe
I have considered wilderness recluse in other countries, but since I wanted this to be a positive experience without compromising my personal safety, much of the world was not an option. None of the countries in the tropical regions, for instance, were an option because their jungles are simply as dangerous as their cities (with dangerous wildlife being the least of your concern).
However even if safety could be ensured, unlike Canada, most tropical countries are heavily overpopulated (while people in the first world countries work hard to multiply their wealth, people in the third world countries just multiply) so finding true solitude is difficult with chances of someone walking across you increasingly high.
Canada is also nowhere near as corrupt as many third world countries so should my recluse get noticed, it wouldn’t result in extortion or worse.
Personal safety is a no issue in countries like Iceland, Switzerland or New Zealand as they are both safe (people don’t casually murder those they randomly stumble across) and not overpopulated, but life in a 21st century world makes extended stays in countries you are not a citizen of challenging (more on this in the next section).
I Don’t Need Visa for Canada
A stay in countries other than your own typically involves several restrictions. The length of your stay is usually limited to a couple of months at the most and so are activities in which you are allowed to engage. Self sustaining life in the wild is a perfect excuse for a corrupt police officer to abuse his power and extort money from you so sticking with facilities for tourists is recommended.
Being a citizen of Canada allows me to stay in my own country indefinitely and roam the Crown Land (that’s what we call public land in Canada) freely at my own leisure. I don’t need to apply for visa to stay in Canada for as long as I need nor to explain to anyone what I want to do while I’m here.
I would love to experience life as a recluse in Iceland, as countries don’t get any safer and friendlier than that, plus Iceland is incredibly beautiful, has some of the world’s cleanest and healthiest water and coastline abundant with fish never too far away, but as a non Icelanders I’d have a lot of explaining to do to get through the loopholes and roadblocks that would green-light me for my recluse and I wanted this to be my private, secret mission I could complete without anyone looking over my shoulder. I had to ditch this idea.
Life in the 21st century world is full of restrictions and bureaucracy. We don’t live in the hunter/gatherer society with people free to move anywhere they want and able to choose how they make their living. It makes all attempts to live the hunter gatherer style exceedingly challenging and difficult. I had to make work-arounds with these restrictions in mind which made my options few.
Survivalism in Canadian Wilderness Is Only for the Tough
I did take my shot at wilderness survivalism in tropical jungles and enjoyed it profusely. I was restricted by the above mentioned reasons, but chose a relatively safe area in Malaysian Borneo and made a deal with natives who call it their home so my presence was known and accepted, minimizing any potential of attacks.
I stayed with a community that makes their living collecting bird’s nests in a complex of caves in eastern Sarawak. To make long story short, while jungle survival had its challenges, I found the fact that coconut grows in jungles year round and takes less than a month to grow to full harvest a cheat that made survival there too easy.
With nourishment for your body taken care of, you’ll have a lot of energy left for everything else. Compared to that, survival in Canada is far more challenging and that makes it more interesting. Canada goes through all four seasons, including harsh winters during which survival becomes a real challenge and a test of manness. And I’m not a girl.
Philippines is a very special place. Being an archipelago of 7,107 tropical islands, the country has a lot to offer yet its separation from the rest of South East Asia makes it unreachable by overland transportation which results in fewer tourists than seen by other countries of the region. Traveling to the Philippines requires a plane or boat ticket no matter where in the world you are. And after your visit, in order to move on to another country, a traveller would once again need a plane or boat ticket to leave the Philippines. Since SE Asia is a heaven for budget travelers, many give the Philippines a miss due to inaccessibility by the inexpensive means of transportation.
Two of the most common things people know about the Philippines before traveling to the country are that it’s extremely corrupt and very densely populated. As for myself – being an established webmaster who runs websites that control several million unique visitors a month, my pre-traveling knowledge of the Philippines extended slightly beyond that. I knew very well of Filipino scammers who scan busy webmaster boards and harvest means to contact webmasters. Typically using ICQ or MSN Messenger, a random stranger from the internet would send you messages insisting that they have a chat traffic affiliate program and can produce large number of leads each week. They never admit that they are from the Philippines, but you can easily say that they are by the overuse of word “Sir”. And when I say overuse, I mean overuse:
“Hi boss, sir. Yes sir we have, sir. Sir we prefer RS billing to use, sir. Sir, we can do it for you sir.”
Most webmasters know that there is nothing out of it but a bunch of credit card fraud and chargebacks. Yet they still occasionally succeed and scam, card-bang and money-grub unsuspecting webmasters. Filipinos specialize in fraud sales and take great pride in it. For those not in the know, it works something like this:
A Filipino with no morality would trick a webmaster into believing that they would generate extra sales/leads for their website/on line business. In exchange, they will have you pay them certain amount of money for each lead/sale. Then they approach unsuspecting people whose chat contact they harvested on the internet and lie to them to get them to sign up to the site on the promise of something that will never happen. This gross cheating and stealing only works when the person who has been robbed doesn’t bother, or is too busy to make a chargeback, but these are rare exceptions.
In simple terms, if you’re a busy webmaster with membership based website and get tricked by the “Sir, thank you sir” Filipino scam, you will end up with members signing up because they were told that for their money they will be getting a slew of things that are not on offer. Sadly, it’s mostly people like our parents who fall for those liars because they are not as internet savvy and don’t have enough experience with on line scammers.
Further to the famed endemic fraud, I was however also aware of another, much darker side of the Philippines. As someone who keeps on top of reality by frequenting the reality news websites such as BestGore.com (WARNING – extremely graphic content on that link), I knew that there is hardly another country in the world where as precious little can get you shot as in the Philippines.
A Filipino man would not hesitate killing his brother for as little as singing off key in a karaoke bar (commonly known as Videoke in the Philippines). There are countless documented cases of this happening in the country. In another recent case, a dispute over who’s gonna sing at a karaoke next resulted in a grenade being thrown at the opposing party, killing 6 people and wounding 11. It truly doesn’t take much to get killed in the Philippines. The most innocent of actions can result in instant blood spillage and if it wasn’t for inherent, encouraged and supported xenophobia in Thailand, Philippines would easily take its spot as the most dangerous country for foreigners in the region.
Philippines is also widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more journalists get killed in the Philippines each year than in the rest of the world combined. It’s even deadlier there than in countries with active war zones. Some of the deadliest massacres of the last 100 years took place in the Philippines, including the Maguindanao Massacre, the Lapiang Malaya massacre, the Balangiga massacre, Nueva Ecija massacre, Negros Occidental massacre, the Escalante, the Mendiola massacre, and so on. Not to mention that the Philippines is also the kidnapping capital of the world, outdoing even Colombia in number of kidnappings that take place there each year. It is not uncommon for travel insurance companies to have specialty “kidnapping packages” for travellers heading for the Philippines. And let’s not forget the travel advisories for Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula due to ongoing armed conflicts perpetrated by Muslim extremists.
So this is what I knew about the Philippines even before travelling to the country. However, having survived Thailand, I flew in unhindered and determined to witness the real deal with my own eyes. What is the Philippines really like for a budget traveller? Is it as dangerous as they say or as friendly as Filipinos would like you to believe? I was about to found out and you can count on it that I will divulge every bit of my experience. As with everything, my reviews cannot be bought. The good, the bad and the ugly – to get the truest picture of what real Philippines is like, stay tuned to the upcoming posts. But before I get there, I need to share one more thing I learned before traveling to the Philippines:
While staying in Pattaya, Thailand – the largest brothel in the world – I learned from an American guy whom I met there about Angeles City in the Philippines. He said Angeles City was a brothel town similar to Pattaya, only operating on a smaller scale. Having bought hookers in both Angeles City and Pattaya, the said American guy told me that unlike Thai girls, Filipino hookers actually work to deserve their money if you barfine them. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to verify that on my own, but it was definitely an interesting bit of information to have. Woohoo, Philippines here I come!
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.
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.