The very first local I encountered upon my arrival in Cambodia stole my pen because it had a laser pointer on it and he decided he liked it. It was the only pen I had readily available on me so when he said something was missing on my arrival card, I pulled it out of my camera bag and filled the missing information in. He then took the pen out of my hand and took the card along with my passport to add his notes, signature, a stamp or whatever it is they are supposed to do with those cards on it. He then went to get something else done by standing up from his desk and walking up to the opposite counter and when he came back, the pen was nowhere to be seen. I asked if I could have my pen back yet he insisted he gave it to me previously. Needless to say, this was the last time I have seen my pen.
I had only been in Cambodia for two minutes, and this was the very first Cambodian I had to deal with and I already got my pen stolen and was lied to straight into my face. He was the perfect reflection of what awaits a visitor inside the country. From the moment you’re in until the moment you’re out, there will always be a plentitude of locals looking for the ways to scam you out of your money or possessions.
Because the Cambodian government took measures to prevent scamming by anyone other than their befriended individuals, immigration people at certain points of entry (such as the Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports) can no longer directly request bribes from foreigners who’d just arrived. That doesn’t however mean that they will miss out on other opportunities to enrich themselves at your expense.
Similarly, many overland points of entry are still major bribery hubs so if you fly in to Cambodia and continue on with your travels overland like I did, then you will be subjected to scam from the very first person you encounter to the very last (and virtually everyone in between). Similar open requests for bribes at overland border crossing will await you when entering and exiting Laos (on both Cambodian and Lao sides), but from my experience, this is not practised by Thai or Vietnamese immigration officials.
When I went I went to Thailand, scamming ended with the very last Cambodian I had to deal with. It goes without saying that he DID insist on a bribe but it was a breath of fresh air to come to the Thai side and be processed without any scam attempt. It works similarly when entering Cambodia from Thailand whereas Thai officials would process you without requests for bribes, but as soon as you come over to the Cambodian booth and start dealing with Cambodians, it gets to be a whole new story.
Vietnam doesn’t offer visa on arrival (or visa free entry) when entering overland from Cambodia (October 2009) so you have to apply for it in advance with the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh (at least if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport) but as is the case with Thailand, open requests for bribes will end with the last Cambodian you end up having to deal with.
This was my second day at Angkor Archaeological Park, but I have already noticed several people with disposable cameras. I could not help but wonder what in the mighty heavens they were thinking – flying all the way to Cambodia to see Angkor temples and bringing only a measly disposable camera with them? It made no sense. But then while I was at Ta Prohm, I was approached by a couple of girls who asked me if I would take a picture of them in front of that picturesque spot with blind door where massive tree roots grow over the structure and a brief conversation with them made it all clear. They handed me a disposable camera so I got an opportunity to strike a conversation and ask why they would come all the way to Angkor without bringing some kind of decent device to capture their memories on.
Given that at this time I have already been in Cambodia for a little over a week, I should really have known without asking. I already had a thief attempt to steal my bicycle but I had my guardian angel on duty that night so he only got away with stolen keys from the bicycle chain lock. I had to carry the bike on my shoulder to the shop to have the lock cut and get a new one, but at least I still had the bike. Theft problem is very prominent in Cambodia (as are other forms of crime) so the real reason why I saw so many people with disposable cameras at Angkor should have really been clear to me straight of the bat but for some reason I needed a heads up from those girls as a slap on the forehead. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Where are you guys from? Girls: Denmark. Me: Beautiful country, continuously ranking as #1 country with the highest standard of living in the world. But why would you come all the way to Angkor, from Denmark and bring nothing but a disposable camera with you? Girls: We had nice cameras, but they were stolen along with our money and passports in Phnom Penh.
Oops! How could I have possibly not figured that out without asking? While Cambodia is not the only country in the world with theft problem, the number of Cambodian thieves on the loose looking for a foreigner who’s had a long day and is too tired to stay fully alert is staggering. After the experience with the Danish girls, each time I saw a person or a group of people with a disposable camera at Angkor, I didn’t go to ask why, I went straight to have the suspicion of theft confirmed.
Since I spent virtually every day of the rest of my stay in Cambodia at the Banteay Kdei temple and the Sras Srang moat, I had a chance to meet and speak with hundreds of Angkor visiting foreigners every day. The numbers of those who were victims of theft were alarming. You could see the sadness and horror in their eyes. You could see they only came to Angkor because they already had the ticket, but they could not wait to get the hell out of Cambodia before something more serious happens.
The stories of how it all went down varied, but the outcome was the same. Devastated individuals, couples and families who will definitely never consider coming to Cambodia again and I don’t blame them. Out of hundreds of people who had their cameras and other effects stolen, there was only one couple who didn’t think they were victims of theft. They told me they’d forgotten their camera on the table of the restaurant where they had eaten that day.
The couple realized they were missing the camera shortly after leaving the restaurant. Being new to Cambodia, they didn’t suspect any foul play and simply thought they must have left it on the table. They returned to the restaurant hastily, but the camera was not there. I asked them if they glanced over the table the way people do before leaving the restaurant and they both said they did but thought that the camera just didn’t stand out among the plates and silverware scattered across so they missed the sight of it and left without picking it up.
What really happened to them is hard to know for sure at this point. The only person who would know for sure is the one who took it. While dining, the couple was approached and bothered by several pestering touts who approached them in an attempt to sell them postcards, bracelets and other stuff Cambodian touts sell. Whether somebody saw a camera on the table and stole it while they were still there, or whether it was taken by someone after they’d left leaving the camera on the table is truly irrelevant, though. Honesty and will to help another are not traits commonly found among Cambodians. Greed and malice, on the other hand are omnipresent.
When speaking about whether Cambodia is a dangerous country or not, one should not miss out on valuable pointers provided by the travel advisory of each of the western governments. If you read through the Cambodia Travel Advisories, you will find repeated statements warning you about Cambodia, off the hook muggings and violent crime, including rape and murder against foreigners, but somehow this message gets lost in the translation. The following are extracts from the travel advisories posted on government websites of a few (English speaking) western countries:
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of Canada
Violence in Phnom Penh and other cities occurs occasionally.
Street crime, targeting foreigners, has been occurring with increasing frequency in urban areas, including Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, even during daylight hours. There are reports of armed assaults along the riverfront in Phnom Penh and on isolated beaches in Sihanoukville. Canadians have been injured in the course of assaults and armed robberies. Thieves, sometimes on motorcycles, grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, motorcycle drivers and their passengers. Banditry continues, largely at night, in rural areas and on routes between Snoul, Kratie and Stung Treng in the northeastern provinces. Sexual assaults have been reported. There have been reports that foreigners have encountered difficulties with ill-disciplined police or military personnel. Canadians are advised to exercise a high degree of caution at all times, avoid travelling alone, especially at night, and ensure personal belongings, passports, and other travel documents are secure at all times.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of the USA
Cambodia has a high crime rate, including street crime. Military weapons and explosives are readily available to criminals despite authorities’ efforts to collect and destroy such weapons. Armed robberies occur frequently in Phnom Penh. Foreign residents and visitors are among the victims. Victims of armed robberies are reminded not to resist their attackers and to surrender their valuables, since any perceived resistance may be met with physical violence, including lethal force.
Local police rarely investigate reports of crime against tourists, and travelers should not expect to recover stolen items.
The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel who travel to the provinces to exercise extreme caution outside the provincial towns at all times. Many rural parts of the country remain without effective policing. Individuals should avoid walking alone after dusk anywhere in Sihanoukville, especially along the waterfront. Some of the beaches are secluded, and the Embassy has received reports that women have been attacked along the Sihanoukville waterfront during the evening hours. Take security precautions when visiting the Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) area. Travelers should be particularly vigilant during annual festivals and at tourist sites in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville, where there have been marked increases in motorcycle “snatch and grab” thefts of bags and purses. In August 2008, the Embassy received reports of unaccompanied U.S. citizen females being robbed at knifepoint during daylight hours in Sihanoukville. Another U.S. citizen female was sexually assaulted in October 2009 while walking alone at night in Kompong Thom province.
Particular areas where crime levels have been relatively high in recent months have been the riverfront and BKK areas of Phnom Penh, and the beaches and tourist areas of Sihanoukville, although incidents are not confined to these areas. You should be particularly vigilant at night, and in deserted areas, although incidents have occurred at all times of day.
There have also been a small number of rapes and sexual assaults in various locations.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of Australia
Opportunistic crime is common in Cambodia and the frequency of incidents is increasing. Thieves frequently snatch foreigners’ bags and pick-pocketing is a problem in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Several foreigners have been injured in the course of these incidents, in particular when bags are pulled from passengers on moving motorbike taxis. Bag-snatching, other robberies and assaults often occur during daylight hours.
There have been reports of assaults and armed robberies against foreigners, especially in areas frequented by tourists and expatriate residents, including the Riverfront in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (particularly at isolated beaches). You should exercise vigilance when travelling through these areas at all times, but especially after dark.
You should limit night time travel around Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap to well-lit public areas and travel in groups. At night, travel by car is safer than motorcycle, moto-scooter or cyclo (cycle-rickshaw).
Foreigners have been the target of sexual assault in Cambodia. Due to the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical assistance.
Levels of firearm ownership in Cambodia are high and guns are sometimes used to resolve disputes. There have been reports of traffic disputes resulting in violence involving weapons. Bystanders can get caught up in these disputes. Foreigners have been threatened with handguns for perceived rudeness to local patrons in popular Phnom Penh nightclubs and elsewhere.
Banditry and extortion, including by military and police personnel, continue in some rural areas, particularly at night in areas between Snoul, Kratie and Stung Treng in the north-eastern provinces.
Cambodia Travel Advisory by the Government of New Zealand
There has been an increase in violent crime against foreign travellers, particularly in areas frequented by tourists and expatriates including the river front area of Phnom Penh, and at isolated beaches in Sihanoukville. New Zealanders are advised to be vigilant and maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times.
So there you have it. It’s all between the lines of each travel advisory. Some of the most repeated statements include warnings that there have been an increasing number of violent attacks in Cambodia, including sexual attacks (rapes) against foreign nationals and they are urged to exercise an increased degree of caution. Don’t take these warnings lightly unless you intend to stick with visiting the tourist Cambodia, not the real one!
History of Cambodia is a history of violence. Violence has been part of Cambodian culture and everyday life for centuries and is as prevalent today as it has always been. As a traveller who spent a few months in the country and didn’t go through it locked up behind the safety fence of his hotel, I was exposed to the reality of the Cambodian ways, including its endless violence and crime. I have already shared the stories of other travelers who were victims of violent crime while travelling through Cambodia, and now I would like to share my personal experience and answer the question “Is Travel to Cambodia Safe?” with my own stories.
I stay in amazement when I see certain bloggers or forum members go through lengths to portray Cambodia as a safe country. Whatever the agenda behind such purposeful twists of truth is, I can’t help but express the horror over how public is systematically mislead. It takes savage imagination to call Cambodia a safe country. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
The following is nothing less and nothing more than my personal, firsthand experience after 2 months in Cambodia. These are not reports I got from other people, this is what happened to me personally:
My Personal Experience
I came to Cambodia with an open mind. I have been volunteering and supporting this country since the moment I set my foot on its soil and continued doing so unhindered despite the ordeal locals were repeatedly putting me through. Just as most other visitors to the country, I was also told that it was safe to travel in Cambodia. Having traveled through many countries before, including third world, non western countries (6 months on various islands in the Caribbean and 2 years in Eastern Europe – aside from countless other countries) I knew one has to keep his wits together and play it safe at all times, but still I came here believing that Cambodia was reasonably safe.
The very first time I had an unfortunate encounter was after two weeks in Cambodia at a more remote temple on the grand circle of Angkor. I locked my bike and walked inside the temple when I got that funny feeling that maybe I should have locked my bike against a tree rather than merely locking the wheel against the frame. This was the first time I only had my bicycle locked against itself and sure enough, as I walked out of the temple, I saw little kids who stood around with the banner that they were from an orphanage carrying my bike away. I yelled at them instantly, so they dropped the bike and bolted away. It was particularly disappointing since only minutes prior I had donated money to their orphanage as that’s what they were there for. Needless to say, I left that temple instantly even though I have only seen a small part of it.
A few days later, I had the bicycle lock keys stolen. I know I should have kept it on my chain along with other keys, where it’s much safer than loosely in my pocket, but it was becoming inconvenient as I rode the bike everywhere so I kept using the keys all the time and pulling the whole bunch on a chain became troublesome. Luckily, when a person who was suspiciously getting close to me unexpectedly left, I checked to see whether I still had all of my belongings and as I saw missing keys, I went right to my bike which was still there (in my vicinity all the time), took it to the shop to pay 2000 riel to get the old lock sawed off and spent additional 5000 to purchase a new, vastly superior lock. Unfortunate event, but I still ended up with little loss so I wasn’t making much of it.
It wasn’t until the time to renew my visa came. I wanted to combine it with a short trip to Phnom Penh. My stay in the nation’s capital started with a boy of about 10 years of age trying to steal my wallet. Cambodians, even though skilled thieves are not very smart and he failed to put two and two together so my wallet stayed safely fastened to the chain with the keys on the opposite end. I’ve worn my wallet on the same chain for 20 years and have never had my wallet, or my keys stolen thanks to it. I would have to be either unconscious or threaten with lethal force to lose it. The boy used the moment when I was posing myself to take a picture of hundreds of motorcycles taking off at the traffic lights, pulled the wallet out of my rear pocket and bolted off only to have the wallet ripped out of his hands by the chain that remained sealed in my other pockets thanks to a bunch of keys attached to it. Even though I was focused on the photo I was about to take, I still could feel the wallet coming out of my pocket so I don’t know how exactly he thought he was gonna be successful with this pull. What do you do with a 10 year old when you catch him stealing, though?
I only had three days to spend in Phnom Penh, but the crime was persistent. The day prior to my intended visit to the immigration office, I was jumped by a man a block away from the riverside, not far from FCC. He came running from behind me and skilfully snatched at my bag in an attempt to steal it. Not willing to part with my $1,600 laptop inside, I managed to grab at the strap as the bag was leaving me and started to fight back for it. It was followed by the thief yelling something in Cambodian, after which I saw several dozen men with metal rods, knives and machete loom out of every direction running towards me. I don’t know what that man yelled at them, but he obviously abused the fact that I was a foreigner so he said something in a language I couldn’t understand to set those people against me. And they surely did.
I have never run that fast in my life. I don’t even know how I escaped getting killed there that day, but I counted my blessings and when the following day came, instead of going to renew my visa, I went to the Vietnamese Embassy and got myself a visa to Vietnam so I could leave Cambodia instantly. I called people from the village where I was volunteering that I would not be back, because I feared for my life and that instead I was going to Vietnam. As I was riding the bike back to my guesthouse from the Vietnamese Embassy, I saw a group of people standing around a bullet riddled body along the road. I didn’t have the camera with me to take pictures of it as I rode across Phnom Penh to spend my whole day dealing with the visa situation, but this has added a seal of approval to my decision to leave the country. Besides, where there is one dead body in Cambodia, there are also people with deadly firearms. I wouldn’t want to join the dead man by being next with a bullets in my head.
Vietnam vs Cambodia
Vietnam was a whole different world from Cambodia. It was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. Not only has it helped me to relax and get over the terrible experience from Cambodia, it was also a place where locals respect tourists (unlike it is in Cambodia). I could walk into a supermarket, do my thing and walk out – there would be locals there, but no one would start whistling at me from across the street, clapping hands at me and yelling like I’m a cheap whore. It was unbelievably liberating to have this type of treatment after a month of abuse in Cambodia. There were locals out there, but they were minding their own business, leaving me alone to enjoy my time at my own pace.
Then I would go for a walk (I have explored entire Ho Chi Minh on foot) and there would be tens of thousands of motorcycles passing by me every minute, yet I did not get any of them in my face every 3 seconds like it is in Cambodia. It was incredibly refreshing. When I went to highly touristed places, that’s where I would occasionally get asked whether I wanted a ride on a moto, but when I said “no”, it was a “no” and I was not bothered by that person anymore. That’s again unheard of in Cambodia. But what I really liked is that even beggars in Vietnam have respect. Cambodia is the only place I know of where a 10 year old kid would say “Fuck You” straight to your face if you don’t give him any money after he asked for it.
From the beginning I could not understand why treatment of tourists in Vietnam was so different from Cambodia, even though they are so close to each other. Why did people in Vietnam leave me alone? Vietnam is not that rich either and unlike Cambodia, they don’t enjoy extra millions from tourist revenue because they don’t have anything equal to Angkor to attract mass numbers of tourists there. And then it all came together.
I noticed that Vietnam was abuzz with construction. There was work in progress everywhere I looked. People were not bothering me, simply because they were involved with their own lives. Millions on motorcycles are either on the way to work or from work. Unless they are on the way to school or from school or on the way to get something for the family. Either way, they are involved with their lives. They work to provide for their families and as such, they don’t have time or interest to bother tourists. They actually appreciate them and are grateful when they visit their country. I have also encountered unconditional help in Vietnam, which something that doesn’t exist in Cambodia, but that’s a whole different story.
Back in Cambodia
I got caught between a rock and a hard place though. I left Cambodia because it was unsafe and too much crime was being committed against me too often. However I did spend a month there building upon something, using my own finances and knowhow to improve the living conditions of people in a remote village but with my premature departure I left it unfinished. I knew that many people whom I started helping would fall back into poverty if I abandoned them before my work has been finalized.
I started to feel the sense of responsibility for being the only hope for a better life these villagers had, so I decided to give Cambodia another go. I thought – since it was Phnom Penh where my life was put in danger in a violent crime attempt, if I stayed away from there, I should be fine.
So I came back to Siem Reap and commuted every day 12 km each way to and from the village which is close to Sras Srang moat, not far from Banteay Kdei temple within the Angkor area. I continued teaching English there for free and started a campaign to raise funds for the purchase of solar panel to electrify the village while preserving the environment. All was fine again for about a week, until we went to celebrate some occasion close to that traffic circle, by the entertainment park in Siem Reap.
At one point when we were leaving, the street got extremely congested with traffic and we had to push through a group of people which was further congested by food carts on wheels. I had my camera with me and since I felt three young men pressing at me from behind and poking at my beg, I held the bag firmly with my arm, shoving my other arm inside the bag to hold firmly onto the $5000 camera. These young men kept pressing on me from three sides which appeared as though it was on purpose, but I assumed they were in a rush to get through so I didn’t make a big deal out of it and just continued guarding the camera inside my bag. Then at one point the pushing stopped and the boys were gone. I figured they must have changed their plan as these food carts truly kept everyone stuck and gave up on getting through quickly.
The moment I got out of there, I found the cell phone missing from my pocket. I immediately realized what the purpose on pressing on me and poking at my bag was and realized that teamwork and stealing skills of Cambodians are not as backwards as everything else. They work as a team and know very well how to keep you distracted and focused on something while someone skilled at withdrawing things from pockets does what they are best at. This was a painful experience and took me a while to get over with. It was extremely disappointing as I spent a lot of money in Cambodia, brought in some more from other sources, invested a lot of time and effort to improve the lives of people here and this is what I was getting in return.
My faith in Cambodia was broken and despite trying hard, I was having troubles recovering from the disappointment cell phone theft had brought upon me. But the biggest hit was yet to come. A couple of days after my cell phone was stolen, I was riding to the village from Siem Reap where I was staying. It’s a 45 minute bike ride (when you step on it and ride swiftly) and I was almost there. Literally, I only had about 2 more minutes before reaching the turn off to the village.
Feeling good that I was almost there, I saw that man crossing the road. I steered in the opposite direction of his walking, but he seemed to have stopped instead of continuing walking so we could safely dodge each other. As I was getting closer, he snatched at my bag I had hung on the handlebars and pulled at it in an attempt to steal it which was followed by a swing of a machete.
I have a bicycle with gears. Unlike most Cambodian bicycles, it does not have a basket above the front wheel. However I have been using gear shifts on both sides of my steering bar as hooks on which to hook my camera bag. So instead of having it strapped around my body, I had it safely hooked on the gear shifts as the bag has a handle which is just wide enough to stretch on both hooks. I realized that when I hooked my bag on the handle bars like that, from a distance it could look like it’s actually a bag placed loosely in the basket which is a standard part of most bikes in Cambodia. That is likely what the man who snatched at it was thinking.
I cannot describe the horror of the experience. The man grabbed at my bag and yanked at it to run away with it, the bag remained safely attached to my steering bar, but it jerked my bicycle which I had at good speed causing me to fall and nearly splatter on the road. A swing of his machete followed and missed my torso by an inch. Had this one landed, I would have disappeared out of all knowledge like British student Eddie Gibson who came to Cambodia and was never heard from again.
This was a direct murder attempt with intentions to rob me off my bag which I have only avoided by a miracle. The man who attempted to kill me couldn’t have known whether there was anything of value in that bag, but since I was a foreigner and had a bag in an area surrounded by jungle and there were no other vehicles on the road which otherwise sees a fair deal of traffic, he took the opportunity and tried to kill me to steal it. Had he succeeded, he would have just dragged my bloodied corpse into the forest so it rots there until the end of days. Unhindered, the man would be free to continue roaming the roads with his machete waiting for his next encounter.
My guardian angel was by me that day, though. The yank resulted in a complete loss of balance but I have somehow managed to stick my foot down and not splatter, but in that process I scratched it quite badly and bled (especially from the heel) like a stuck pig. I could not believe this. I was almost in the village. Given the proximity to the village, I assumed it could have been either a person from the village I haven’t met yet, or someone who lived reasonably close. Why would they otherwise roam around in the neighbourhood?
When the villagers saw me all bloodied and trembling with fear following the near death experience, they asked me what happened and I told them. They also wanted to know what the man who tried to kill me looked like to possibly identify him, but given that I almost died not expecting it, I was so shaken, the last thing I had on my mind was to take a good look at the guy. Plus, I still had the memory of my last altercation I had with a man who tried to steal my bag in Phnom Penh and that ended up with a group chasing me with deadly weapons. This man tried to kill me. Hurting or not, as soon as I was able to get back on the bike, I darted right off from there not looking back, as if I confronted him, he would likely continue swinging the machete until a hit that disabled me was delivered.
Cambodia IS Dangerous
This basically concluded my stay in Cambodia. I immediately started making plans to change my return ticket to leave asap but Korean Air proved excessively difficult to accommodate such requests when they are made outside of the country of origin. This kept me in Cambodia for a few extra days. I stayed mostly locked in, as from my personal experience, Cambodia is extremely dangerous.
I have been half way across the world, but it took a country like Cambodia for a man to fear for his own life. And these are by no means isolated incidents. Since I have been volunteering within Angkor area and close to one of the main temples (on short circuit which is done by most people who visit the park), I got a chance to meet many tourists with horror stories. It starts with seeing people carrying disposable cameras and asking them why the hell would they come all the way to Angkor with this piece of plastic – and hearing answers that this was their only option since their camera along with the money and passports were stolen, all the way to girls walking out of the temple scared to death, crying because they were just raped inside.
Is travel to Cambodia safe? No it is not. Cambodia is one of the most dangerous destinations in the world, period!
Is Travel to Cambodia Safe? How to Draw Your Own Conclusions
So the question that comes to mind is – then how come there are so many people who insist that Cambodia is safe? Well, at this point, instead of trying to raise any more points to prove my case over theirs, I will leave it up to you to make your own mind up and decide for yourself whether Cambodia is safe or not. And in order to come to such conclusions, you need to know what the people who live in Cambodia are like.
One of the most obvious things I noticed right upon coming to Cambodia are countless banners warning tourists to stay away from child sex tourism. It is forced into everyone’s face by banners throughout the country to a point that it becomes ridiculous. Even if you are someone like me, who would not only ever consider sex with a child, but would not even have it cross their mind, by being constantly reminded about it, it almost seems as though Cambodia wanted to introduce itself as a country with striving sex tourism.
I have spoken with countless people, including the police officers and while there definitely are occasional cases of tourists sexually abusing children in Cambodia, these cases are very sparse. Vast majority of all sexual abuses of children are done by local men – the same men who are responsible for an infamous title attributed to Cambodia – the rape capital of the world. Rapes are extremely common in Cambodia and not only are they never punished, they are never even reported because for one – the police force is a joke and secondly, it is socially and culturally unacceptable for a girl to admit that she had a pre marital sex, even if she was violently forced into it. To sum it up – excessive number of Cambodian men are a bunch of sexually abusive characters who don’t stop at nothing. Not even when it comes to helpless children. This is important to understand when coming to Cambodia and you are unsure after hearing one side claiming that Cambodia is safe, while another claiming that it is dangerous. Just take into an account that it is a country of rapists and draw your conclusions from that.
Aside from being a country of child rapists, Cambodia is also crammed with former Khmer Rouge henchmen. These killing machines who were enlisted as young children to kill on daily basis are now in their 40s and 50s and are as used to kill as they were in their early teens. Just because they took off their Mao hats and put on fake designer shirts it doesn’t mean they forgot how to pull the trigger or hack a head off. Having killed dozens of people since they were kids and never facing any repercussions or punishment for it, these people are all over Cambodia and still have the same guns and explosives they were given when they were recruited to kill. Unpunished and allowed to live freely after countless murders, these men and women are but a small part of a large group of armed and dangerous killers Cambodia is full of. Regardless of whether you believe those who say that Cambodia is safe or those who say that Cambodia is dangerous, by visiting Cambodia you will be entering a country where Khmer Rouge murderers roam freely, equipped with uncontrolled and regulated military grade weapons. Instead of believing one side or another, draw your own conclusions based on facts. Take a close look at the type of people who make up much of the society and the picture should be quite clear.
The rule of Khmer Rouge ended more than 30 years ago, but the genocide in Cambodia continues. Even though Pol Pot, the leader of Khmer Rouge is dead, Hun Sen, one of former Khmer Rouge henchmen keeps his legacy alive. Hun Sen’s genocide may not as fast paced as Pol Pot’s was, but with more than a million people killed as a result of Hun Sen’s rule, it is clear that only the names have changed, the oppression remained the same.
The rule of Khmer Rouge caused an international uproar and had to be buried. This was a cue for Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party to enter the scene and gain control over shaken and divided nation. Hun Sen killed or silenced everyone in his path until his grip on power was iron strong, continuing with the genocide right where Khmer Rouge had left off.
30 years later, people are still being killed, opposition is still being silenced and Hun Sen is in no rush to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders. Ek Choeun, aka Ta Mok, aka Brother Number Five, aka Butcher – one of Khmer Rouge’s most prolific killers remained a powerful figure until 1999 when he was apprehended but his trial was being purposefully delayed.
Kang Kek Iew, aka Duch – the infamous leader of the Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21) in Phnom Penh, under whose command at least 14,000 Cambodians and 8 Westerners were brutally tortured and eventually killed spent several years after fall of Khmer Rouge roaming freely throughout Asia, working as a teacher in Thailand and China. He resurfaced in Cambodia as a new-born Christian and became a lay pastor until the 1999 interview with investigative photo-journalist Nic Dunlop in which he disclosed the details of Khmer Rouge atrocities. Duch surrendered to Cambodian authorities following the publication of the interview but the trial has been dragging with no sentences being handed down.
Being former Khmer Rouge and closely identifying with the genocide, Prime Minister Hun Sen wanted to prevent the prosecution of his fellow Khmer Rouge comrades and declared that in the name of national reconciliation it would be best to bury the past and let the Khmer Rouge generals live freely until an old age has taken them. If it weren’t for strong international pressure, neither Ta Mok, nor Duch would have gone to prison. Yet the only reason Hun Sen decided to please the international community was so it continues supporting his corrupt government with billions of dollars from taxes of western taxpayers. In his undying selfishness and greed, he agreed with imprisonment of his Khmer Rouge comrades. But prosecution and sentences are still being delayed.
Duch has been a bit of a pain in the neck for Hun Sen and his corrupt government as of late, though. Stating that he feels sorry for his deeds as a leader of S-21 Tuol Sleng prison camp he is determined to go all out, dusting off a bunch of closeted skeletons with a tell-all. These types of confessions could bring the likes of Nuon Chea – second in command and Pol Pot’s right hand – into a spotlight, for ordering Duch to kill US citizens Michael Scott Deeds and James Clark along with six other westerners and burn their bodies with tires so there are no bones left.
Unwilling to prosecute Nuon Chea, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to forsake the prosecution of this man who’s known for having been the second worst Khmer Rouge. Nuon Chea was allowed to live freely after his atrocities until 2007 when as a result of international pressure, he was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Just as it goes in Cambodia, no sentences have been handed down in his case. Meanwhile, the genocide continues.
Ieng Sary was also granted freedom until 2007 when international community put too much pressure on Cambodia for not prosecuting the Khmer Rouge criminals. Considered to be one of Khmer Rouge’s worst, Ieng Sary was sentenced to death in absentia along with Pol Pot after the overthrow of Khmer Rouge in 1979. Jokingly enough, he was pardoned by Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk in 1996.
Even though Pol Pot was officially the leader with executive power over Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan bore the title of the president of the state presidium of Democratic Kampuchea. That would make him the leader on paper, but in reality the real leader was Pol Pot. He enjoyed undisturbed freedom until 2007 and made his first appearance at Cambodia’s genocide tribunal in April, 2008 in which his defence lawyer claimed his client was never directly responsible for the genocide.
As the leader of Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot was directly responsible for the Genocide in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people died as Pol Pot’s people tried to cleanse Cambodia according to the Maoist ideologies. After the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese army lead by the Khmer Rouge traitor, current Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen, Pol Pot fled to the jungles near the border with Thailand and operated Khmer Rouge from there. Up until 1997, Khmer Rouge was recognized by the United Nations as the rightful government of Cambodia. Pol Pot died a year later, on April 15, 1998 in his home while under house arrest, but lived to be a mass murderer until the end of his days. Son Sen, life-long right-hand of Pol Pot and eleven members of his family were executed upon Pol Pot’s orders on June 10, 1997 following the speculations that Son Sen was trying to make a settlement with current Cambodian government.
Perhaps the most notable Khmer Rouge henchmen, especially considerable for being still alive and still in control of Cambodia is Hun Sen. This mass murderer has blood of more than million people on his hands and an overall horrible human rights track record. Under his rule, the genocide in Cambodia is still ongoing, only now it took a sneakier, more sophisticated form. Hun Sen removes everyone in his path and strengthens his grip on power with the use of power. He is one of the most dangerous criminals in the world today but his genocide is so clever, instead of facing international condemnation, he enjoys international aid that amounts to billion US dollars a year. This money, which comes from the pockets of western taxpayers is sent to Cambodia to help weak economy but ends up laundered in the pockets of Hun Sen and people close to him. Meanwhile, direct opposers of Hun Sen are silenced while millions of Cambodians live on less than $1 a day, completely deprived of health care and education.
Khmer Rouge Today
Khmer Rouge is dead – on paper. But thousands of henchmen recruited as children to kill dozens of people on daily basis are now in their 40’s and 50’s and are all over Cambodia. These people still possess military grade weapons and explosives that float around Cambodia uncontrolled and unregulated. With the police force being as corrupt as the government that controls them, crimes don’t get investigated, unless it somehow affects the senior officials. The Khmer Rouge henchmen are out there, all over Cambodia ready to off anyone for $50. Or for free, if you piss them off or get in their way. Your body would be thrown in the jungle where wild dogs would eat it to the bone. Noone will ever hear from you again and noone in Cambodia will care. After you have been offed, the Khmer Rouge assassin that murdered you will wait around for his next $50 job.
Interpol’s Most Wanted Fugitives
More than a hundred of Interpol’s Most Wanted Fugitives are former Khmer Rouge killing machines who are allowed to roam Cambodia freely and call it home after their government refused to bring them to justice. Thousands more call this country their home and just as their “Most Wanted” comrades, they are as dangerous and as used to kill and get away with it. They’ve been killing since they were 14 and never faced any repercussions for any life they took. Do you think much has changed now that they are 45?
Cambodia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Judiciary system is corrupt, the police force is a joke and only installed to shelter the illegal activities of their government. All that while serial killers with millions of guns available to them hang around in all areas.
Khmer Rouge is dead – on paper – but don’t let its demise fool you. The genocide in Cambodia continues unhindered with armed, middle-aged men pulling their weapons out when they don’t get their way. To give false perception of a safe country so the influx of hard currency that tourists bring doesn’t stop, the corrupt government skews the crime statistics and it does seem to be working. No one would dare to travel to Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge years, yet even now, more than 30 years later the country remains as dangerous as it was in the late 70’s. Violence is still part of the nation’s culture, only since the fall of Khmer Rouge, it hasn’t been making international headlines.
While 12 million Cambodian live on less than $1 a day, a handful of people are extremely rich. There is no middle class in Cambodia – only too many extremely poor and a few extremely rich. The Rich Cambodians are richer than can be explained in words. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who took control over Cambodia by mercilessly removing anyone standing in his path became the youngest and wealthiest premier in the world when he was only 33 years old. After killing more than million people, Hun Sen is right up there with world’s most vicious dictators, second only to Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin.
By privatizing Angkor Archaeological Park to keep near a billion US dollars in direct revenue it generates a year for themselves, and by illigal logging and further exploitation of country’s natural resources to keep billions of dollars these generate for themselves, the corrupt government of Cambodia strips their own people of any share in wealth historical, cultural and natural resources of Cambodia provide. These resources should and do belong to all Cambodians, yet the revenue, even though it’s more than one could fathom ends up in pockets of the rich. In a country of estimated 14 million people, a few dozen are extremely rich and extremely powerful. The rest are either barely scraping it or completely unable to make ends meet. Let’s take a closer look at rich Cambodians:
British “The Sunday Times” recently published an article on children of rich Cambodians and high lifestyles they get to live. Their parents are the senior officials of the world’s most corrupt government with pockets so fat they don’t know what to do with all that money, so their children get to spend it. And as is obvious from the article, they do enjoy the privileges of wealth and are not afraid to flaunt it. You can check out the full article on the following link:
There are two countries in Cambodia. One is real Cambodia – full of underprivileged and impoverished people whose first thought of the day is the worry about whether they will have enough rice to feed the family with today. In this Cambodia, 8% of children die before the age of 5 deprived of medical care and any real chance to live decent lives.
The other Cambodia is the country of the rich. It houses a handful of people who keep billions of dollars generated by illegal logging, smuggling, land grabbing and corruption for themselves. Through systematic exploitation of historical and natural resources which should benefit all of Cambodians, this handful of people strips the public of any share of the profits their resources generated and finance their super high lifestyles with it. These rich Cambodians made themselves untouchable as military, police and justice system are all controlled by them to do as they are told.
Children of Rich Cambodians are sent to study at prestigious foreign universities and are given all the money in the world to enjoy themselves any way they please. They wear military VIP stickers on their car’s dashboards which gives them complete immunity. The police won’t touch them and if they get involved in an accident or other dispute, it will always be that other party’s fault.
The life of Rich Cambodians is sweet. Living in heavily guarded Tuol Kuok district in Phnom Penh, rich Cambodians have all the money in the world and keep the power tightly among themselves. Meanwhile, foreign governments keep sending more and more funds which Cambodian government relies on when planning their annual budgets. Why would they bother including money generated by Angkor Archaeological Park or extensive deforestation into the budget? Foreign governments blindly send them money, so they can keep profits from Angkor and illegal logging for themselves. Afterall, their children like to drive half million dollar cars and go on exotic vacations countless times a year.
Cambodia has vast gas and oil deposits but has not started exploiting those yet. Oil rich economy could send a wrong signal to foreign governments that the country makes enough money and doesn’t need donations to plan out a budget anymore. Whereas by keeping the majority of its population below the poverty line by stripping them of the profits generated by their historical and cultural resources, Cambodia appears poor with slow economy so leaders of western countries spinelessly send support funds to strengthen the Hun Sen’s iron grip over the country.
Hun Sen doesn’t have any formal education, yet he’s planned this one out well. Khmer Rouge is dead, but his new, modern version of it with complete control over a nation including merciless removal of any and all opponents puts Khmer Rouge to shame. And while Hun Sen’s opponents are being silenced, his loyalists grow richer by the hour. Ordinary Cambodians have no chance at real freedom for as long as this corrupt government is in power. But with their firm grip over country’s military with all generals being close allies of the prime minister, it would take international military intervention to remove this totalitarian government from power. However, seeing how Hun Sen has it all well played out, it’s not gonna happen anytime soon. He keeps 3/4 of his populace extremely poor so foreign countries feel sympathy and instead of coming with force to remove the dictator, they send annual fundings that reached one billion US dollars in 2009.
Meanwhile, ordinary Cambodians are driven from their lands at gunpoint by government controlled soldiers or military police. Rich Cambodians have it all, the rest of the population has nothing at all. I wonder how much will foreign donations grow into by 2010. Yet the saddest part is – chunk of my own taxes will be in it!
Royal Residence is where the king of Cambodia stays on his visits to Siem Reap. Given that Siem Reap is Cambodia’s main cash cow thanks to proximity to Angkor Wat, king’s focus on Siem Reap is apparent. How much time the king actually spends in Siem Reap I do not know. Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodian capital city is far superior a dwelling to Siem Reap’s Royal residence.
There is a traffic circle on the corner of the Royal Residence which I believe is the only actual traffic circle in Siem Reap, though there is another one outside of town limit, on the intersection of National Road #6 and the road leading to Siem Reap Airport. The corner of Royal Residence facing the traffic circle has a large poster with an image of the king. The image is nicely illuminated at night. The Stone Bridge which goes across Stung Siem Reap on the opposite side of the traffic circle is one way only – you can’t cross it going east, only coming back towards the Royal Residence.
I have never actually been inside of the Royal Residence in Siem Reap (nor have I gone to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, since entrance fee is a bit too high) so I can’t comment on whether there is anything to see. I’m not even sure whether public is allowed to enter. My guess would be it’s not as I have never see its doors open or any foreigners walking in or out. It’s probably not used unless King Norodom Sihamoni or other members of the royal family are in Siem Reap.
The only significance of the Royal Residence for me was its immediate proximity to Royal Independence Gardens – my most favourite place in all of Cambodia, thanks to the Flying Foxes. A road to Angkor Wat also leads by the Royal Palace so unless you are staying in one of the hotels or guesthouses which are at far end of Siem Reap, you will have passed by it on your way to and from the Angkor Archaeological Park.