I spent most of my time in Cambodia living like a Cambodian. While I stayed in the village, I became part of the day to day affairs that commanded the village life and became close friends with a number of members of the community. Thoroughly integrated, I took part in the village’s daily routines many of which were so strange to me, they raised questions. Through close ties with a few friends, I was soon filled in on much of what seemed as an unusually uptight lifestyle.
It seemed, for example, rather strange to me that single girls stayed in a dedicated house and would always lock themselves up inside immediately after dark. As was explained to me later, Cambodian tradition dictated the girls to not spend nights in company of men. Children stayed with their parents, married couples stayed together, but adolescent, unmarried girls always stay with one another and would bar outside world’s access to them for the whole night entirely.
Things became even clearer later on, when almost every other night someone would try to break into the house of girls with an intention to rape them. That was the reason why no girl would ever stroll out after dark and why even though they lived separated from men, their close male relatives were always nearby. This was because sexually oriented assaults against girls were so frequent, a male they could trust – usually a father or brother of the girls – was always nearby to fight off perpetrators looking to sexually violate them.
Unfortunately (but not shockingly), despite these rather drastic precautions, an alarmingly high number of Cambodian girls still gets raped before getting a chance to engage in voluntary intercourse with someone they like. Everybody in Cambodia either knows someone who was raped or were victims of rape themselves.
Cambodia, as I found out is one rape happy nation. Being a female in Cambodia carries with it an inherent, very realistic and ever increasing threat of becoming a rape victim at some point in their lives with the least lucky ones getting exploited long before reaching maturity. Children, after all, are easy victims. They are naturally afraid of adults and their dependency on them makes them obedient. Plus a child does not have the matching physical strength to possibly fight the perpetrator off or run away.
However, if a child is not available, your average Cambodian male will not pass up on an opportunity to sexually violate a woman should said opportunity present itself. And if no opportunity presents itself, he’ll go out to create one (remember my post about driving habits of people who like to use their physical advantages against disadvantaged individuals? Cambodians are a perfect example. The entire history of Cambodia is the history of unprovoked aggression, and it still reflects in their inherent lust for abuse of anyone who’s weaker, with aggressive driving and inclination to rape being the most obvious).
The possibilities and opportunities for rapists in Cambodia are endless. Not only can they enjoy violating the weak and not face a threat of punishment, they can even count on the victims to keep to themselves as most will feel ashamed to even admit that they were violated. The place of a woman in the Cambodian society is not particularly enviable.
A society which deems women a lesser human form is not likely to recognize rape as a serious crime to begin with. As a result, rapists are not prosecuted, which leaves victims to deal with the ordeal on their own all the while the rapist is out on the lookout for his next prey. Add to the mix how fundamentally corrupt and incompetent Cambodian police are and it becomes clear that it wouldn’t even make any sense for the victim to report the crime. Why bother if the likelihood of being further victimized by the police is higher than a chance of them investigating on the report?
Because there are no lines that Cambodian rapists would draw, foreigners visiting Cambodia are as likely to become victims of rape as locals. And statistics show that. There are none in the Cambodian police files, because Cambodian police doesn’t recognize rape since it never gets reported, but if you look at travel advisories posted by governments of countries with significant number of citizens traveling to Cambodia, you’ll notice a frightening trend. And all these rapes are perpetrated by aggressors from a country with total population of 14 Million. The ratio here must be some of the worst in the world.
Cambodia is a scam capital of the world. Sure, Nigeria may be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about scam, but Nigeria focuses on on-line scamming, whereas Cambodia is still on top of the game when it comes to face to face scams. Just as is the case with violence, scam is a part of daily lives of all Cambodians. They need scam to feel alive and no walk of life is left out.
Scamming Government Officials
Cambodia is ruled by the most corrupt government in the world which results in all government officials being professional extortionists. Whether it’s the police, Apsara Authority or immigration people appointed to issue visa, they will all want extra money if you end up having any dealings with them.
Poipet Border Scam
Poipet border between Cambodia and Thailand is infamous for endless scam and indeed I have been subjected to it when I tried to cross both to Thailand and back from Thailand to Cambodia. Thais do not scam, but Cambodians make it their profession. Buses will purposefully take you to the wrong place so you have to pay extra to get you to the border or to stay overnight in a guesthouse that pays commission. On the way to Cambodia you will have Cambodian immigration officers and the police insisting on bribes or else you’re left to sweat and roast in the sun until you shell out. This type of scam is not limited to Poipet through. Coming to Cambodia from Laos will expose you to the same scam and so will the Cham Yeam crossing from Thailand (direct access to Sihanoukville).
Planted Drugs Scams
Given that the police are as corrupt as the government itself, their entire purpose is to scam. The police will go through any lengths to get money off of tourists. Planting tourists with drugs is a common practise and could set you back a few hundred dollars unless you shell out right after you’ve been set up. In that case, the scam cops may be happy to let you go after being paid just $20 each.
Fake Pills Scams
I understand that UCare Pharmacy (can find one in both SIem Reap and in Phnom Penh) is supposed to be the one pharmacy in Cambodia which doesn’t sell fake pills, but it’s hard to take any such claim by a Cambodian company seriously. Other than UCare, though, Cambodia specializes in selling fake pills cause that’s an easy money. One type of pills worth particular mention are anti-malarials. When news of fake malaria pills hit the web, I was not surprised at all when I found out that Cambodia was the front runner of the scam. It’s so typical of this country to sell counterfeit pills to people who foolishly believe they will be protected against malaria… Don’t trust anything you buy in Cambodia, but if your life is in question, then multiply this rule tenfold.
This usually happens with motorcycle rentals as there is more money involved than in bicycle rentals for example. The scenario is simple – you come to rent a motorcycle, sign a rental agreement which has a clause that you will have to pay the full amount if you lose, destroy or someone steals the motorcycle. You will be provided with the key from the lock while a copy of the key is provided to a person associated with the rental agency. They will follow you from the distance, patiently waiting until you park the bike before the superstore or some other place where you’re likely to step away from the sight of the motorcycle for a while. They will use the key they have to unlock the motorcycle and will drive away. When you come back, there will be no motorcycle and no chance for you to recover it. The police are often part of this scam and will participate with the rental agency to force you into paying the full amount that equals the value of a brand new bike. Many, many and then some foreigners have been scammed this way in Cambodia. Again, businesses in Cambodia don’t try to make it by offering quality service or product. They just look for easy and quick money, and as much as possible the first time.
Virtually nothing you buy in Cambodia is genuine. Nothing is real. By selling genuine goods the businesses would have to work hard to build up their reputation and customer loyalty and who can be bothered with that? They are simply too lazy to do deal with real business model, so instead they focus on an easy solution – theft. As a result, you will find bootlegs of anything you can imagine sold right on the main streets of every town with store windows displaying all bootlegged items with spotlights on. They have entire stores specializing in selling bootleg software, bootleg movies, bootleg music CDs, bootleg you name it. Cambodians simply like to steal and make money by selling stolen goods.
Pirated Merchandise Scams
Theft of intellectual property and trademarked names is the name of the game in Cambodia. It starts with photocopied Lonely Planet and National Geographics books being sold on the streets by touts, and ends with sales of fake Borderline suitcases, Gappa wear or Nike shoes. I don’t even understand how they go about selling fake iPhones and other electronic devices, but if you think you’re buying a genuine product here in Cambodia, you’re in for a big surprise.
Internet Cafes Scams
Be very careful when using internet cafes in Cambodia. Many have keyloggers installed on their machines to steal your passwords and other valuable information. People have seen money transferred out of their accounts following the use of internet cafes in Cambodia.
If an electronic device breaks down on you in Cambodia, don’t be silly and try to have it repaired there. Wait until you get to a civilized country, otherwise you’re standing a chance of getting your machine ripped off genuine parts and have inferior, generic parts put in instead. Again, this is Cambodia. Any way they can scam you, they will.
Gas Station Scams
If you are new and don’t pay attention, you stop at the gas station to throw some gas in your tank but the attendant will purposefully not zero out the counter so you will end up paying for the balance of the precious customer, on top of the gas that went into your gas tank. Always make sure the counter is reset before the attendant starts fuelling.
Police Check Stop Scams
Cambodian police just love foreigners riding around on motorcycle. They will pull you over and fine you with… something. It could be that you had a headlight on during the day, or that you turned left or whatever else they can pull off. All traffic infractions have set fee schedule which is usually around 2,000 Riel (roughly $.50 US) but the cop, if they see you don’t know this, will throw something totally outrageous at you – such as $50. If you are able to bring it down to $20, you will feel like you got off easy, yet you had just paid 40 times the amount you should have. Fines for common traffic offences are less than a dollar. Always ask for receipt by saying “sombot”, otherwise insist on going to the police station and calling the embassy to have this handled. They will likely not want to sacrifice their time dedicated for ripping people off by false fines with this and may let you go.
Fake Jewellery Scams
Unless you are an expert on precious metals and precious stones, don’t ever buy any jewellery in Cambodia. Remember, nothing you are being offered is real and unless you know your stones and metals really well, you’re gonna end up buying a chemically produced worthless junk. If you know what you’re doing and can take the risk of having your life put in stake, then rejecting the fakes and insisting on getting the real deal could land you with the real deal, but you’ll be looking for trouble with this approach.
The Ratanakiri province is riddled with mines containing precious and semi-precious stones. It is a great place for experts to go get some valued stones for cheap, but unless you know what you are doing, you’re gonna end up buying a fake. Cambodians will do their best to first ensure they’re selling you the fake and unless you show them that you know your stones backwards, you will have little success scoring a good buy.
Pailin area (homeland of Khmer Rouge) is also known for rubies and sapphires but as it is with Ratanakiri, unless you know your stones, don’t buy anything or you’re gonna end up with a chemically-treated copy.
Helpful locals are the most frequent and most potent type of scam in existence. They will offer to negotiate a better price on your behalf because you can’t speak Khmer but will instead negotiate a hefty commission for themselves in exchange for cheating you into paying the price they told you was the best you can get for this item. I got this right away after the Tuk Tuk driver offered to “help” me negotiate the best price for a bicycle. If I followed his help, instead of paying $30, I would have paid $185. Helpful locals are never helpful because they want you to feel good about visiting Cambodia. They only and solely want to help themselves and are only pretending to be helpful because that’s what will get them to scam you.
Local Business Scams
The name for local businesses is “discrimination”. Cambodia is all about us vs them. If you look different, you will be subjected to discrimination. You will be treated like a crack whore by the Tuk Tuk drivers yelling at you and clapping their hands from across the street while market people will make a point of overcharging you just because your color of skin is different. There are a few businesses with clearly posted prices which apply to everyone equally. As someone who doesn’t support discrimination, I stuck with shopping there, instead of with local businesses. Scamming me just because I look different is not my idea of a good business practice.
NGOs and Orphanages Scams
NGOs and orphanages are some of the most profitable business ventures in Cambodia. There is no middle class in Cambodia, only 12 million of extremely poor people and a handful of extremely rich ones. There is a hefty group of those in between, though. They ride Lexus SUVs and honk their horns at everyone to make way. Those are the NGO owners who came to easy riches by establishing NGOs. Through foreign donations none of which made it to the people in need, they were able to secure themselves with above average lifestyles. They often use fake orphanages as storefronts to make foreign donors feel sorry for the impoverished kids and send some money over. This money is used to finance outlandish lifestyles and expensive cars of the NGO owners. This is one extremely successful scam that yields insane and easy revenue.
When it comes to Cambodia, the locals will stop at absolutely nothing to scam you. They will also dress up as Buddhist monks because those usually enjoy a great deal of respect and it is easier to lure money out of unsuspecting victims when your head is shaved and your body wrapped in an orange robe. Fake monks exist all over Cambodia but the more touristy the area, the higher a density of them.
It is not a secret that monkhood (is there such word?) is the shelter for criminals who would otherwise face repercussions. Joining the ranks of Buddhist Monks saves the delinquents from punishment which is abused by the lot of them. That’s why you will see the monks behaving in the ways monks should not behave – you will see them drinking and smoking, browsing porn in internet cafes, rubbing it up with bar girls in karaoke restaurants and stealing valuables from the pagodas so they can sell them for personal profit. You can tell who’s in it for the right reasons and who’s not.
If you get approached by a monk and asked to make a contribution either to the pagoda or towards his studies, you are likely speaking with a fake monk. Real monks don’t approach strangers like this directly. You will see them making their rounds every morning which usually consists of standing silently in front of businesses or homes and waiting for someone to come out and make a food donation into their alms bowl. They will wait silently for a minute or two and if no one comes out, they will move onto another house. This is their standard morning ritual.
Keep in mind that because someone is ordained, it doesn’t mean their natural greed and habit of getting hand-outs goes away. This is Cambodia. Cambodians do not like to work, they like to get stuff for free and draping oneself in a saffron robe doesn’t wipe their natural selves clean.
The saddest part about Cambodian Buddhist Monks is that they are Cambodian. That means that all head monks are as corrupt as the rest of the country. Anyone who’s in a leading position in Cambodia is corrupt, including religious leaders. Money that the temples generate through donations and other contributions usually end up in pockets of those corrupt head monks so even if there is a new monk with the right intentions looking to change the world, they will soon be defeated by the corruption that deeply penetrated all walks of life, including religion.
Considering that Cambodia is a Buddhist nation, the number and omnipresence of scams is unnerving. Shouldn’t they think of Karma, you ask? I was asking the same thing myself and can’t explain it in any way other than by calling them “hypocrites”.
Cambodians don’t believe in building up on the name of their business by offering quality product and/or service. They strictly focus on ripping each customer off as much as possible the first time they attempt to make a purchase to boost the initial score to the max, even if it means that the customer will never come back. There is also an ongoing currency exchange scam but that only results on about 5 cents loss on every dollar and usually doesn’t end up making a significant impact on your budget. It is truly saddening that Cambodians don’t see and don’t treat tourists as people, but as wandering cash cows. Their smiles so many people talk about are fake. They force them upon their faces because that could engage you into an eye contact which for a Cambodian is an invitation to sell you something or entice you into falling for one of the many scam they’d mastered.
Seeing how Cambodia is a major scam operation, I was not surprised when I found out that “Seeing Hands” massage by the blind did not have any blind people doing the massage, but they were good at pretending to be blind. It was nothing more but a marketing gimmick combined with a scam to generate more interest in the business. Foolish foreigners believe they are supporting the blind yet they are simply supporting scammers. This is real Cambodia!
There is something to be said when it comes to the laziest nations in the world. Most publications associate laziness with what people do (or NOT do) in their spare time, after all duties have been taken care of. To me, that’s a fundamental mistake and doesn’t reflect on the laziness at all. People who bust their butts off so they can have some time for themselves are not lazy. True laziness comes to play when an entire nation can’t get the work – the necessary duties done because they can’t be bothered to get off their soft motorcycle seats. And this is why Cambodia is the laziest nation in the world. Everywhere you go, any time of day you will see hundreds of people of all ages idling in the streets, doing absolutely nothing just killing time by hanging loose. You will be wondering why they are all out here doing nothing. You will be asking yourself – shouldn’t these people be at work and kids at school? How can a nation sustain itself if nobody can be bothered to do any work? Those are all legitimate questions and anyone who pays attention will undoubtedly have them cross their minds upon their first visit to Cambodia.
History of Cambodia – The Laziest Nation in the World
It comes as a striking contrast when one visits the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park and sees the megalomaniac structures Angkorian era civilization was capable of constructing. Could the laziest nation in the world built the world’s largest religious complex? Obviously, Cambodia a millennium ago was different from Cambodia today – aside from being a culture of violence, as Cambodians are as violent today as they have always been.
So Cambodians were definitely not lazy back then, back when the temples of Angkor were built, but what happened? That I guess is as difficult to explain as is the abrupt end to once powerful empire. Ancient Khmer rulers were on top of the game and controlled the region but then something happened and Angkor was abandoned. Everything about the Khmer people, everything – including their approach to work has changed. The end of Angkorian era was the end of decent Cambodia. The empire failed and so did the people. People who were once capable of building monumental structures are nowadays capable of nothing more than idling and doing absolutely a great deal of nothing. Unless verbally and physically abusing foreigners can be considered an activity. Luckily the former can be done from the comfort of their motorcycle seat…
The fact that Cambodia is the laziest nation in the world is not something I am the first person to notice. When the French entered the area and colonized the country in the 1800s, they noticed that Cambodians are incredibly lazy and never get anything done. No matter what they’d tried, no Cambodian could be bothered to get off their ass so the French were left with one and only option – go to a foreign land and bring the people from there to work in Cambodia. Vietnam was the closest and since colonization of Thailand was never much of a success for the French, Vietnam it was. Obviously, it wouldn’t matter where they’d go as any normal nation will have many people who can get the work done, it’s only Cambodia where there was absolutely no one who could be bothered.
Cambodia – Still the Laziest Nation in the World
Today, centuries after the French learned the hard way that nothing in Cambodia gets done because Cambodians are extremely lazy, the situation is unchanged. Cambodia is still the laziest nation in the world but the French are no longer the only ones to know it. Following the industrial revolution, many multi-national companies moved much of their production to Asia and have factories in countries surrounding Cambodia, but none of them is in any rush to open one in this country. Now why would that be? Obviously, they know something that prevents them from making a grave mistake of investing in Cambodia and employing Cambodians. It’s their money and money of their shareholders that are in stake and as such, none of these companies will ever consider opening a factory in Cambodia because they know that nothing would ever get done.
You will find countless garment producers, such as Nike or Adidas, or electronics makers, such as Samsung or Siemens in surrounding countries (Vietnam, Malaysia, etc.) but none of them would consider opening a factory in Cambodia. So why is given that cost of labour in Cambodia is often lower than cost of labour in any of the surrounding countries? Why would they not consider opening a factory in Cambodia if there is a prospect for them to save money on wages? Do they know something we don’t know? Yes they do. They know that no matter how (seemingly) inexpensive the labour is in Cambodia, because people here are the laziest people in the world, at the end of the day nothing would get done.
See the Laziest Nation in the World for Yourself
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Cambodia is the laziest nation in the world. Anyone with marginal observation talent will notice that people here can’t be bothered to work. They just sit around whole day on their motorcycles, hiding from the sun in the shade, grouping up with buddies who are as lazy as themselves, killing their time they have too much of by verbally or physically abusing the foreigners. This laziness is present on every corner of every street in Cambodia and it is one of the reason why Cambodia is so dangerous. Because vast majority of population is not involved with their lives, they are not busy looking after their families so they seek excitement from the comfort of their motorcycle seats.
Those who spend an extra time in Cambodia will notice that progress in everything is extremely slow. When there is a construction going on, you will see people sitting around and chatting instead of getting the work done. That’s why every serious firm looking to open a retail shop or a hotel will contract foreign companies to built the business for them. Contracting Cambodians would mean the business will take forever to start.
Laziness however exists in all walks of life in Cambodia. Kids don’t go to school because they can’t be bothered to learn or do the homeworks. Are you kidding me? A Cambodian kid learning at home to maybe become someone more than a tout who makes abuse of foreigners their life purpose? This ain’t happening.
Cambodia – Most Expensive Labour in the World
When you look deeper into it, you will realize that the cost of labour in Cambodia is one of the highest in the world. Average monthly wage could be only $90, but given how extremely lazy Cambodians are, you will get at best 2 hours worth of labour per person per month. So by paying a Cambodian $90 a month, you are basically paying them $45 per hour. Normal Cambodian is so lazy they will not produce more than 2 hours worth of labour a month and do not forget that that’s only upon excessive supervision and investment of extra 10 hours of your own time to fix up what they had screwed up during their 2 hours worth of work. One really needs to put things in perspective before jumping to conclusions that Cambodians are underpaid. I could only wish I got $45 per hour for my work.
Supporting Cambodian Laziness
Shockingly enough, the world approves of and supports Cambodian laziness. With each dollar donated to Cambodians, with each piece of merchandise that makes it to Cambodia, the laziest nation of the world remains assured that they don’t have to try to change, that it makes no sense working hard for a dollar. If doing nothing lands them free money and things, why would they even attempt to work? Work has been excluded from their lives for centuries and there’s never been more reason to stay lazy than there is now. The philosophy is simple:
Let us do nothing and enjoy our lives without worrying about work, because work requires sacrifices and is tiring and distressing. Instead, let others go through the hassles and tension of employment. Let them work hard their entire lives, struggle for decades to eventually make it up the ladder, renouncing their spare time, their families and friends, let them dedicate the best part of their life to working for the man, instead of spending it with their loved ones, because by wearing themselves out working, they will eventually manage to save a few dollars up and that’s when we enter their view and have them send their money, the money they worked so hard for to us. That’s it – if you are too lazy and irresponsible to work, just whine about being poor and you’ll end up getting money from someone who was brought up being responsible and sacrificed their best years for work.
It is no secret that countries with strong work ethic are successful on an international scale. Lack of work ethic often means lack of character which is something that anyone who pays attention notices shortly after entering Cambodia. Most Cambodians will prefer to look and stay poor so they can get free stuff by getting sponsors to pay for them or donors to give it to them. An alternative to this is to roll up the sleeves and start to work hard for your money but that’s work, isn’t it? Why work if you can get stuff for free by whining out loud? Cambodia is without doubt the laziest nation in the world. You can see it everywhere you look, but it’s also proven by no interest in Cambodian labor from any multinational corporation and historical records of people who tried to make Cambodians work but failed. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The very first thing you notice upon your initial encounter with native Cambodians is that they are extremely pushy and aggressive. The very second thing you notice is that Cambodians are extremely rude and take great joy at making tourists feel uncomfortable. They take great joy at other people’s misfortune and/or suffering regardless of whether they are foreigners or fellow Cambodians, but the joy of laughing at foreigners and making them feel uncomfortable with purposefully loud remarks aimed at their person is a double score.
You know the “10 points” joke we make in western countries? It refers to the GTA style computer games and you use it while driving. If you’re on an open road with no other vehicles ahead of you and an elderly person comes grinding slowly across the road, you make an inappropriate remark that you have “10 points” right ahead of you. It implies that if you floored the gas pedal and pancaked the elderly, you’d earn yourself sweet-arsed 10 points. As it goes, if it’s an elderly person with a walker that crosses the street, then you’re looking at scoring mighty “15”.
Something of that sort happens as a daily routine among Cambodians. Locals of this country are the laziest people in the world who refuse to go to work and instead spend their entire days bored out of their minds, sitting on their motorcycles, killing time by entertaining themselves any way they can. But by just sitting outside with nothing to do, their only source of entertainment are people who come into view.
If something you’d normally consider a “not a big deal” happens to you – for example if you were pulling smokes out of your pocket and the box fell on the ground so you’d have to bend over to pick it up – you’d hear those locals laugh out loud like they’re watching Tom and Jerry. It was nothing worthy of mentioning that happened to you and in all other countries you would just pick it up and go without anyone ever winking an eye, but that’s not the case of Cambodia. Cambodians are extremely malicious and any chance to laugh at another that offers itself is taken a complete and thorough advantage of.
Now, if something more noteworthy happens to you – you slip and fall, for example – then the bored-out-of-their-minds Cambodians will explode with laughter. In any civilized country people would either try to help you or if you can help yourself, they would pretend that they didn’t see your misfortune so as not to make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s not the case of Cambodia. Locals here take great joy at making everyone and everything feel uncomfortable and will not miss out on any opportunity to show how rude and spiteful they are.
But it doesn’t end there. Cambodians will also laugh at you when they should be the ones to be laughed at. For example if you come to a store and there is nobody to serve you. Or imagine you are riding a bicycle, you get to a gate you need to get through in order to get somewhere but you can’t get across because lazy Cambodians who are killing time have their motorcycles parked there. They will loudly laugh at you for their own stupidity, for not realizing that they are blocking a passage by unqualified parking.
And as mentioned with the “10 points” example above, just as you get 15 points for running over an elderly with a walker, they feel extra entertained when they see a foreigner in a tight situation.
But scoring up foreigners doesn’t end with the lazy types who sit around whole day. This principle also applies to road crossing itself and since Cambodia is known for having the worst drivers in the world with sidewalks blocked up with motorcycles forcing you to walk on busy streets, you will have thousands of bikes and cars to dodge each time you decide to take a walk. And if you take into account the traffic rules of Cambodia, as a pedestrian, you are on a complete end of the traffic food chain with absolutely nobody paying any respect to you. It will be your responsibility to watch out for the traffic which will come at you from all sides, including the sidewalks. Yet as a foreigner, if you fail to keep a keen eye on traffic to safely dodge the vehicles, it will be like scoring mighty 15 for running over an elderly with a walker. In Cambodia, hitting a foreigner is like hitting a jackpot on a VLT.
Yet this is all still something you can avoid. What you can’t avoid in Cambodia is being continuously and uninterruptedly harassed by the Tuk Tuk drivers, touts and other scam artists. They are all extremely aggressive and don’t take “No” for an answer. I’ve been all over South-East Asia but no other country has scam artists who are this much in your face and this ruthless. You will have to deal with hundreds of them every day, oftentimes approaching you with deliberate intentions to make you feel pressured. If there is a group of a dozen Tuk Tuk drivers one right next to another, even though they will all hear you say “No, thank you!” to the first one, they will still each get in your face as though this will ever make you reconsider not riding with any of them.
But this is only the beginning. After politely responding that you were OK and didn’t need anything today, you will have them say something to each other in their native tongue loud enough to ensure that you can hear it and will have themselves one hell of a laugh to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible. If this discomfort results in you tipping over a curb or anything of sorts, this will be again like scoring the mighty 15.
If you make a local friend of opposite sex with whom you will go somewhere, hostile Cambodians will continue making extremely rude remarks both at you and at her (or him, if you’re a girl with a local male). Then you will know clearly how rude they really are because your companion will be targeted as well and they will tell you what remarks were used.
Of course, rudeness of Cambodians doesn’t end there. You will be stared down on every step of your stay in Cambodia. The more dangerous an individual, the more they will stare you down, laugh at you in front of your face and otherwise look for (provoke) trouble. Cambodians do not care about being friendly. They are only falsely friendly when there is a chance to easily make money off of you. Discrimination in Cambodia is prevalent and the locals will do anything to make you feel out of place. As sad as it is, it’s time that someone called a spade a spade.
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.
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