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Criminality & Safety in Cambodia

Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Cambodia is a country with widely empovered masses of people. Anomie is everywhere and the country has a long tradition of authoritarianism and brutalization. The crime rate is therefore high and one should be aware here of the main risks, including that of traffic or other accidents.

Most of the criminal issues are petty criminality like ‘snatch and grab’ robberies, mostly committed by bypassing motorbikes to other road users or to people who put valuables on tables in restaurants and so on. But also burglaring and armed robberies occur and sometimes murders. Many people have guns and other weapons and it doesn’t matter if it is a Cambodian or a foreigner, a life means little in Cambodia. On the other hand is the homicide rate in Cambodia with 3.4 murders per year per 100,000 people clearly lower than in neighbouring Thailand or the USA (both at 4.8 / year / 100,000 people).

It’s remarkable how careful the local people are locking their houses and flats. All the windows are usually equipped with an iron grid, and hotel and guesthouse staff warns guests frequently of people who might try to grab valuables with their hands or sticks through an open window with a grid when such belongings are in range. Also upper floors are mostly protected with barbed wires etc. to protect rooms, balconies, upper terraces etc. from climbing thieves.

Many rural parts of Cambodia are not under control of the police. Walking around after sunset is much more dangerous than in daytime. The waterfront of Sihanoukville is known as a particularly dangerous stretch – tourists happened to be robbed or even murdered there, already. Sihanoukville is counted anyway as one of the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia, and a number of westerners were murdered there in the last years. Some of them might have been involved in obscure businesses, but others defenitely not. Banditry even on more frequented overland roads can happen after sunset.

One should also be aware of pickpockets who are mostly active at places where many people are around as market places, bus stations, tourist sites etc. Sometimes such guys approach very friendly and touch their victims in a way like placing a hand on one’s shoulder to distract him from picking somewhat out of the pocket.

ATM fraud happens reportedly sometimes. Anyhow the card data are spyed out and unauthorized transactions are made afterwards. Also raids after leaving an ATM can happen. It’s always a good idea to have an eye open before entering an ATM and to check if it is maybe under observation by other parties.

I just mention fraud, scams, lying and cheating besides, for these include usually minor crimes compared with the ones mentioned above. Cheating happens in many varying cases every day. To lie is part of all day life. Important matters have always to been proved. Some scams can turn out very dangerous, though.

Traffic provides a permanent risk for anybody, since almost all Cambodian drivers drive obviously carelessly and, as I often saw, intentionally risky (see also the chapter ‘Traffic‘ above). It seems that nobody cares for any rules of safety here, it’s all under the law of the strongest, so particularly motorbike accidents are a threat, but also car, bus and boat accidents. Pedestrians should be very careful, because there are only few sidewalks and they are not safe, either. Motorbikes and cars drive on them. Besides they are frequently blocked with parking vehicles, foodstalls, shops, workshops, piles of rubbish or interrupted by building sites or deep holes.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance are in some rural parts of the country a threat, particularly for local peasants and playing kids. Hiking tourists face a certain risk when leaving the tracks; that could also include walks over rice paddies. Particularly Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are partially contaminated.

Along the Cambodian – Thai border at Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey and the Banteay Ampil district of Banteay Meanchey province were and are sometimes armed incidents between Thai and Cambodian armed forces. The border there is partially under dispute. Also these border areas are partially contamined with land mines.

It’s said that police officers at police stations sometimes charge foreigners 20, 50 or 100 dollars for filing a report. In reverse they do nothing for the victim to get his or her belongings back. I wouldn’t trust at all into the competence of any policeman here.

For foreigners who get deeper involved into Cambodia as residents and start dealing here in business affairs or buying real estate they will highly probable face unexpected difficulties. Business disputes can lead to harsh and violent actions by local business ‘partners’.

Another point to mention here are the medical facilities and hospitals in Cambodia. There is practically no reliable, qualified hospital, doctor, staff etc. in Cambodia who meet western or anyhow reasonable standards. In case of ending up in a Cambodian hospital the chance is high to leave it in a worse state than entering it. The closest alternative one has is to go to neighbouring Thailand; particularly in Bangkok are good clinics and hospitals.

When getting medical care in Cambodia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia the medical institution will ask for cash immediately.


This is only a part of the illustrated article ‘Cambodia’. Read the whole article on Cambodia by Asienreisender.

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