Back in 1994, so I’m told, backpackers in Ho Chi Minh City were sitting round in cafes discussing the latest news out of Cambodia and cancelling their onward travel. Too dangerous. Said one:
“I decided not to go to Cambodia after reading an article
in the Travel Section of the Independent in Melbourne [Australia] about the kidnappings of three westerners. The article advised against travel in Cambodia so I am spending more time in Vietnam.”
Those three kidnapped tourists were, unfortunately, later murdered by the Khmer Rouge. (Laura Jean McKay’s “Holiday in Cambodia” is partly based on the incident and well worth reading.
Cambodia, of course, thrives on its reputation for danger. Backpackers get the thrill of having walked down the Riverside and survived. But is it dangerous, really?
Surprise surprise: Interior Minister Sar Kheng says yes, it really is, though he’s talking about petty crime, not the threat of kidnapping and murder. In fact he likens PP to HCMC of yore, which apparently was once a pretty crime-ridden place (so were all those backpackers sitting in the midst of a crime wave and not noticing?)
According to figures released by City Hall, in 2014 Phnom Penh Municipal Police dealt with 564 cases – including misdemeanours and felonies – and arrested 762 suspects.
Un Sam An, Wat Phnom commune police chief, who was at yesterday’s meeting, agreed that street crime was a big issue, but said authorities were already doing their best to address it.
“My police officials make an effort to crack down on robberies and street thefts. We had an almost 100 per cent success rate in 2014,” he claimed. “Most of the thefts happen on Cambodian people, not foreigners.”
But Kheng said that foreigners are often victims of crime, and said French nationals in particular regularly ask why they are targeted.
Bag-snatchers and pickpockets seem to be the most common complaints. Locals and tourists seem to be equally the targets. Beware when using motos and tuktuks. Some tips for tuktuks:
- Some tuk-tuk and motodop drivers are alleged to be involved in organised crime, and will take you directly to an unknown place. Be careful, and get recommendations on tuk-tuk drivers who are trustworthy from hotels, friends and colleagues. (Comment: the vast majority of tuktuk and moto drivers are not involved in organised crime, but the advice is still useful – just don’t get paranoid, like this lady did).
- Never ride in a tuk-tuk late at night and alone. (Comment: I frequently ride in tuktuks and on motos alone at night, but I’m careful where I take them from).
- Don’t leave bags or other goods open to snatchers on motos. Place your bag in the middle of the seat and close to you when in a tuk-tuk. (Absolutely right).
- When riding a motodop, put the bag or purse between you and the driver. (Better still, take a tuktuk – not just for theft protection, but because motos are really bad if you’re in a traffic accident).
- Don’t wear too much jewellery, and don’t carry unnecessary valuables and cash. (Or hide your cash).
Don’t bother reporting the incident to the police – you’ll pay tea-money and still nothing will happen. Anyway, there are no police around after3 5 o’clock. Don’t try to fight muggers and bag-snatchers – the often operate in gangs, and can be violent.