Cambodia has changed, and not for the better.

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Riverfront, Phnom Penh

Three years ago, I fell madly in love with Cambodia. For three years, it occupied a top five spot on my list of favorite countries.

So when it came time to go back to Southeast Asia, I knew that Cambodia would be a mandatory stop. I was beyond excited to return to this wonderful country.

If you’ve been following on Facebook, you know that things didn’t go as expected.

I used to ADORE Cambodia.

I first visited Cambodia in December 2010, and eventually spent about seven weeks in Cambodia total. I visited several different places in the country: Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, and the countryside outside Phnom Penh.

My favorite thing about Cambodia was the people — the kind, warmhearted Khmer people who greet you with smiles and waves wherever you go, who take you into their homes and treat you like a member of the family, who would give you the shirt off their backs if you asked.

My memories of Cambodia are happy ones, like the night a family invited us to celebrate the end of harvest in the countryside with them.

Did I have any problems? Yes, I did. My friend and I got robbed while skinny-dipping in Sihanoukville. But I didn’t blame anyone for that but myself. We were asking for it.

So please know that that the following words don’t come from a place of deep-rooted hatred. It breaks my heart that a country I loved so much has turned out this way.

Cambodia has changed — and not for the better.

Since the beginning of my trip, I’ve been involved in what has felt like a continuous crime wave. The country that I once regarded as rough in some places but largely peaceful has turned into a place that leaves me feeling unnerved and uncomfortable.

Here’s a rundown on what has happened:

Phnom Penh Market

Bag Snatchings in Phnom Penh

When I got into my first tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh, our driver warned me that men on motorbikes sometimes snatch bags from tuk-tuks, and he promptly closed the fabric on the sides of the tuk-tuk, sealing open space off as much as possible. I had never heard this from a tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia on my earlier visits, but it made sense.

To my surprise, I got the same warning again and again. These muggings were common.

And then it happened — my good friend S. was in a tuk-tuk with a friend (incidentally, his friend was one of my readers) and a motorbike driver reached in and pulled out S.’s friend’s bag.

S. is very athletic and vaulted out of the tuk-tuk, chasing down the thief. He and the thief fought over the bag and S. eventually punched his teeth out. Soon it became clear that the thief was part of a gang of five, and S.’s tuk-tuk driver joined in the fight, pulling off his belt to whip the accomplices.

S. got his friend’s bag back, and by that point, people were watching — some even videotaping — and the military police got involved.

S. later got a phone call from the military police. The thief was probably going to die, they told him, because he didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford healthcare. S. was shocked by this news, because the thief didn’t appear to be gravely injured. He now thinks that the thief was beaten more brutally after he left. The thief eventually died.

S. was featured on the news in Cambodia as the man who killed a bag snatcher. He was getting recognized on the street as far away as Siem Reap.

You need to get out of Cambodia, I urged him. What if his family comes after you? He has since left the country safely.

Beachfront on Cambodia's South Coast

Extortion in Kampot

I decided to take a half-day tour to some of the sights around Kampot: salt flats, burned-out French mansions, Muslim fishing villages, a pepper plantation.

Early in the trip, on the road from Kampot to Kep, my phone bounced out of the tuk-tuk.

The man who picked it up would not give it back to me for less than $200.

I completely take responsibility for dropping my phone. It was an incredibly dumb move. I guard my phone closely and haven’t lost or broken it in years — but this was a moment of idiocy on my part combined with some bad luck.

As soon as the man picked up the phone, he began taking it to different shops and seeing how much they would pay him for it. $250 was what he was offered, he told our tuk-tuk driver over the phone. He’d “help us out” and give it back to us for just $200.

I wanted to involve the police, but having had bad experiences with the police in the developing world in the past, I opted to just pay the man and chalk it up to an expensive lesson.

Kep Beach

Sihanoukville’s New Edge

While in Kampot,  I chatted with a friend who has visited Cambodia off and on for years. We chatted about Sihanoukville, and he told me about the latest developments — that the Road to Serendipity has been paved and that Monkey Republic has reopened after being destroyed by a fire.

But the changes weren’t all positive.

Sihanoukville’s got an edge now, he told us. And not a good edge.

He described recent incidents in Sihanoukville — a woman was raped on the beach; a man was robbed on the beach. But the most striking story was that five different women got their drinks spiked while he was there.

Drink spikings happen all over Southeast Asia and the world, from frat houses to exclusive clubs. Most of the time, you can avoid spikings if you’re hyper-aware of your drink, but truthfully, you won’t be able to avoid them completely unless you have both a lid and a trustworthy bartender. But still, five different incidents — five different REPORTED incidents — within a short time frame, in my opinion, casts a serious reflection on Sihanoukville today as a whole.

Bayon Temple, Angkor

Mugged in Siem Reap

Our friend S., the very same guy who fought off the bag-snatcher in Phnom Penh, was mugged by a gang of children in Siem Reap. He didn’t even have any valuables showing — one of the children reached into his pocket and stole his phone.

After running after the kid and smacking him, S. got his phone back. The children retaliated by throwing glass bottles at him, cutting his feet.


Others Confirm

On the minibus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the girl sitting next to us told us that minutes after leaving the airport in Phnom Penh, she saw a motorbike driver rip a backpack right off a tourist’s back.

And while this incident didn’t affect tourists directly, my friends Dalene and Pete witnessed the recent Phnom Penh protest where police opened fire on unarmed workers, killing one woman.

I’ve also heard lots of stories about drug users being blackmailed by locals threatening to turn them in to the police. My opinion on that hasn’t changed since the beginning: if you’re dumb enough to 1) do drugs in a developing country 2) get caught doing drugs in a developing country, you deserve all of the consequences, whether it’s going to jail or getting blackmailed for hundreds of dollars.

Doing drugs publicly makes you a target. Period. This has always happened throughout Southeast Asia and other developing countries, and for that reason, I don’t consider it a factor in this analysis.

Family on a Motorbike in Kampot

Cambodia’s Defenders

I have several friends who have fallen as deeply in love with Cambodia as I did that first time. Many of them are expats who have lived here long-term; others are travelers who found themselves returning to Cambodia again and again. And they haven’t been happy with what they’ve heard from me and Mario.

Here is a selection of what I’ve heard recently:

Bad things happen everywhere, not just Cambodia. Yes, I’m aware of that. The one time I was mugged was in front of my apartment in Boston.

Lots of places have worse crime than Cambodia, even in Southeast Asia. That may be, but I’m not comparing places. I’m talking about Cambodia.

If you have common sense, you’ll be fine. Often. But common sense is not a cure-all for anything bad that could happen to you. Some places need more preparation than just common sense.

Cambodia is in a tough position. It’s not just poverty, but poverty on top of corruption, domestic violence, no safety net, and painful recent history. Indeed, it is in a very tough position — tougher than anywhere else I’ve been. But just because it can be explained doesn’t make it any less true.

As technology becomes more widespread, more Khmers are learning how little they have compared to the rest of the world. Indeed, that’s true, and that must undoubtedly be a factor toward escalating crimes against tourists in the country.

Cambodia used to be a destination for serious travelers only, but these days is also popular with affluent inexperienced travelers and partying backpackers, my friend Michael Turtle astutely pointed out. Adding this to the previous points is like igniting a powder keg.

But if Cambodia loses the economic benefits of tourism, it will descend into chaos. That’s very true, and losing tourism would be the worst thing to happen to Cambodia. But I’m not going to omit critical information from my readers for the sake of keeping Cambodia’s tourism numbers up.

Let me be clear: I completely understand my friends’ points. Before this trip, I myself was one of Cambodia’s staunchest defenders!

But things have changed. I’m not here to demonize or destroy Cambodia — I’m just here to tell you what it was like for me to travel in Cambodia in late 2013.

Tuk-tuk in Cambodia

My View on Cambodia

After the incidents of this trip, I can say without a doubt that Cambodia has changed since I was last here three years ago.

An isolated crime, or even multiple crimes, is one thing. But in Cambodia my friends and I experienced a series of ongoing incidents that altogether end up painting a pattern markedly different than a few years ago.

I won’t go so far to say that I feel unsafe here. I will say that I am no longer comfortable here, and have felt constantly on edge.

I even changed my travel plans. I was planning to visit the temple of Preah Vihear, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but upon hearing that there are no longer group tours from Siem Reap and that I would need to hire a private driver, I declined. I don’t feel comfortable being on my own with a driver in a very rural part of Cambodia.

Of all the questions that I get from readers, most of them are about Southeast Asia. Of all the readers that follow in my footsteps, most do so in Southeast Asia. Even though I’ve spent much more time in Europe, Southeast Asia is what I am best known for and the region on which people seek my guidance.

For that reason, I know my opinions on Southeast Asia carry weight. Writing a negative post about Cambodia could result in some of my readers — maybe two, maybe a dozen, who knows? — to skip Cambodia and spend more time in Laos or Vietnam or Thailand instead. And for that reason, I need to be very careful about what I write.

Killing Fields, Cambodia

Should You Go to Cambodia?

YES. Despite its troubles, you absolutely should go.

Cambodia is one of the places that I have long believed all travelers must visit, because it shows you the reality of a country that is still raw from decades of blood, war, genocide, chaos, and death — yet despite this, the people will be some of the kindest people you will ever meet. In addition to that, it’s got so many cultural treasures, like Angkor, and nice beaches and peaceful towns and delicious food, all for dirt-cheap prices.

BUT — Cambodia is no longer the of-COURSE-it’s-safe! destination that I once lauded. Make no mistake, it’s not Somalia, but visiting Cambodia does require a greater level of caution than other countries in Southeast Asia, just as visiting Barcelona requires a greater level of caution than, say, Reykjavik.

Do visit Cambodia, but be vigilant throughout your visit. Hold on to your bags. Stay in lodging that locks properly. Lock up your valuables. Keep your purse zipped up. Don’t pay drivers in full in advance. Avoid isolating situations when possible. Watch your drink like a hawk. Don’t get too drunk.

Make sure you get travel insurance before you go to Cambodia – it will cover many of the things that might go wrong. I never travel without it and always use World Nomads.

And for travelers who are cautious and street-smart, you will find Cambodia to be an enormously rewarding destination.

Have you been to Cambodia? When were you last there? What do you think about safety in Cambodia?

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369 thoughts on “Cambodia has changed, and not for the better.”

    1. Cambodian is not that bad, you just have go to the right place when you visit. Just don’t have your important stuff with you when you do a tour.

    2. Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is an absolute MUST SEE. I’ve been here for 3.5 years and the Khmer people are absolutely fantastic – zero problems. (That said, I NEVER go to Pub Street. I’ve seen enough of them around the world to know that alcohol, foreigners and poor people don’t mix well.)

      It seems that in 2016, the government (and the police and locals) all realize that tourism is the goose that lays the golden eggs and are actively protecting the industry.

      From my perspective, it’s the bone-crunching poverty that makes visiting (and living) here so difficult.

      1. I think that the article is from a traveler, who is not very experienced. Clearly the article indicates she spent 6 weeks in Cambodia and then returned again several years later, and is subscribing an increase in criminal activity based on six weeks in a country. Clearly, you almost have to live in the country to truly experience it and know its downfalls. I lived in Vietnam back in 1998 and even then, they were doing the stealing of backpacks/bags from tourists! Nothing has changed except that this traveler was unaware of this type of criminal activity during her six week visit, but in reality it has been going on for a long time. The same thing goes for the scams of reselling stolen items, nothing new there. Old scams. It is not that Cambodia has changed and is now unsafe. These issues have been present in Cambodia for a long time and it does not help that inexperienced travelers put themselves in such precarious situations as one blogger mentions….jumping on a motorcycle at midnight with a drunk stranger, who attacks her…and then she jumps back on again!!! What was suppose to change? Again, Cambodia has not changed that dramatically except in population and some additional development. It is simply a lack of experience that subscribes it shangri-la qualities that are clearly not real.

        1. I agree. I have been going to Cambodia every year for ten years. The biggest change is the way China is taking over, in my opinion. All these dangers have existed since I’ve been there, and honestly, I feel like with proper safety cautions, which almost everyone who goes there is aware of, you are as safe as a lot of cities in the U.S. if not more. Violent crime there is still rare. It is Clearly common sense not to party late and be drunk in Sihanoukville and also, you have to hang on to your stuff and not take valuables with you! You are as safe as you make yourself and you should be smarter than to put yourself at risk. Especially galling is this guy who seems to be punching everyone, even kids. Im sorry, but not only is that incredibly stupid, it is sad. These people have absolutely nothing, and can get desperate, of course. If I had something stolen, I would at least think about how badly these poor thieves need it. Have some compassion, and take normal precautions, that’s what I say. Cambodia is still incredible, you just have to be smart.

        2. I disagree. I lived in Phnom Penh for 5 years and now in Siem Reap for 4 years and I can tell you that these two cities have changed greatly, mostly for the worse. But even still, they are super safe if you go about your day is a smart way, as you would in Mexico City or Jakarta. If you act like a victim you will be a victim.

      1. It was almost midnight and she hopped on a motorbike to quickly pick something up at the pharmacy before we boarded our bus. The driver was drunk and took her way out into the boonies, stopped the bike and then pushed her on the ground forcefully. After a heated argument she agreed to get back on the bike so he could take her back to town (she later said she regretted that). She then realized he was taking her even further out to the middle of nowhere and so she jumped off the bike. When she got back to the bus station her legs were covered in blood and she was really shaken up. I would advise your readers to NEVER get on the back of a motorbike in Phnom Penh, especially not at night.

        1. That is incredibly scary and so terrible.

          I myself rode on the back of some motorbikes three years ago, but I wouldn’t do that nowadays. It creates an illusion of intimacy or at least familiarity that can often be misinterpreted in horrifying ways. I’m so glad your friend is safe — nobody deserves that.

          1. It mainly goes back to not knowing the rules of a country and doing stupid things.
            I’m an expat here (Sihanoukville) and will explain some things.

            1. Girls and women NEVER sit spread-legged on the back of a motodop (taxi), it rules (as mentioned) as intimate and girls only do that when with their boyfriend.
            Girls and women sit sideways on a mototaxi, both legs to one side and closed.
            Although I don’t know the details of this particular case, I often see young foreign women sitting on a motorbike taxi like if they are gf and bf, also holding the driver. Wrong!

            2. At midnight a girl alone on a motorbike with a stranger? Are you crazy?
            Did your mother never tell you to NOT go with strangers, and certainly not in a foreign country, and on top never at midnight? Why do people do the most stupid things?

            3. In general the article is very negative, based on a few bad things that happened.
            How stupid can you be to lose your phone while in a tuktuk? Yes, stupid is the only word. The other incident: why have your bag on the outside of the tuktuk? Keep it on the inside and nobody will try to take it. Remember they only target easy (=stupid) victims.

            4. Crime is everywhere. No exception. Holiday countries attract more criminals (even from abroad) because tourists are easy targets. Not more people are killed each year than in USA, not more people are killed each year by traffic in Thailand. Wanna see crime? Go to Thailand, where they have many years more experience in robbing, raping, killing, scamming foreigners. Cambodia is still one of the most peaceful countries of SE Asia.
            Stay safe by being prepared and by not doing stupid things (drugs, binge drinking etc.)

          2. Wouldn’t let me reply to Joe’s comment below but it made me so angry that he is just blaming rape victims as people do around the world. I’m not denying the cultural differences, as those are good things to know to avoid embarrassment, but you can expect that to land you in some unwanted attention and awkward situations, not rape. No man in any culture pushes a woman to the ground and thinks she wants it, he hasn’t ‘misunderstood’, he is a rapist. The vast majority of men from more modest cultures somehow manage to avoid raping tourists so I don’t think you can blame cultural differences. The only reaction I’ve had when I have been underdressed in foreign countries, or otherwise behaving as they don’t expect from women, is either giggles and stares or embarrassment.

    1. You have to be careful when you in Cambodia. just make sure don’t carry your important stuff around you when walking. I’m from American-Cambodian, My mom have to warn me everytime when i visit Cambodia. My advice if you gonna go out at night make sure go with group of people or don’t go to places that dark area. or when you go out make sure look around you before you decide to step on motobike.

    2. Very sad. Iceland is best country for women to travel. Even single traveling.
      I actually landed to this site because my son wanted to go with friends. He is 19 and rest of friends are in same age. I do not believe Cambodia is best choice for them.

      1. I second the statement of insecurity in Cambodia. The police practice extortion, there’s zero health support and the people will scam tourists like crazy. Of course, not everyone is like that but you must expect the worse as a tourist.
        I’m actually of Cambodian descent and went there several times to visit family and the country never got better and will most likely never get any better.

        The sights are nice and all but the risks are quite high. If you’re planning on going, go as a group and be vigilant. I highly recommend not moving around with a handbag. Keep your IDs and money close.

        1. Frank,

          I am sorry for this late response. My son is now in Dubai overnight, so tomorow he and his friends will continue flight to Cambodia. Thanks for this information. I know for my son he isn”t troublemaker, but they are 11 boys in adolescent age.
          Wll give him more instructions and warnings.
          Thanks a lot.


      2. I am a Cambodian, you can see every where has rob, steal…. but you must be careful by yourself, you said in Thailand, Vietnam and other no rob no steal? how come all of you see only few point and said our country is bad. Cambodia has many good places for visit i was born here till am 30 no one steal me, as you know when go out at midnight must be careful have many drunk people it cause you not safe.

  1. I’m about to head to SE Asia for 2.5 months of solo backpacking… not my first solo backpacking trip so I feel confident in that sense but I’ve gotten so many mixed remarks about Asia, i’m starting to get a bit freaked out! But maybe that’s just the leading up nerves!! Obviously still going to Cambodia, but thanks for the specific tips 🙂

    Any other tips/advise for young, solo female travel in SE Asia?

    1. Hi Rosie,
      I was just in Cambodia last month traveling solo, and it was fine. Maybe I had good luck, I don’t know. I would advise you to go out with a group at night and obviously be on your guard and not visibly drunk and not minding your belongings. I felt safe in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh was definitely grittier and the only time I went out late at night was with a big group and in the tuk tuk hold your bag against your chest. You’ll make friends easily if you stay at backpacker hostels which I would recommend. Have fun!

  2. Really interesting post Kate, shame you’ve encountered these problems, but really glad you’ve shared this experience and others will benefit from your advice.

  3. Conversely, there are some countries that seem safer now than 5 or 10 years ago – for example, solo female travellers were warned off going to Morocco alone in 2003. Now, in 2013, I have travelled there alone earlier this year and felt completely safe. I’ll never forget trying to surreptiously walk through the medina in Rabat and have a group of guys stop and stare before yelling out me “Welcome to Morocco”.

    1. Yeah, this entire post on Cambodia makes me wonder how many of the old standby assumptions about safety for backpackers are still holding true. It used to be a given that SEA owned almost anywhere else on safety as far as the “cheap and warm” destinations were concerned. But besides recent reports on parts of SEA, like this, that don’t reflect always that reality, I also feel like I’ve heard more and more people come out and say how unexpectedly safe they felt in parts of Africa or Latin America. Not all parts of those continents, obviously, but off the top of my head I remember hearing people talk about feeling secure in places like Mexico, Colombia and Rwanda – places that don’t really immediately spring to mind when we think of safe travel destinations.

      I still doubt that most people who travel in both sub-Saharan Africa and Cambodia will say they felt safer in Africa . . . but you know what? I stand to be corrected on that, not because Cambodia is so terrible, but because I think a lot of unspoken assumptions about region, race, religion, perception of westerners, culture, etc. color our beliefs about safety around the world and aren’t always very accurate. Would love to hear others who have traveled more widely weigh in on this!

      1. Melissa, I know what you mean. I think a lot of it, though, is just the world changing faster than we can keep up with. I’m planning a trip to Africa now (my first time) and was told by numerous friends who were there just 3 or 4 years ago that Tanzania and Kenya are safe and great places to be. After booking my flight, I started doing more research and found that it doesn’t seem safe at all. I’m now planning to jump on a flight to Rwanda immediately upon arrival in Nairobi, purely for the sake of staying safe as a solo female traveler.

        It’s very sad to read this post from Kate, but honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised. I was in Cambodia in February 2012 and it seemed to be heading the direction she has described. I faced multiple scams in just the week I was there and while it was an amazing place that I loved, I also found it to be a very complex place that sadly has an underlying culture of using tourists as a payday, even if that often entails employing dishonest means. I was more a fan of Laos but worry that eventually that country will go the same way.

        1. I hace extensively travelled both Africa and SEA.
          One thing I beleive holds true for safety, or feeling ok and safe where you are is food.

          In all honesty, SEA may be terribly poor but the food is not an issue as such – not to the extent of parts of Africa.
          That is to me what really makes it dangerous.

          When people are hungry they act like animals…..of course they would, so in my experiences I felt less safe in Africa – but at the same time, just be vigilant and don’t do anything your Mum wouldn’t want you doing and you’ll probably stay safe!

          Also, we all know there are guns around in SEA, and areas like the Golden triangle, but in Africa I saw 15 year old kids with AK47’s sitting around in supermarket car parks… it was much more in your face.

    2. By the way, Clare, glad to read that you felt safe in Morocco – I’ll be heading there in May. I also remember hearing from a girl back in college (2002) that she didn’t feel great about being there alone as a female.

      I got some similar stares in Jordan but once I smiled at them, they always smiled back and the most common phrase I heard was “Welcome to Jordan!”

      1. Yes, I worry that budget travel in general might be getting more dangerous but, then again, I also hear encouraging reports from places I don’t expect it. The fact that Kigali is starting to become known as the “Singapore of Africa” is encouraging from a solo female travel perspective. Unfortunate to hear you had to cross Kenya and Tanzania off the list! Was it mostly due to reports of harassment of female tourists, or terrorism? Would you feel safer if you were going with a friend, a male partner, or a group?

        On a side note, you have the same last initial (as well as first name) as me AND I live in Portland – seeing your profile on here threw me for a loop for a second! haha

        1. That’s funny – I added my last initial to keep from confusing anyone as to who was responding!

          I haven’t crossed Tanzania off the list entirely – I’ll be in East Africa for 4 weeks and my boyfriend will probably come out for 7-10 days of that, in which case I might be brave enough to do Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. But yes, my concern is based on reports/accounts of harassment of female tourists, western tourists in general, terrorism and now I’ve even heard that Nairobi has a problem with pedestrians getting run down, even on the sidewalks, by careless drivers. If my wallet or bag was the only thing I had to worry about, it wouldn’t really even be an issue.

          Have you been at all? Or in South Africa for that matter? I have 6 weeks there and am concerned about that too.

          1. Never been to Africa. 🙂 I do know many people who have lived/volunteered all over the continent and their bad stories were pretty tame, like having a bag stolen from them on a deserted beach.

            Kate has great posts on South Africa on this site.

            I think that – and I could be wrong – but in countries like SA it’s a little easier to avoid ‘bad areas’ if you do your research, whereas in someplace like Cambodia it’s harder to do that, and I’m struggling to articulate exactly why, but I think it’s something worth pointing out here.

          2. Sorry to butt in on your conversation – but I did want to say that if you have the chance to go to Tanzania, do! I was on my own there for a couple of days before my friends arrived to climb Kili, and I felt much safer than I expected. I did take some extra precautions that I might not have if I hadn’t been alone – I stayed in Moshi, which is a small, walkable city, and picked a moderately-priced hotel instead of a cheap hostel, but I explored the town quite a bit (during the day) and people were very friendly but not in a harassing or intimidating way – mostly just school kids wanting to say hi. My time there was limited (unfortunately), but I never felt unsafe.

            Also, for climbing Kilimanjaro as long as you are with a reputable company I think you will find that you feel very safe, especially if you are with your boyfriend. I went with African Scenic Safaris and highly recommend them – they are family-run and seemed super trustworthy and nice and the guides were awesome. It was truly an amazing experience!

          3. also, to clarify, I was there last month. I had read a lot of the state department alerts before I left, but Moshi didn’t seem to be among the areas affected, at least not before my trip. And I got advice from a friend of a friend who lives there on where to stay, etc, just to be on the safe side. Whether this trip or another time, it’s worth a visit. Safe journeys!

          4. Melissa, I’ve read some of Kate’s blogs about South Africa. Unfortunately though, it looks like she was there on an official trip and had people showing her around as well as housing taken care of, which will make anyone feel a lot safer than just showing up randomly and alone without those kind of resources. I looked at a couple of the places she recommended where she said she felt safe, but I remember them being something like $3K/month, which is well out of my budget.

            Mary, thanks for the tips! I’m glad to see you had a successful trip in Tanzania and were there just recently. I think I’ll definitely spend time there when my boyfriend comes out.

            It’s awful having to take these precautions – I’ve been traveling solo for over 15 years and have been to 37 countries, but the first 15 or so I visited were in Western Europe so I had always taken safety for granted. I am very vigilant and safety-conscious everywhere I go, but I’m also not naive enough to think that alone is a 100% fool-proof way to avoid trouble.

          5. Hi, Melissa —

            Don’t forget that I also traveled South Africa on my own after one of the trips ended. I did it mostly on the cheap with buses and hostels. And for that portion of the trip, I did have my lodging booked in advance.

            These days, I almost always book my lodging in advance because I can’t be bothered to schlep my bags from door to door when I could just get a place that looks good in advance.

  4. This is a great post, Kate – I love how honestly you write. I’ve read similar things about other places in SE Asia – Bali and Laos spring to mind. Not necessarily crime to the same extent as what you’re writing about here, but tourism negatively impacting developing areas of the world. It’s a shame to hear how it’s changed. I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while (as you know), so I remember the posts where you waxed lyrical about how much you adored Cambodia.

    Your post hasn’t put me off visiting, but it’s done what I think you intended to do, which is to create awareness that it’s become a place where you need to be vigilant. I’ll hopefully make it there when I’m back in Asia next year.

    1. Thank you, Tom. Yes, Bali and Laos definitely have a fair amount of drug-related corruption (blackmailing travelers hundreds of dollars if they’re caught with drugs), and Vietnam has a fair share of petty crime as well.

  5. Thanks for the post, Kate – and for the honesty. I’ve unfortunately been hearing enough bad things about Cambodia recently that I doubt I will be going there during my planned 6 weeks or so in Southeast Asia. It was never really in my original plans anyway (except maybe to pop over to see Angkor Wat), and I think it’s going to stay out of them. This will be my first time in SEA, and I definitely don’t need that extra stress!

    I still want to see Cambodia eventually. But I don’t know that I would want to do it solo now…

  6. Wow thanks for the insight. I never made it to Cambodia on my Southeast Asia trip but always intended on going back. It’s always good to have this kind of information and know what to be careful of when traveling to these countries. I’ve heard that gun violence is more common there than in its neighbouring countries and have always been a little bit wary. It’s sad that such a loved country can turn so sour.

    1. I live in Sihanoukville (for a year and a half, never been robbed), and you shouldn’t worry about gun violence. You’re more likely to get shot in the States than here. I do recommend you keep your valuables locked in your room, don’t keep more than $20 in cash on you (if you have to go to the ATM, just drop your card and excess cash in your room after — it will take 10 minutes), and don’t wear a purse with a strap. If you’re carrying more than will fit in a small zippered pouch, you’re carrying too much.

  7. I’m headed to SEA next fall as my first long term and solo trip. I was extremely excited about Cambodia and still am, but well make sure I’m very careful and observant. Although, I think that’s the way we should be traveling anywhere. Hopefully, I can come away loving Cambodia as much as I’ve read others do.

  8. Thanks for being so honest! I’m sorry to hear that it has changed so much – I know it must be heart breaking to see one of your favorite countries take a turn for the worst. It’s incredible how much a country can change in just a year or two, and how an increase in tourism, particularly from party lovers and wealthy tourists, can fuel an existing drug or corruption problem. I don’t think I’ll skip Cambodia, but as a solo female I’ll considering finding a group of friends to travel with.

  9. Interesting read, and such a shame that Cambodia seems to have been impacted by development in a negative way. I travelled there 10 years ago and absolutely loved the country and the people. I’ve often thought about going back for a return visit but I think it might have changed so much that it would be a disappointment – sometimes revisiting places you love can be fantastic, but sometimes it can taint that original memory.

  10. Thanks for sharing this Kate. I’ve been wanting to go there for a while but still haven’t been due to these issues. I’m obviously no travel wuss but I also feel that there’s no need to expose yourself to that level of potential issues.

    There are so many other beautiful places out there which don’t have the horror stories we’ve seen come out of Cambodia. Of course it’s true that wherever you are and no matter your level of preparedness, sometimes bad things do happen. But it does seem that your chances of staying safe are much higher in places where you don’t need to zip up every last inch of your tuk tuk in the hopes of preventing bag snatchers or worse.

  11. Hmm. I really liked Cambodia a lot when I went in 2010, for the same reasons you did. That being said, a lot of the things you mentioned were definitely already a problem then. I remember when I was in Phnom Penh there was a rash of attacks where anonymous thugs on motorcycles were throwing bricks at foreigner’s heads. I think a couple of people even died. I also remember being instructed to hold onto my bag in the tuk tuks. I didn’t personally run into any problems but I was significantly more on guard during my time there than anywhere else in the region

      1. All I could come up with was this: but I remember being pretty nervous about it when I was in Phnom Penh (actually I was pretty nervous about everything when I was in Phnom Penh. I think that a lot of these things are symptoms of a resentment of rich tourists by people with very little (although it says the brick was thrown from a Lexus so who knows).
        I remember when I visited the Killing Fields with Lauren Quinn she described Cambodia as an entire nation suffering from PTSD. The people have been through such horrific things in recent years, with no psychiatric help to deal with it. Studies have shown that PTSD can actually be inherited through generations as well. For me I feel this explains a lot about why a country with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met can also be so vicious.

        1. I agree about the PTSD….I went to Phnom Penh on a visa run, & hated the place…
          Mostly it was about the people….there was an air of sadness & being beaten down about them, that I found really depressing…especially after the joyful exuberance of the Vietnamese people…

          I had to remind myself constantly, that anyone over the age of 35 had suffered through the horrors of Pol Pots regime….it would be impossible for them not to have suffered some long term consequences…

          I was tuk tuk’ed out to the Killing Fields by a delightful 60 yr old driver…..when I came out from the “fields” I was absolutely distraught….he scuttled off & bought me a cold drink, then patted my shoulder while I sobbed….when I finally gathered myself together, I looked up to see tears in his eyes…He simply said “we will live with this for all our lives!”

          It is a country in constant mourning!

      2. The brick throwing incidents were about 8 years ago, and it was just one disgruntled individual in an SUV, about 3 0r 4 people were hit, nobody was killed.

  12. I’ve hear the same sorts of stories from my friends who were expats in Cambodia for 2 years. They saw the change happening little by little, every day. I think it’s a natural response to mass tourism in developing countries. I spent a month in Myanmar in April and even tough people were still honest and genuine, I could already notice changes in some individuals near tourist “hubs”. They were learning to scam and cheat. There is no way around it; desire for money corrupts.
    Hope you were able to enjoy Cambodia despite these bad experiences!

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Personally I feel that these incidents stem not from anything inherently dark in the Cambodian mindset, or PTSD or anything like that, but simply from economic pressures. If you dangle a bleeding finger in front of a hungry shark, it will bite, and do so instinctively. In the same way people who have to work an 18 hr day for pathetic wages just to make enough to put a couple of meals on the table for their family each day, may not have too many qualms about snatching something from a tourist who they rightly perceive as very wealthy in comparison to themselves. They probably reason that the tourist can fairly easily replace what was taken -and they’re right. I’m not defending these actions – just explaining, by the way!

      And then I also think there’s an element of xenophobia that develops with the kind of mass tourism SE Asia has seen in the past 30 years or so. Where a person lives is an extension of themselves and their own ego -hence the idea of patriotism. When a sudden influx of tourists (or migrants or whatever it is) pours into a country, you do see a reaction to that, and it’s not usually one of welcoming the newcomers with open arms. I wonder if Bhutan has the right idea. Having recently been reopened to tourism, after being closed for many years (like Myanmar) for political reasons, Bhutan has decided to restrict tourism to specified numbers each year, and impose strict criteria for who can visit, and when. They may just be one country able to avoid the kinds of problems you see from overtouristing in SE Asia – time will tell.

  13. This post has left me reeling.

    Not because of the increase of crime in Cambodia but because a man, petty thief though he may have been, ended up dead after a beating and it seems to have been largely ignored.

    1. Jack,
      I can’t agree more. It appears that a backpacker named “S.” dispensed his own style of justice by punching a man’s teeth out. And then, after hearing that the beating he delivered may have been so severe, that the man died from it, “S.” fled the country.
      Imagine if this happened in North America, England, Australia or any other first world country. Oh my, cops would be apprehending “S.” and he would be spending time answering for his actions. But not in Cambodia.

      I don’t care how wild Cambodia has become, we’re too blame if we have to act in such a way that requires us to lay a beating on a person over a bag. Guess we’re not so civilized ourselves. Or at least that can be said for “S.ome people”.

      A fair amount of people have replied to this post and I’m sure at least some of them have read the comments. How is it that no one is the least bit concerned about how a tourist is going through the country, slapping kids,beating and potentially killing people? If he’s from your country, does that not make you look bad? No wonder they have no issues taking from us?!?

      “S.” you are lucky that you were not shot or beaten to death or thrown in jail.

      Not to take away from Kate’s post, I agree with one of her statements “And for travelers who are cautious and street-smart, you will find Cambodia to be an enormously rewarding destination.”
      Cambodia had bags being stolen from Tuk Tuks when we were there 3 years ago. And unfortunately there were predators lurking in the shadows as well. Be careful where and whenever you travel.

      I hope, when I return, I have new and exciting adventures. Unfortunately, you can not step twice into the same river. This will be playing in the back of mind when I return. I hope My Cambodia is as enjoyable as the first time I visited.

      Good Post Kate. Makes for an interesting read.

      1. Hi, Jason —

        One thing I didn’t convey as well as I should have was that it wasn’t S. attacking the driver — they both attacked each other as they fought over the bag. S. ended up in the hospital with a dislocated collarbone, among other injuries.

        From the very beginning, the military police sided with him, and they were in constant communication about what had happened. He didn’t leave the country to flee prosecution; he left on the off chance that a family member of the driver would come after him.

        As for the kids, I don’t see anything wrong with smacking a kid in order to get back something worth hundreds of dollars that they stole from you. Not everyone will agree. I think it’s justified.

        Thanks for reading.

        1. >> As for the kids, I don’t see anything wrong with smacking a kid in order to get back something worth hundreds of dollars that they stole from you.

          Kate McCulley! You child-beater! 🙂

        2. After punching a mans teeth out which may have led indirectly to his death you would think that the last thing ”S” would need was to be involved in anymore violence but here he is now slapping street kids about…..He sounds like some guy

          Kate you’re trying to defend the indefensible.

          1. There are a lot things that expats do to children in Cambodia that I would classify as indefensible, Gary.

            Chasing after a kid and smacking him in order to wrestle back your stolen property from his hand? Not one of them, in my book.

        3. I completely agree Kate! Gosh, I don’t smack my kids at home (and they’re now teenagers anyway, so the need has long passed), but at one of the Angkor temples I was being hassled incessantly by a group of bored kids one afternoon, and they were trying to sell me stuff. They started to become aggressive, and I didn’t like the way they were talking to me.

          So eventually, after it became apparent that the nice polite “no thank you’s” were no longer working, I turned around to one of them and said “you know, if you were my child and behaving like that at home, I’d put you over my knee and give you a good spanking”, and to make the point, I mimed the action to go along with it. And it was extremely effective – there was a moment of guilt when I saw a flicker of fear in the girl’s eyes, but then she and her friends went away and left me alone. Mission accomplished. Of course I wouldn’t have actually done anything to them, but the point is that this is what it took to stop them invading my space and privacy, and ruining my experience of seeing this particular temple.

        4. To be 100% honest I know I don’t know ‘s’ but if I was a man and could do that (physically or without probably ending up getting raped if I tried) then I bloody would have, I’m here in Cambodia now may 2016 and it’s horrendous, the nice kind people who would give you the shirt off your back seem to have disappeared as I haven’t met one in 8 days, what I have been is pushed, shoved, shouted at, mugged in my hotel by hotel staff, had corrupt police refused me to have a police report so I couldn’t claim on my insurance for my lost items, western union staff not giving me my money that was sent in emergency from my bank (as I had no money to eat) as they didn’t understand what ‘miss’ meant and said it was a name and as it wasn’t listed on my passport as my first name (of course it bloody isn’t it’s not my first name) that my western transfer was wrong. I’ve had people laughing at me at every turn when something bad has happened and people swearing at me for saying a polite no thank you to their fly ridden wares. I’m at the point were I don’t feel safe, I’m not enjoying everything and I totally understand why S lost his shit and retaliated, I’d love to slap the next person that is so horrible to me. I am a nice kindly person on a tour that spends much of the money made giving to charity and charitable foundations, kind of wishing I’d given money to a better cause now. Will never come back.

  14. I appreciated reading this post. While I was stuck out in SE Asia after working in Myanmar for 6 weeks I considered going to Cambodia, but it just happened I went elsewhere due to the people I met during my time in Asia. I really value when someone is honest – and brutally honest – about a destination. I try to do that too, while being as fair as possible and giving a clear picture of the reality on the ground, even if that makes you unpopular with other travelers.

  15. Thanks for this post, I felt the same towards Bangkok – that it has changed and not for the better. I haven’t read such traumatizing experiences about a certain place so I guess I will have to skip cambodia for now.

  16. Kate–i I did a big solo Southeast Asia trip last year (mid-2012) and used your blog as a resource. It was very helpful EXCEPT for the parts on Cambodia, where it felt like you were in a completely different country. Yes, Angkor was fabulous and the Killing Fields were very meaningful, but I felt unsafe wandering around in a way I didn’t in Thailand or Vietnam. I felt kind of bad, like I didn’t “get” Cambodia. It’s really reassuring to hear that it wasn’t me, but that things had changed since you were there. Thanks for this update.

    1. I just want to say something about this bag snatching for motorcycles. This is nothing new. I don’t know how bad it is in Vietnam because I haven’t been there since the war but in many areas of Saigon guys on the back of motorcycles were snatching, not only bags, but watches right off your arm if they could get close enough. This happened often enough that they even had the nickname of cowboys and the people that were grateful, for us being there, would always warn us about them and give you ideas about how to protect yourself from this. As most of us carried weapons ( it was a war ) I am sure a few of these cowboys died for their efforts but the majority got away because they were very professional thieves with great cycling expertise.

  17. I just got here two days ago, but so far I haven’t had any problems. I am usually quite cautious about my belongings, but it still sounds scary!

    So sad to hear that the country has regressed. I read that a French woman was killed when a man on a scooter tried to snatch her bag, and she ended up colliding with a vehicle.

    Aw well fingers crossed nothing happens to me!

    Take care everyone.

  18. Reading your blog post has left me with goose bumps all over my body – I totally agree! I backpacked Cambodia only one month ago and I nearly had my bag snatched on the (newly paved) road to Serendepity beach. I didn´t let go of my bag and fell on the street, and the thiefs drove away because there were more people shouting after them. I was lucky, but I didn´t feel safe in Cambodia, and it´s my least favourite country in SEA now. Sad, but true.

  19. People will always be angry when you criticize something in a blog post– whether it is valid or not. I’m glad you wrote this though because people should know what kind of things go on!

    There is a recent Australian movie, Wish You Were Here, which is set in Cambodia that shows the kind of things that can spiral out of control when you are in a third world country and decide to take drugs. It’s such a gamble, especially because someone is always waiting for the opportune moment to take advantage of you. Other times it is just flat out bad luck.

    I was in Cambodia recently, and luckily I didn’t hear of too many of the same stories! It’s really sad to hear!

    1. Absolutely! People seem to get seriously angry when we write something that is not previously selected to be full of rainbows and pretty words. Traveling is wonderful, but sometimes incidents happen and it’s very important to share those experiences as well as the good ones and I think Kate might be one of the very few travel bloggers who actually has the guts to do so…

      I recently wrote about my experience with sexual harassment inside a hotel room in Malaysia and had to put down the post because of the aggressive negative messages I had from Men who thought I deserved it. Can’t please everyone, but I’m happy to read about this experience.

      1. That’s disturbing (the comments you had from men). Nobody ever deserves rape, or sexual harassment, and it’s this kind of attitude, often on the part of law enforcement authorities, that deters women from reporting these incidents.

      2. I appreciate that, Yara! And I’m really sorry you felt like you had to shut down your post. Nobody deserves that, especially from random men on the internet who have no clue what women go through sometimes.

  20. I appreciate the honesty of this post. I had a similar feeling of being unsettled when I was there earlier this year, but I chalked it up to high expectations from those who loved Cambodia so much before me (like yourself!) Still, I’m glad I went, though I’m sad to say it’s one of the few countries in Asia I’m not huge on returning to.

    Though it is important to learn from other travelers what to expect, at the end of the day each person needs to go and have the experience for themselves. I think what you’ve provided here isn’t necessarily a deterrent from going at all, but perhaps someone will have a better experience there knowing what you’ve shared. Thanks for writing.

  21. I was in Siem Reap for 7 days in October and didn’t experience anything negative. I visit yearly and would agree about some changes but still highly recommend for everyone to visit.

  22. Wow, you really surprised me with this post Kate! We just returned from Cambodia where we traveled with our two kids (aged 10 and 12) for 3 weeks last July. We felt completely safe in PP, Siem Reap and Battambang (we didn’t go to Sihanoukville). We did carry a small backpack and our photo camera all the time. But we really didn’t encounter any of the things you described…and of course you can understand that I am very lucky about that!

    Anyway, whenever you travel, it is always the best advice to keep watching out for people with bad intentions….as it is in your hometown. But when you travel, don’t let your guard down when you enjoy the beautiful views…

  23. that is so scary! i am planning a trip there this year, and will have to be extra careful. I live in india, and deal with some scary things like this… and i think you get used to a certain countries scams. its different when you are somewhere new and aren’t sure what their known for in terms of what you need to look out for to stray safe.

  24. Hey Kate! I’m going to SEA in May for four months and Cambodia is on my list. If there’s one thing I’m afraid of it’s getting my passport stolen. I will bring multiple copies and put them in multiple places, but I would really cry if it got stolen from me. Since you said entire bags where being ripped off of tourists I’m even more apprehensive! My plan is to have all of my possessions fit into my 55L osprey with wiggle room to spare. Any tips on the best place to keep it? Is it pretty common to have a whole bag stolen? I might wear it backwards and hug it if that’s the case! I’m still going to go because I really want to see Cambodia, but I want to be safe.

    1. Hi, Anna — in most circumstances, people will steal something that is easy for them to take quickly and easily. Thievery is opportunistic. I don’t know whether the bag ripped off a tourist was a giant backpack or a smaller one, but it seems to me like a large backpack wouldn’t be worth the effort, especially for a driver on a motorbike.

      I do recommend that you take a smaller bag where you hold your valuables, and ALWAYS keep it on you. There are reports throughout Southeast Asia of people going through luggage in the luggage hold, so you should never put valuables there.

      1. Harriet Jackson

        Yes, do be careful about what you pack into your bag in the luggage hold; I had my medications stolen twice flying in Thailand.
        As regards to Cambodia, I’ve been 4 times and I am here presently. In just 3 yrs I’ve seen rapid changes in terms of people’s attitudes:1) growing resentment about wealthy Westerners and sarcastic comments, watching you’re every move, gossip in hotel and by tuition tuk drivers; 2) a driver (arranged by my hotel – which is a reputable one) who took me to Beng Melea and Koh Keh temples (far from Siem Reap) and tried to push my boundaries more and more, even exposing himself and the rest. I did not show fear as I felt this would have aroused him even more so I acted indifferent. I had told him I am married, that I don’t drink or smoke. He tried to take me very long route home, talked about how it’s easy to murder someone like a tourist in Cambodia and never be caught, how he had loads of girlfriends he got money from, how his father was ill (lies) and about having guns. I did not report him. Why? Because the police would not have done anything,; the driver would ‘lose face’ and might get a family member or friend to beat me up, and he no doubt is part of a mafia of gang – as many are. Whilst he was driving me he had constantly calls on his mobile and would tell me to be silent. He said he knew salon of people. He thought I was rich and kept trying to extort money from me, even though I dress as a standard backpacker. What got his goat most was that I was a woman by myself who could clearly afford to travel by herself to Cambodia from the UK where as he’d never left Cambodia. Whilst I felt for him at one level, my compassion was limited by his use of a macho, aggressive and somewhat intimidating manner which he half heartedly conceal with laughter. But him joking about farmers being struck by lightning and turning black and into ash during the monsoon rains I did not find particularly amusing. I could say much more but you get my gist.
        Also, be very very careful about land mines: you might think I’m stating the obvious but I saw some in public places and had it verified. They become exposed in the rains. I even took a photo of the top of one peaking out the top of the soil at Kulen Mountain.
        Sorry to put the frightened on you. Cambodia is a beautiful country but do travel in groups – don’t be naive like I was and hire a driver recommended by the hotel/hostel. I was lucky to get back in one piece – he was meant to get me back to hotel by 3pm; he got me back at 8pm, having taken me a very long route trying to persuade me to go to a beer garden with him and the hotel kept phoning him asking what had happened and why hadn’t he returned me. He didn’t seem to care.
        I lied and said I’d take a trip with him to Battambang and pay him good money and that was incentive enough for him to get me back, after constant pestering for my phone number and Facebook details. I am still worried that he of one if his cronies will come after me and I am having to be very cautious as other tuk tuk drivers he knows now see me as a soft touch and keep hassling me. Thankfully, I am leaving next week. None of this would have happened if I’d been in a group – I know this from past experience. But saying that, I came here last year and the Cambodian people seem to be scamming, hostile, aggressive towards me in a way thT was not so before.

        1. Harriet Jackson

          Typos:1) I meant that Cambodian people were more honest before, even only a year ago – in Siem Reap area. 2) Travel with a group, not on your own with a driver, even if your hotel hires him for you.

          On a plus note, the Cambodian people in the countryside e.g Benteay Srei province and anywhere away from Pnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville are on the whole a very sweet people. Keep clear of anyone who drinks too much as a seemingly docile drunkard can become very volatile at the drop of a hat – whether from city or countryside. This applies to the men; it is not the cultural norm for Cambodian women to drink except the upper classes in Pnm Penh. The Cambodian women are very sweet on the whole; my comments apply mainly about the men with machismo tendencies. And again, there are some very sweet Cambodian men I have met but it’s important to be discerning.

  25. My experience in Cambodia a few months ago was definitely not as extreme as the cases you mention. However I did experience a general feeling of unease and discomfort while getting around Siem Reap. But I am a pretty anxious and fearful traveler as is. Despite dealing with an overly persistent tuk tuk driver, I didn’t experience any real issues besides the typical badgering of sellers on the streets.

    Overall I found that it was important to stay overly cautious and vigilant about my surroundings. But I guess that as a woman I am used to that already! Isn’t that sad?

    But you are right…. Go and visit Cambodia! It will be challenging but so worth it.

  26. This really is sad. I visited Cambodia earlier in 2013 and we had a fantastic time (in a mixed gender group of 6). while I very much enjoy all of your articles, I am worried about some of your sources for this one. I suspect that some of the stories that you’re sharing- much like everywhere else- have been slightly skewed through hearsay. However if crime has increased as much as you suggest, it would be good if you (or someone in the know?) could explore who you could talk to about it? You say you don’t want to destroy tourism and I believe you but I don’t know how publishing this article will help in a big way…whereas if there was influence to be had within the country itself perhaps it could start the ball rolling in addressing the crime rate.

    1. The truth is, Jude, there are a lot of people who feel similarly to me but would not post anything negative about Cambodia because they’re afraid of affecting tourism. But I think it’s more important for people to know what it was like for me to travel there so that they can make an informed decision.

  27. It’s really sad to hear about how Cambodia is changing for the worse, but I’m sure there’s still a wide variety of positives about the country. I still haven’t made it there yet but I agree with Amanda – maybe I won’t do it solo when I finally visit…

  28. Kate, thanks for sharing the realities of travel in Cambodia. I was planning to travel solo in Cambodia next year, but your post has made me re-think my plans. I still want go, but I might wait and go with my boyfriend or friends another time.

  29. Ah, I’ve been to Cambodia five times and never had a problem. The most recent time was just over a month ago and each time I’ve stayed a month. I think you have to be careful and trust your instinct.

  30. Any advice on the best way to travel around the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap? I had previously read about motorbike drivers doing things like what Ashley of Ashley Abroad shared, and obviously would not want to end up in a situation like that. I am traveling to Cambodia in Jan-Feb 2014 with a girlfriend and am starting to get nervous about all of the negative changes. Any words of wisdom would be much appreciated.

    1. The only ways to get around are by motorbike or tuk-tuk, or you could hire a car and driver (which is pricey). Tuk-tuk is the best way to get around these cities, despite leaving you prone to bag snatchings.

      1. It’s surprising that you have totally omitted taxis as a way to get around PP. They are relatively safer and an effective way to travel. It’s worth the extra cost.

  31. Sad to hear… I’ve never been there, and will probably still go, but it’s always disheartening to hear of a place declining like that. I have two friends that were both raped by drivers in Cambodia and who would never go back.

  32. Reading this post hurt my heart – I visited SE Asia for the first time about six months after you, Kate, and I fell completely in love with Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside. I hadn’t expected to love Cambodia and hadn’t left a lot of time for exploring, but earmarked it as a country I definitely wanted to head back to for an extended period at some point. After hearing this and other recent commentary on Cambodia, I don’t think I’m likely to go back soon. Thank you for the honest summary of the situation – like you said, it isn’t fair to travelers to paint a sunnier picture of what’s waiting for them than actually exists. Fingers crossed Cambodia turns things around again in the future.

  33. This makes me so sad to read! We were there as a family of 5 in 2012 and it is without a doubt our favorite country visited so far. We spent 2 months there touring all around the country. I never felt unsafe, had not a single bad experience aside from fight back tears on a regular basis. The ppverty on top of the corruption must be what the problem is here. I mean how much can a person take?!

    We had an amazing tuk tuk driver in Battambang and while talking to him it became clear that under all his smailes was a sad person that had absolutely no faith or hope in himself or his country. It was very sad and I suspect it is that hopelessness and lack of control/power that is contributing to this spike in crime.

    Very sad and at the same time reminds me just how lucky we are to have been born in the US and given the gift of having control over our lives, freedom in our choices, and belief in doing or being whatever we want!

  34. The problem is that the way we used to travel changes. Everything changes; from the people we met 3 year ago and we as well. Maybe 3 years ago we did not care about getting robbed. I was in 2009 in Cambodia and as you said people were very friendly and never had the insecurity feeling.
    This year I was for 7 months in Africa – solo traveler. Had 3 major incidents in Uganda ( 2 robberies and one attempt). And this was and the begging of my trip and Uganda was considered one of the safeties country in East Africa. A normal person probably would have return home; well I did not and in the next 6 countries in 6 moths I never had any incidents.
    It was just bad luck or I traveled more responsible and safety was a priority. Which is the most important: never abandon a destination ( as you did when you decided not to go to the Unesco Site).

  35. I have to say that because of what I heard I felt quite safe travelling to Cambodia, but that all changed after I was very nearly the victim of a drive-by motorcycle theft while walking on the side of the road (no footpath) with my boyfriend in Kampot. Only adrenaline and a vice grip saved me from the loss of my wallet. Was definitely more on edge from that point forward…

  36. We recently spent a month in Cambodia with our two small children (a 2 year old and a 9 month baby). The experience we had was very different from you and your friends. There was never a time I felt unsafe. We never experienced any muggings or robbings or even talked to anyone who had. The only thing was the prices that had to be haggled down but that is standard for SE Asia. The people we met were the kindest and friendliest.

  37. I’m bummed out to hear this. I went for five weeks back in 2001 and it was simply amazing. By far my favorite spot in all of SEA except possibly Indonesia. I’m hoping to go back in the next few years and was worried things would naturally have changed, but assumed the problem would be an influx of tourists as opposed to an influx of crime. Still, wherever you go you have to be careful. I still plan on going back, but thanks for the update!

  38. I really appreciate your honestly in this piece, Kate. I haven’t been to Cambodia for two years, and I would definitely go back, even though Cambodia is the only country in which I have ever experienced violence.

    In short, I was walking at night in Sihanoukville with a friend, when a tuk-tuk driver ran up to us, claiming we had knocked off his side-view mirror. We had been drinking, but we were sober enough to know that we did nothing of the sort. He demanded $15 payment for reattaching his mirror, which we refused to pay. We kept walking, but were soon surrounded by a group of other drivers. I had my arms held back, I was slapped repeatedly in the face, and I was groped, while my friend received an even harsher beating. I managed to break free and my friend told me to run back to the hostel (Monkey Republic!) to try to get help… by the time I rallied a few people, my friend made it back to the hostel, too. They had taken all of his money, but he somehow managed to stuff his camera down his pants.

    In hindsight, I wish we had just paid the $15. We left Sihanoukville the next day, and spent an amazing week riding a motorbike along the coast. Even though I had a terrible experience that one night, I know that there is more to the country than that group of men. I’d love to go back, but to go back even more aware and even more on my guard.

    Thanks again for writing this.

    1. YIKES. :O

      And yet I know – because I love Brenna’s blog – that she and another young women traveled together basically without incident throughout Latin America. And I know that if I had a blog and wrote a post like “I’m a solo female trying to decide between Cambodia or Colombia” that I would get a lot of people telling me that southeast Asia is just so, so safe and is the obvious choice of destination there.

      I’ve only ever been to Thailand as far as SEA goes, and I taught English in Korea for two years and really am fascinated by and drawn to the entire continent of Asia. But I feel like there is a weird sort of assumption of safety among travelers and expats when it comes to Asia – and conversely lots of fear and caution surrounding other places – and I’m just wondering where that really comes from and if it’s still accurate.

    2. What a horrible experience 🙁

      I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but I personally think you were right not to pay the $15 for something you didn’t do. What happens often is that western tourists prefer to give away money and pay all sorts of scam for some piece of mind, but this initiates mafias that thrive on scams and violence. They see how easy it is to get money from foreigners if they threaten and scare them a bit.

      Countries and cities that depend on tourism but don’t take care of their tourists, will eventually feel the negative impact when the numbers start to decrease.

  39. I think it’s important to look beyond how certain actions in Cambodia ruin a tourist experience and try to look at the underlying problem. Right now, Cambodia is changing rapidly. The government is trying to develop Cambodia to be the next “Thailand” in terms of emulating their economy and bringing in tourists. As a result, the high class of Khmer people are beginning to try to build up the country and bring in foreign investment (which has been happening). The blue collar workers in Cambodia aren’t seeing anything from this development and still getting paid under the minimum wage. A huge gap is growing between the poor and the rich. People are stuck in poverty and they don’t have a way to get out. Some people turn to scavenging disabled land mines for scrap metal, some just keep working as construction workers or selling food (which the price of food has gone up so much, yet the demand isn’t very high, meaning they don’t make much profit), and some turn to crime and trying to extort tourists. You can see this when there are these huge building projects happening in Phnom Penh on unpaved streets. Private investors have taken a huge hold on the market. I think it’s important for travelers to understand why a country is the way it is and what a society and people are going through instead of just looking at how it effects themselves when they want to travel there.

    While My first trip to Cambodia was almost 10 years ago, I experienced people trying to scam me and what I would call “dangerous” situations in Siem Reap. I took all the same precautions then that are being written about now. When I came back a few years ago, I didn’t find it to be better or worse.

  40. Hi there Kate, I enjoy reading your blog – especially your thoughtful and well-balanced write-ups of all the countries you’ve visited. As an ‘older’ traveller (43), rediscovering the joys of globetrotting after many years of single parenting (and not straying far from home), I’ve found your blog particularly useful in getting me reacquainted with travel in the year 2013!
    I’ve just come back from a 5 week solo trip to Vietnam and Cambodia earlier this month. Although I only had 6 days in Cambodia, and only in Siem Reap, I had the same tuk-tuk driver for all my temple visits and got to know him pretty well, and we talked a lot about Cambodian life and culture. As a single female with a minor disability, I’m often aware when travelling alone that I’m quite vulnerable in a physical sense. I didn’t feel physically unsafe in Cambodia at any stage, even when walking around at night, but I did get a lot of pressure to buy things, and some of this was pretty aggressive. Some of the kids who hung around the Angkor temples in the afternoons selling trinkets seemed to have slightly devious tactics for getting tourists to buy things, and I also didn’t appreciate the behaviour of some tuk-tuk drivers (not my regular one), who would yell at me and other tourists trying to get us to engage them. None of this is criminal of course – just a minor annoyance. I fell in love with the country based on my limited time there, and I’m sorry to hear these things have happened to you and others. If I do go back, as I plan to, possibly to teach English, I’ll bear in mind all the advice you’ve given here, and I hope things improve. It’s always hard when we (tourists) use the world like our own personal playground – I can only imagine how the locals feel about this!

    1. Sue, for what it’s worth, I noticed that there were far fewer child vendors at Angkor this time around. Still a fair amount, don’t get me wrong, but not nearly as many as there were a few years ago. I hope that’s a sign that they’re cracking down on it.

  41. Are you sure you were in Cambodia? I’ve been here over two years and never had a single problem (except from annoying drunk ex-pats, but I can hardly hold that against Cambodia). Nor have any of my friends or colleagues of all ages and both genders had any problems at all in the years that they have been here. Which suggests to me you either hang out with some very unlucky people, or that maybe you been hanging around with some people whose opinions you shouldn’t take too seriously. For example, the type of person who would smack (any difference between smacking and hitting?) a child, whether or not they stole something. Not a smart or ethical thing to do.

    Long story short, for every bad experience (or rumour – five people had their drinks spiked, couldn’t possibly be the same story told over and over again by hung-over beach-dwellers with no actual evidence?) I could tell you a thousand stories about some of the warmest, friendliest people I have ever met during my travels. Please don’t let this article inform your views of Cambodia. It is far, far, from being representative.

      1. Hi Kate

        I can assure you, with 100% certainty, that my wife has never been mugged in Phnom Penh nor anywhere else in Cambodia. (nor technically is she my friend or colleague).

        A few years ago someone did make a pathetic attempt to grab her bag when we were (very stupidly) walking down a dark alley in the early hours. But the boy (aged early to mid-teens) missed her bag and fell off his moto. In fact I actually went over the help him up from the road as I felt sorry for the hapless chancer.

        So ironically a good example of how a complete non-event could be misunderstood and then retold as something that it was not (ie a ‘mugging’). Which would be very sad if it had the effect of spreading negative feelings towards some of the warmest, most beautiful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and who, thought their history, have probably suffered about as much as any other nation in the history of the world.

        1. That’s not what she told us, Chris. She wrote on Mario’s Facebook wall that someone tried to grab her purse and she “smashed him off his moto.”

          In other words, she had to take violent action against this would-be mugger in order to prevent herself from being robbed. That’s a big difference from the image you paint.

          I don’t dispel the fact that most Cambodian people are some of the kindest, warmest people I’ve ever known. I say so in this piece, if you hadn’t noticed. But I think that using that as a reason to massively downplay the crime here is deceptive at best.

  42. Hi Kate. So sad to hear that crime in Cambodia seems to have had a spike of late. We were there for about a month in 2011 and loved the country and its people. It’s a tough thing being in a place where you know the living conditions of so many people are very difficult. As always, you keep vigilant about being aware of you surroundings and try not to get into a risky situation. Reading this makes me feel for the Cambodian people because in my experience people do these types of things only when they are being pushed to the edge and become desperate.

    I applaud your honest write up because it is much easier to paint a rosy picture. Keep up the good work and safe travels.

    1. I’ve lived in Cambodia and never had anything like the problems in this report. Sihanoukville has had a bad name for many years, but I avoid there. I know a lot of people here and none of them have reported and spike in crime or problems lately.

      1. I’ve read a few of your posts and they’re mostly not bad for someone with so little experience traveling over here (relatively to someone who’s actually lived here and has some in-delth understanding of the history and culture of the various countries).

        The problem with this article is you are just finger-pointing at the Khmers without providing any context.

        This article gives a much better assessment, IMO, of the situation:

        I’ll add that since first arriving in Thailand in the 80s, I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in all “developing” countries: alienated young men who are angry about their undeserved poverty, as they see it, watching mostly young people acting so poorly (by their standards) but flush with cash.

        In Thailand, there are three circles of relationships: strangers, the third circle, are fair play, get from them what you can. Not so different from western countries, actually.

        I’ll just add that considering how crushingly poor Cambodians are (made worse the last few years for many by subtantial increases in food prices) they’re probably orders of magnitude more peaceful than, for example, Americans are. If the unfortunate girl on the motorbike in Phnom Penh were in her home country, would she have gotten on a motorbike at midnight with a drunken driver?

        Don’t leave your common sense at home. And by the way, an acquaintance who lives in Thailand told me it’s not reported but it happens not rarely that the police find the bodies of tourists outside Bangkok who’ve been bludgeoned to death with tire irons, so be careful when you get in a cab in Bangkok late at night too.

        The whole world’s getting more violent. Context.

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