Expats agree that Phnom Penh is generally a safe place to live. Yet like most other cities, it has perennial problems of petty crime. Robberies are usually opportunistic snatch-and-runs, becoming more frequent in periods leading up to major holidays.
Don’t walk in unlit areas or display valuables and only carry what you’re prepared to lose, especially in crowded places where pickpockets and bag snatchers operate. Do not walk down quiet or dark streets while using your phone or other electronic device, this is like advertising for a thief to rob you. If accosted it’s best not to put up a fight – hand over valuables avoiding eye contact. There are worse things than losing your phone. If robbed in busy area, cry out ‘jao’ (pronounced jow, meaning thief). Cambodians hate thieves and will try and apprehend the culprits who have robbed you. When using tuk-tuks or motodops, keep your effects close, preferably wedged in front between your legs on under your backside. It is not completely unheard of for people to be dragged off motos after thieves grabbed their bags. Many tuk tuks now have anti-theft cages enclosing most of the vehicle, try and use one of these where possible.
While reports of card skimming remain rare in Cambodia, there have been some instances, usually by foreign gangs. When using an ATM, always check to see if there has been any obvious tampering or strange looking ‘attachments’. For extra security, cover the keys with a hand while you enter your PIN number, and then press all keys on pad in case of the very unlikely circumstance of thieves having a thermal imaging device. Try not to use isolated ATMs, especially at night, as thieves will often look for travellers or expats withdrawing cash late at night.
Police cannot always be relied upon for assistance as law enforcement is lacking. If you are the victim of a crime, contact your embassy or consulate right away. They can help you replace stolen passports, get medical attention and connect with the relevant police services. It is worth noting that many countries require a police report to replace a lost or stolen passport. There may also be a police ‘administration’ fee to produce said report. In our experience, this can range from $10 to $25.
The most dangerous places in Cambodia remain its highways. Reckless road use helps define the country as one of the worst in Southeast Asia for traffic fatalities. Be wary of poor surface conditions (especially in the wet season) and narrow streets; drivers of minivans and pickup trucks in a hurry often attempt risky overtaking.
At night, streets and vehicles are often unlit and traffic rules disregarded, helped no doubt by laissez faire drink driving and scarce police patrols. The Cambodian Traffic Law, which was intended to regulate road usage and decrease the high rate of road-related accidents, came into effect in 2016, but is still enforced somewhat haphazardly.
If you ride a motorbike in town, be sure to wear a decent helmet (it’s the law after all). And buy a decent padlock, especially if you have rented the bike where the rental company’s lock may not be “entirely secure”. Cases of ‘arranged theft’ are not unknown, especially in tourist areas.
Cambodia has some of the best unspoilt forested areas in the region for trekking, but go with a guide and stick to well-worn trails – remote areas may still have landmines. Western-style clinics are hard to come by, and there are no ambulance services outside Phnom Penh. Take extra care, and treat open wounds immediately.
Back in the city, break-ins are becoming more frequent, prompting owners of Western-style apartment buildings and condominiums to provide 24-hour manned security. Recent builds may have alarm systems and card access control, which are useful because keys are easily copied in Cambodia and locks are easy to break. Additional security solutions such as private guards, identification technology (like fingerprint or retina scanning entrance systems), CCTV and risk management are also available.
Many people travel to Cambodia thinking the country has a relaxed attitude to drugs, especially when they see the many ‘Happy Pizza’ restaurants (and yes, they do mean that sort of ‘happy’). While there may be a relaxed attitude towards locals using marijuana (it wasn’t so long ago you could find in every market as it was, and still is, a sometimes ingredient in cooking here) the police will arrest and fine you if they catch you smoking or in possession. It is best to remember that ALL drugs are illegal here, and, perhaps more importantly, that quality is usually low or substances have been adulterated. There have been instances of heroin being sold as cocaine, and of yama (meth) pills sold as Ecstasy. There have been several instances in recent years of foreigners being jailed and/or deported for drug use, and there have also been a good number of deaths in the last few years. With such risks, the best advice we can give is; don’t use illegal drugs here. The drugs risks extend beyond the illicit type too. Many medicines which need a prescription in the west can be easily obtained over the counter here. Diazepam (Valium) can be had in any pharmacy. While it is virtually impossible to overdose on diazepam alone, many people choose to mix it with alcohol. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to hospitalisation or death. Many smaller pharmacies also sell fake medicines, so you can never be sure what you get.
Health insurance is highly recommended and packages fall into two categories: in-patient only or both in-patient and out-patient care. The latter is, of course, significantly more expensive. Almost all expat policies cover medical evacuation to advanced hospital facilities in Bangkok or Singapore, with limits from $500,000 to $1,000,000. Both Infinity Insurance and AG Cambodia are trusted insurance providers in Cambodia with a wealth of good reviews on their service.
AG Cambodia has recently taken over all accounts from Poe-Ma, which shuts its doors in 2018, and offers excellent personal service from insurance expert David Treal and his experienced team, along with comprehensive insurance packages.
Infinity Insurance has A-rated reinsurers supporting its products and boasts access to global health insurers Aetna, A+, MSH, Now Health and William Russell amongst many others.
At time of writing (December, 2018) all information was correct, but may have changed since. If there’s something you read here which you feel is incorrect or requires updating, please let us know.