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Toby Keps

Travelled to 12 countries / regions

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Visited Cambodia for 2 weeks in 2019

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Asia > Cambodia > Phnom Penh > Useful Info
Updated on Feb 13, 2020 Useful Info

Useful safety tips for visiting Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  • I do lots of research on safety when it comes to my travels and I researched Cambodia pretty extensively as it was pretty off the beaten path for me
  • When I was in Phnom Penh, I felt very safe overall. There weren't any parts of town that I went to that felt outright dangerous (granted I didn't go to every single part of town), although some parts are definitely shabby and I wouldn't go there at night alone. Personally, I didn't come across any petty crimes or even scams, but I know these things exist
  • My main suggestion for staying safe in Phnom Penh is to exercise common sense everywhere you go and be as cautious as you would normally in any major city in the US (can't speak for other countries); in terms of violent crime Phnom Penh is probably safer than some US cities because of less gun violence in Cambodia. And in general, Phnom Penh doesn't have any specific high crime areas; scams and other safety issues are spread out all over the city
  • Here are some specific tips I have for staying safe in Phnom Penh:
  1. Watch out for bag snatchers: it doesn't happen all the time and only a tiny percent of visitors run into this issue (this mostly affect the locals), but make sure when you're on the streets to watch out for any motorcyclists that may ride past by you, cut loose your bag/purse, and taking it. This also happens when you're in a tuk tuk or taxi, so make sure to hold on tight to your stuff.
  2. Beware of strangers who approach you: this tip is less about safety and more about scams, and is definitely applicable anywhere in Southeast Asia. If you're in public and a local approaches you about anything (helping you with directions, practice English, whatever), ignore them and keep going. Remember that most locals are occupied with making money and rarely have time to spare for tourists, so anyone who does so is suspicious. Locals who approach you 99 times out of 100 have a motive, and in Phnom Penh this involves scamming money off you (the most common one is that while they have you distracted their partners snatch your bag or steal from you; but can also involve taking you to shady establishments)
  3. Be wary of locals that approach you at bars: when you're at bars, watch out for locals. You have to keep in mind that bars are extremely expensive for normal locals to go to because Cambodia is a largely poor country; anyone at bars are either the elite, who usually just keep to themselves, or someone who's trying to make money off the tourists. Prostitution is big but oftentimes it's shadier than that where they will develop rapport with you and then take you to another bar where they fleece you with overpriced drinks
  4. Petty theft: this happens rather frequently. Exercise common sense and don't flash expensive jewelry, bags, electronics, etc. when you're out and about. Don't leave any valuables unattended, and don't even leave your bag or purse by your foot without grabbing onto it. I've met one guy at my hostel who had his bag stolen, so this can definitely happen to anyone. Be especially careful with your stuff at busy places that are frequented by tourists (markets, bus terminals, etc.)
  5. Watch the traffic: traffic is bad and drivers don't pay attention to pedestrians. It's definitely not like in the US where pedestrians have the right of way. When crossing the street in Phnom Penh triple check both sides. Watch out for the crazy scooters, they make the traffic so much worse
  6. Restaurant tips: most restaurants are absolutely fine, but there are some shady ones that I've heard about from some fellow travelers. Basically just always make sure you're ordering off a menu and the menu has price listed. Keep a copy of the menu so you have some prices you can refer back to. A small number of unscrupulous restaurants will give you a bill with extremely inflated prices at the end, and when people don't have something they can point at to challenge those bills they'll often just pay up rather than cause a scene. Don't let this happen to you
  7. Tuk tuk tips: I found the tuk tuks here to be more trustworthy than the ones I came across in Thailand. Still, always research ahead of time how much a trip should cost (either online or ask your hotel), and agree on a price before you hop on. Like many others have suggested, I recommend always flagging a moving tuk tuk from the street rather than going to one of the parked ones outside your hotel or major tourist attractions, because the parked ones are specifically targeting tourists and they're just more cunning at inflating their prices
  8. Cops are NOT there to help you: this shouldn't affect 99.99% of the visitors, but keep in mind that if you ever find yourself needing to call the cops, they will generally side with the locals and not you. Even in day-to-day situations, cops are frequently looking for chances to "fine" you (extract bribes from you) for any reason they can find. The high risk group is motorcyclists: if you're operating any kind of motor vehicle in Cambodia, you will be frequently stopped by the police, so make sure you have proper license and adhere to all safety regulations or you will be milked for cash. I'm not saying all cops are crooks in Phnom Penh, but from everything I've heard from all the travelers and expats I met down there I think a high percent of them are