Oct 26 2011

Rash of bag-snatchings in Phnom Penh

Published by at 9:36 am under Health & safety


Contrary to popular opinion, Phnom Penh is a pretty safe city to spend time in. Most people who move here will even say that it’s safer than where they came from. For my part, living in Phnom Penh feels infinitely safer than my last home in east London.

Hold onto your bag when you're in one of these!

That said, we’ve been in a bit of a lull for the last year. With few reported robberies and attacks, foreigners have begun to let down their guard. But remember, expats call this time of year “robbery season” because many robberies occur in the weeks leading up to and during holidays such as the Water Festival. (Although the races have been cancelled, other events will still be on and there will be a lot of non-city folk hanging out in Phnom Penh.)

In the last month there have been a rash of robberies targeting foreigners. Most of these have taken place in BKK1 or around the nightclub area on St 51. These robberies are not just a late-night affair, they’re happening at all times of day. Most of these robberies fit the same pattern: two or three men on a moto grab the bag or phone of a (usually) woman who is in a tuk tuk or walking. These men seem to wait around BKK1 and St 51 looking for potential targets and sometimes brandish a knife or gun.

A few weeks ago, I had a guest staying with me who was the victim of one of these robberies near the Royal Palace. Two men on a moto, both wearing full-face moto helmets to obscure their faces, snatched her bag while she was in a tuk tuk. “I feel like I half-way let my guard down for 30 seconds or a minute, and that was enough, they grabbed my bag,” she told me, asking to remain anonymous. “I was chatting with my friend, so I wasn’t looking around for suspicious looking guys wearing racing helmets with tinted visors.”

Here are some tips:

*Be alert. Hold onto your bag with both arms around it when in a tuk tuk, or across your chest when walking. This makes you a less appealing target.

*Don’t pull out your phone while you are walking around or in a tuk tuk. If you do, grip it firmly or with both hands. Someone holding an iPhone with two fingers is a big temptation to some.

*Purses seem to be an easier target, so consider using your pockets. (Are bum bags cool again, yet?)

*Don’t carry stuff you can’t afford to lose.

*Be very careful about putting up a fight if weapons are drawn. One UN staff member was shot in the leg last year after refusing to give up her purse.

*Consider taking a taxi, especially at night. They use meters and the prices are usually comparable to tuk tuks and are sometimes cheaper.

*Ask your tuk tuk driver to wait for you while you get into your accommodation; robberies have occurred while people are fiddling with keys or waiting to get inside.

*Before you decide to leave everything back at your hotel or hostel, remember that thefts can occur there as well. Leave your valuables locked in your bag and don’t leave anything near the windows — thieves can use sticks with tape on the end to grab mobile phones and so on through barred windows.

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One Response to “Rash of bag-snatchings in Phnom Penh”

  1. […] risks. So to end on a positive note, putting matters into perspective and speaking very personally, and as has already been pointed out by a fellow expat, I feel far, far safer living here in ‘third word’ Phnom Penh than in the part of South London […]

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