Mar 24 2012

“Robbery season” in Phnom Penh

Published by at 1:38 pm under Health & safety


It appears that the time that expats in Cambodia refer to as “robbery season” is already upon us. Every year the weeks leading up to Khmer New Year see an unofficial upswing in petty crime in Phnom Penh, presumably as some of those who need to return to the provinces for the holiday flush with cash do whatever it takes to get it.

If you get robbed, a security guard will be no help. Find the tourist police.

On Saturday night as I was walking home from a night out on Street 51 a young man jumped out of the shadows and tried to grab my Khmer friend’s purse, nearly knocking her over in the process. Luckily, he wasn’t successful, but the experience reminded me that one needs to be on guard.

During our last robbery season (the weeks before the Water Festival in November) I gave some tips on how to avoid having your bag snatched, particularly while in a tuk tuk or moto.

The same rules apply if you’re on foot.

Don’t play with your phone while you’re out walking — it means you’re not paying attention to your surroundings and most phones are very appealing to would-be robbers.

For women, until after Khmer New Year, I’d suggest not walking around alone at night. Phnom Penh is usually quite safe (and still is) but in my opinion, the risk of robbery is not worth it. If you do hit the streets at night, try and go with a friend and don’t bring a purse. Thieves are drawn to purses like flies to honey. The fact that most purses contain a $20 Nokia, broken lipstick and scraps of paper will not deter them; they are hoping for the one that’s filled with gold doubloons. Better to not give them the option.

When you go home by tuk tuk, ask your tuk tuk driver to walk you to the door. The best way to encourage him to do this is to not pay him until you get to your door, leaving him no choice but to escort you.

And, if you do get robbed: remain calm. It is rare that foreigners have been hurt during robberies with the exception of those who try to resist, so don’t put up a fight.

Most travel insurance policies require a police report to process your claim. In Cambodia, expect to pay a small bribe to get your police report written. (Remember that policemen do not make enough money to feed their families without charging extra fees for their services.) Start your offer at $5. If you are calm and collected, you should be able to get through the whole process for under $20 depending on the value of possessions stolen and how hysterical you appear, although some tourists report paying more. Most police in Cambodia do not speak much English, so it’s often easiest to go back to your guesthouse and ask someone there to accompany you as a translator. Your embassy may also assist if you’ve been the victim of a crime.

Phnom Penh Tourist Police T: (023) 726 158; (097) 778 0002

Australia Embassy: T: (023) 213 470
US Embassy: For emergencies during business hours call (023) 728 281; (023) 728 051; (023) 728 234. Outside of normal business hours call (023) 728 000.
UK Embassy: T: (023) 427124. Outside of normal business hours call (023) 427 124; (023) 428 153.

See a fuller list of embassies on Travelfish.org here.

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to ““Robbery season” in Phnom Penh”

  1. Samon 24 Mar 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I had my phone stolen recently and reported it at the foreigners police office near on street 162 near Wat Koh. The whole process was pretty painless. They translated my report for me and provided me with a copy all for a fee of $10.

  2. [...] already covered crime issues in Bali, Phnom Penh and Hanoi. Further reading » KUL Sign Festival 2012 and other street art in Kuala Lumpur [...]

  3. Adamon 13 May 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Didn’t pay for a police report myself, and many others have.. neither of us had anything done about the crime though. One was a moto driver (Mr Veng) who operates outside Sharky’s bar who hit two of my (girl) friends. The owner of the bar did nothing, nor did the police and he’s still working as a moto driver now.

  4. yakob larmaon 07 Jun 2012 at 5:42 am

    After reading and commenting on the story of the card game scam and now reading this, I come to believe that all of you deserve to be ‘held up’. Most of you are cheap and do not know how to travel. It is very xenophobic, as well, and insulting to the people. “Let’s take the, ’17 cent Mexico city subway ride’, much cheaper,” though you have a better chance of getting robbed than crashing in a US space shuttle ride (2 in 128 chances of blowing up midair and crashing.)

    You should all read this very carefully, this article above. The common thread that runs through the entire thing is: nite travel and near or in or visiitng some dive or bar or drinking. If you go out at nite and do this then you have made yourself an obvious ‘pigeon’, male or female, it does not matter.

    I have a Canadian friend and he and I have come to a conclusion about travel buffoons like all of you, that start your stories and I or he must stop the story and ask, “Was there by the way any alcohol or drugs involved with the victim here, or incident, or area, nearby?” Invariably, there always is, whereas we must interject, “I thought so, that’s enough, I don’t need to hear anymore.” End of their story.

    My good pal and I (he from Switzerland) having traveled together at times for the past 13 years, were rehashing stories just this AM on our veranda here in Sabang in the Philippines. We were remembering the delightful people that we met. One was the host of a ‘casa particular’ where I stayed in Barrio Technico, 7km outside of Santiago de Cuba. There is a hotel with a huge mezzanine veranda down in the town central, a landmark, the ‘Hotel Casa Granda’. My buddy Pascal remembered the story immediately as I started to retell it. And it goes as follows: We were sitting enjoying coffees with my great host, and this guy was extremely savvy to life. We were looking down on the park and he said, “Look at that. this guy with a backpack,” (a ‘desubicado’; pejorative turn of words in Latin America but especially in Colombia for tourists who stand around perplexed and lost thus the Spanish word for ‘dislocated’) who was crossing the park diagonally completely oblivious to his surroundings. My friend and host Orlando said, “Look at those 3 boys coming from different corners of the park, they are circling in on that guy,” much like hawks or birds of prey, they had this guy in their sights, already. What a great recon by looking at this from above, wihtout aid of telescopes or cameras or the like, just our human eyes. Orlando, the host, said,”They are going to follow him to rob him,” and this in the middle of the day.

    The purpose here is to illustrate that most of you do not know the first thing about traveling or where to go to travel and how to do so when you get there. First and foremost is making a selection on the type of places you should be traveling to and Cambodia is not one of them. It is the same as: stay out of the subway in Mexico City, take a taxi, and that is very inexpensive; don’t be the ‘cheap charley’ tourist looking for a steal or a deal. Or a card game!

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