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Phnom Penh


“Robbery season” in Phnom Penh

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.

About the author:
Previously, Lina has been based in Oakland, California, New York City, Dublin and London. Lina spends most of her time thinking about food, travel and synthpop. She's currently based in Siem Reap.
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