Cambodia is rapidly becoming a popular destination for tourists. While this country has a checkered past, it’s still an excellent place to visit as long as you are careful.
Unfortunately, like much of Southeast Asia, travelers can and do encounter petty crime and crimes of opportunity in Cambodia. There are rampant transportation scams, especially in the larger cities.
It’s a popular destination for backpackers, but more families and older tourists are starting to visit the country. As such, you’ll find a mixture of different accommodations that cater to younger backpackers and people with children.
While visiting the iconic temples of Angkor Wat is undoubtedly appealing, there are a few things you should remember before traveling to Cambodia. Doing so will help you make the most of your trip!
Is Cambodia Safe to Visit?
Cambodia is moderately safe to visit, but there are some common problems and scams that tourists run into. Make sure to keep your valuables locked up and stay alert to avoid them.
Most tourists won’t fall victim to violent crimes in Cambodia, but petty theft is widespread, especially in tourist areas. Police corruption, and corruption in general, continues to be problematic in Cambodia.
Tourists could easily find themselves dealing with bribes and issues if they need help from law enforcement. Visa scams are also very prevalent in Cambodia. Tourists will often get asked to pay excessive sums of money for tourist visas, especially when entering land borders.
Avoid these problems by getting a visa online from the official Cambodian website in advance of your trip. That way, if someone approaches you at the border, you can tell them you’re all set.
Crime in Cambodia
Unfortunately, Cambodia is not the safest country to visit in Southeast Asia. There are moderate crime levels throughout the country.
Since it’s a relatively less wealthy country, tourists are seen as fair game and often targeted for crimes of opportunity like pickpocketing and scams. Fortunately, you can avoid headaches by understanding what to look out for.
The most significant danger that tourists will encounter is theft. Bags can and do get stolen, even from tuk-tuks (open-sided Cambodian taxis).
If you’re traveling by tuk-tuk, consider looping the side of your bag around your leg to avoid having it snatched, or keep it securely in your lap. Also, pickpocketing is an issue in Cambodia, so keep your things securely fastened to you in zipped front pockets.
If you’re using public transportation or hanging out in a very congested area, keep your backpack on the front of your body. Never leave bags unattended.
If you’re at a restaurant, keep your purse in front of you secure, and never leave a cell phone on the table if you’re going to use the bathroom. Keep your wits about you, especially at night.
Traveling country or rural roads after dark can be hazardous, too, so stick to tourist areas and go with a guide if you’re traveling outside known paths. In addition to human-related crimes, there’s also the terrible legacy of the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Cambodian people several decades ago. There are still landmines in some more rural areas. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about landmines in places like Siem Reap or other tourist destinations.
Flooding from the Mekong River occasionally happens during monsoon season, and Cambodia’s infrastructure is not as adequate as it could be in preventing road closures or other disasters like landslides. These problems will likely occur in more rural areas and not affect too many tourists.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Cambodia’s larger cities, like Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap, can be tricky at night with increased rates of crime. Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat, so it attracts many tourists and opportunists.
If you’re going out on Siem Reap’s legendary Pub Street, only take the cash you need and leave your passport back at your hotel, locked up.
Towns like Sihanoukville, the gateway to Koh Rong, can also be dangerous, with assaults and petty theft occurring. If you’re heading to Koh Rong or other Cambodian islands, minimize your time in Sihanoukville whenever possible.
Phnom Penh is also sometimes dangerous in terms of theft. Anywhere lots of tourists congregate or with a large population can be risky in terms of crime here. More people means more opportunities for petty and violent criminals, so stay alert.
The Thailand and Cambodia border can also be difficult, especially at Poi Pet. Poi Pet is a notoriously scammy city right on the border, full of casinos and people who will try to sell you fake visas.
If you can avoid using this land border, do. In general, it may be a better idea to fly into Cambodia rather than try to get there by car over the land.
Rural areas can have landmines, so it’s not a good idea to go explore the countryside on your own. Instead, go with a guide. You’ll get the added benefit of traveling with someone who speaks the language and be less likely to run into a relic from the Khmer Rouge days.
Visiting Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat, near Siem Reap, is arguably Cambodia’s biggest draw, but it also comes with its own fair share of problems. The Angkor Wat complex is known for tourist scams and issues, especially on Siem Reap’s famous Pub Street.
Exercise caution when out at night in Siem Reap. Always get your Angkor Wat tickets from a reputable source to avoid getting scammed. You can buy them in advance for peace of mind.
It’s also smart to get a local guide who can show you the temples around Angkor Wat temple itself.
Ask for recommendations in advance, and negotiate the price if you feel like it’s too high. Additionally, while staying in Siem Reap, keep your valuables locked up in your hotel safe at all times. Don’t flash valuables on the street.
Cambodia’s Turbulent Past
Cambodia is a beautiful country with a tragic history. In the mid to late-1970s, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge conducted a genocide of the people, wiping out an entire generation of Cambodians.
The country has only recently started to heal from what happened, but it still bears the scars. Landmines are still a problem in Cambodia, and you should avoid talking to anyone about the Khmer Rouge or politics in general if you can help it.
If you’re patronizing orphanages or sites from the war, ensure they’re above board. There are plenty of memorials in Cambodia. If you visit them, keep your voice down, dress modestly, and be respectful.
Additionally, you will see many people with missing arms or legs, some of whom might be begging for money. Whether you give them money or not is up to you, but don’t be alarmed.
Things to Consider
What else should you know about safely visiting Cambodia? By keeping these things in mind, you’ll make the most of your experience here.
- Don’t leave any belongings unattended to avoid theft
- Take a photo of your passport and leave the real one at the hotel
- Put your cash and cards in zipped front pockets to avoid pickpockets
- Carry small amounts of cash
- Don’t take pictures of officials or military installations
- Split up your money and cards when going out
- Don’t stow your passport or wallet in overhead bins on buses
- Keep your valuables out of sight as much as possible
- Use a trustworthy guide for the safest exploration of Cambodia
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding Cambodia’s unique challenges can help you have a better time on your travels. These questions and answers will prepare you for your trip and keep you from being unpleasantly surprised while abroad.
How can I make myself a harder target in Cambodia?
Being a hard target will make you less appealing to criminal elements in Cambodia, so it’s worth doing. Never flash jewelry or money, especially in larger cities or tourist places.
Leave your valuables at home or in your hotel safe, and only take a photograph of your passport with you. Fancy clothes with brand labels, gold jewelry, and expensive cell phones can put a target on your back.
If you must use your cell phone on the road for directions, duck into a restaurant or well-lit place to look at it. Avoid walking with your cell phone in your hand.
Is Cambodia safe for women?
Cambodia is relatively unsafe for women traveling alone. Many solo female travelers will run into the same scams and troubles as men, but there isn’t an increased risk or problem in general.
The same rules apply for keeping valuables tucked away and apprising yourself of common Cambodian scams. It’s important to respect customs at religious sites like Angkor Wat.
Covering up is a sign of respect, and they might not even let you enter if you’re not sufficiently attired. Places like Siem Reap can be dangerous for women late at night. Avoid dark alleys, and never leave a drink unattended.
How can I meet fellow travelers in Cambodia?
Cambodia has a well-deserved reputation as backpacker central, so you can expect to meet fellow travelers just about everywhere. If you really want to plug into the local backpacker scene, opt to stay in a hostel instead of a hotel.
They often have bars or other common areas for socializing. While hostels generally have a reputation for being youth-based places, more and more people are staying at them now.
You can get a shared dorm or a private room. Even if you get a private room, you’ll still benefit from staying in the common areas and meeting plenty of people with whom you can travel.
Is Cambodia expensive?
On a global scale, Cambodia is comparably inexpensive. You can travel fairly comfortably for a few hundred dollars per week. With ample street food, plenty of affordable accommodation, and cheap transportation, Cambodia ticks off a lot of budget travel boxes.
Can I drink the water in Cambodia?
Try not to drink tap water in Cambodia, but you'll be fine showering and brushing your teeth with it. Buy bottled water to drink. Boiled beverages like coffee are okay, but occasionally street vendors use bad ice in iced coffee or teas, so be careful.
A good rule is if something seems a little “off” or sketchy, it probably is. Instead of getting your morning coffee from the street vendor, pop into a store to get one instead. Carrying travel insurance is vital in Cambodia, too, just in case you get sick.
So, Is Cambodia Safe to Visit?
Cambodia is moderately safe to visit, but can be more dangerous in specific areas, when traveling alone, or in terms of disease and illness. As long as you’re aware of what you should look out for, you should be able to enjoy your Cambodian holiday just fine!
Just stay diligent and apprised of your surroundings. Take proper precautions and understand Cambodia’s risks. Register with your embassy and research your accommodation beforehand to keep safe. Make sure you have a working cell phone on hand for emergencies.
It’s also a good idea to email a copy of your passport and itinerary to a trusted family member or friend back home. If they get lost, you’ll have a backup copy to rely on.
Cambodia is full of scenic views, vibrant culture, and a rich (and tragic) history. It’s definitely worth visiting, but only when you take safety precautions seriously. Keep your wits about you and you’ll learn a lot on your trip to Cambodia!