Safety and security
Political tensions remain high following the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on 16 November 2017. This followed the arrest of the CNRP leader Kem Sokha on 3 September 2017. Political disputes could trigger violent protests. Avoid large gatherings, demonstrations and political meetings and avoid expressing strong opinions on Cambodian politics or culture.
During 2016, legal action was taken against the leaders of the CNRP. Several party members and activists were jailed and on 7 July 2016 Dr Kem Ley, a prominent political commentator, was shot dead.
A general election will take place in July 2018. It’s possible that political tensions will increase in the run-up to this election.
Although most visits are trouble-free, the British Embassy continues to receive crime reports from British nationals. Most of these are bag snatchings, often by thieves riding past on motorbikes. Bag straps have been cut and bags snatched from those on foot and passengers on moving tuk-tuks and motorbikes, often causing injury. Hotspots for petty crime include the riverfront and BKK areas of Phnom Penh, and the beaches and tourist areas of Sihanoukville and nearby islands.
In 2017, there have been incidents of female travellers, including British nationals, being sexually assaulted in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. This includes incidents of lone women being sexually assaulted by men claiming to be motorbike taxi drivers in the Pub Street area of Siem Reap. You should be vigilant at all times, especially when walking alone.
Take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings:
- use a hotel safe for your valuables
- minimise the items you carry with you. If you carry a bag, make sure the strap is over your shoulder, away from the road to deter thieves on motorbikes from snatching it
- take extra care at night and in isolated areas
- be particularly vigilant travelling at night by bicycle or motorcycle, especially if you’re alone. Stick to well-used, well-lit roads and carry a personal alarm if possible
- avoid placing bags in the front basket of bicycles
- be wary of pickpockets, especially on public transport and in crowded areas
- if you travel by bus, make sure cash and valuables you have are secured. There have been incidents where passengers have had items taken from bags while asleep.
- tuk-tuks with metal grills on the back and side can offer some protection against bag snatching.
Police in Sihanoukville have been reporting instances of drink spiking and violence in the evening in some bars frequented by foreigners. Be vigilant, particularly in and around late night bars and don’t leave drinks unattended.
Parties, including organised dance parties on islands off the coast of Sihanoukville as well as in other locations, may place you at risk of sexual assault, robbery, injury, arrest, and lost belongings, including travel documents. These islands are often isolated and access to medical or emergency assistance is likely to be limited or non-existent. You should take appropriate precautions for your personal safety.
Local law enforcement responses to crimes, even violent crimes, are often limited and may fall far below the standard expected in the UK. Foreigners attempting to report crimes have reported finding police stations closed, emergency telephone numbers unanswered, or police unwilling to investigate crimes. Police will often not speak any English.
There have been reports of police charging fees for some services, including issuing police reports. Issuing a police report for crimes should not carry a fee. If you suspect an inappropriate fee is being demanded from you, report the matter by email to the British Embassy, including details of the police station.
Cambodians are friendly, but you should be wary if a Cambodian or other foreign national befriends you quickly and invites you to their home or hotel on the pretext of meeting their family.
Penalties for drug offences in Cambodia are severe and can include long jail sentences for possession of even small quantities of recreational drugs. Drugs have also caused a number of deaths of overseas visitors to Cambodia. These are suspected to be a result of purity issues, or adulteration by unknown substances.
The local equivalent to the UK ‘999’ emergency lines are: 117 for police, 118 for fire, and 119 for ambulance. If you need to report a crime in Phnom Penh, go to the Central Security Office at Number 13,Street 158, near Wat Koh. In Siem Reap, the Tourist Police office is next to the ticketing booth for the Angkor temple ruins. In Sihanoukville, Battambang and other towns in Cambodia, please seek advice from local police on which police station you should report to.
While there is good internet, wifi and mobile phone coverage in the main cities and towns of Cambodia, many of the islands and remote areas may not be covered. Make sure your friends and family are aware that you may be out of contact.
Be especially alert to the local security situation in border regions and at land crossings between countries. Seek local advice before you set off. Stay on clear pathways as there may be landmines or unexploded ordnance. At the more remote crossing points, conditions can be basic. Some visitors have reported local officials and tour operators asking for unofficial fees or inflating visa prices at land borders. Make sure you know the correct visa requirements and fees before you travel.
Cambodia does not have the same health and safety standards as in the UK. Please be aware that safety advice will be minimal and there may not be warning signs at tourist sites.
You should get permission from the district head, provincial governor or national tourism authority for any travel perceived as out of the ordinary, including business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind.
Heavy storms during the monsoon can cause disruption and damage including flooding and landslides. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time. Poor drainage leads to flooded roads in monsoon season, causing major traffic congestion in Phnom Penh, allow additional travel time if you’re heading to the airport. The Mekong River Commission posts official updates on the Mekong River on its website. Monitor local news and weather reports, and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation.
Lakes, caves and waterfalls are particularly prone to dangerous flash flooding during the rainy season.
The line of the international border near the Preah Vihear temple (Khaoi Pra Viharn in Thai) was disputed by Cambodia and Thailand. Since 2008, there were occasional clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops in the area, with fighting between Cambodian and Thai troops at Ta Krabey in 2011. There have also been disputes over control of the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, which lie close to the Thailand-Cambodia border. In 2013, the International Court of Justice ruled that Cambodia has sovereignty over the whole territory of the Preah Vihear temple.
Although relations between the two countries concerning the border have improved, you should take extra care when travelling in this area, and follow the instructions of the local authorities.
Cambodia remains heavily affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Mined areas are often unmarked. Don’t stray off main routes in rural areas, including around temple complexes and don’t pick up metal objects.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of road traffic accidents in the region. There are high numbers of fatalities and serious injuries. In May 2017, a bus carrying tourists (including Britons) left the road and overturned near Poipet, in the north west of the country. Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards. Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of accidents.
You’ll need a Cambodian driving licence to drive a vehicle, including a motorcycle. If you have an International Driving Permit, you can apply for a Cambodian licence for US $32. Some local travel agencies can arrange this for a fee. Driving or riding a motorbike without a licence may invalidate your travel insurance in the event of an accident. Your vehicle may also be impounded.
Travelling as a passenger by motorcycle taxi (‘motodop’) is dangerous. Vehicles are poorly maintained and driving standards are low. There is also a risk of bag snatching, particularly in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
The police can impose an on-the-spot fine if you ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Riding without a helmet may also invalidate your insurance. The police have also been known to stop tourists without Cambodian driving licences and advise them to return their motorcycles immediately. Sometimes a fine is imposed. In Sihanoukville it’s a requirement for police to issue a receipt when issuing a fine for a traffic violation.
Before you hire a vehicle, check your travel insurance policy to ensure that you are covered (as either a driver or passenger for motorcycles) and check the small print of the rental agreement. Don’t use your passport as security for motorcycle or car rental. Owners have been known to hold on to passports against claimed damage to the motorcycle or scooter.
Accidents have occurred due to overloaded or poorly maintained boats. There have also been reports of tourist boats continuing to operate despite weather warnings, particularly between Sihanoukville and the nearby islands. In 2016, 2 incidents (one off the coast at Sihanoukville and the other on the river near Kampot) saw tourist vessels sink.
Boat travel on rivers becomes difficult in the dry season (March - May). Water levels in rivers and lakes are high during the rainy season. Check online and with other travellers for opinions on travel options.
There have been attacks against ships in the South China Sea and surrounding seas. Mariners should be vigilant, reduce opportunities for theft, establish secure areas on-board and report all incidents to the coastal and Flag State authorities.
Adventurous activities and swimming
If you’re considering jungle trekking, use a reputable tour guide. There’s no licensing system for tour guides, so seek advice from other travellers, your hotel and look at online reviews before hiring a guide.
Take care when swimming, diving, kayaking or white water rafting in rivers or close to waterfalls, particularly in the rainy season from May to October. Currents can be extremely strong and there have been fatalities of as a result of this. Jellyfish can be found close to the shore, particularly during the rainy season. Their sting can be fatal. If in doubt take local advice from hotel management and dive centres.
If you rent jet skis or water sports’ equipment, make sure adequate safety precautions are in place. Rent only from reputable operators, thoroughly check for damage before use and insist on training.
The standards maintained by diving schools and rescue services are not always as high as in the UK. Check a dive operator’s credentials carefully before using them and make sure you’re covered by your insurance. If you have not had any previous diving experience, ask your dive operator to explain what cover they offer before signing up for a course. Make sure safety equipment is available on the boat, particularly oxygen. You should also ask about contingency plans including the ability to call for help while at sea and to evacuate divers to the nearest hyperbaric chamber if necessary.