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Cambodia 2018 Crime and Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Cambodia

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Cambodia has been assessed as Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Cambodia-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

Criminal activity in Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, remained high in 2017, with the level of violence and frequency of incidents involving U.S. Embassy personnel comparable to previous years. The majority of crimes are opportunistic and financial in nature. Although Westerners may be specifically targeted due to their perceived wealth, the intentional use of violence and physical harm to victims remains relatively low.

Transportation centers, markets, special events, tourist locations (the river front area), and crowded buses are prime areas for pickpockets. Cell phone and purse snatching incidents are common, especially while walking or riding in tuk tuks (two-wheeled carts pulled by a motor scooter for local transportation). In one instance, an individual’s shoulder was separated after being dragged when a thief snatched a cell phone out of his hand. The Cambodian National Police Chief announced a crackdown on robberies and purse snatchings in 2017, including a proposed plan to offer $100 to tuk tuk drivers for each bag snatcher they apprehend and turn over to police. Bystanders often get involved in apprehending purse snatchers on motorbikes if the vehicle crashes near the victim; in some instances, this has included detaining (and using force against) the suspects until police arrive.

Visitors should carry only what they need when traveling outside, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and walk against traffic where possible. Visitors should also guard items which can easily be grabbed and consider using take tuk tuks that have a cage or physical barrier around the back to prevent thieves from reaching in to snatch bags. Visitors should never leave valuables or passports stored in luggage that is out of reach or sight (under a bus or unattended in a tuk tuk).

Victims have been robbed when withdrawing money from ATMs on the street, and visitors are advised to only use ATMs inside hotels, banks, or other enclosed spaces.

Motorbike thefts are common and frequently occur while the bike is being ridden. In many instances, the bike is pushed over and/or the rider is struck by thieves. When the bike goes down, a thief jumps on it and rides away. These crimes, along with theft of cell phones and other petty theft, continue at critical levels, and resistance is often met with escalating violence. The relative of a U.S. Embassy staff member suffered a broken collarbone when pushed off his motorbike at night during a robbery.

Violent crimes, including armed robberies, have occurred. While the chances of being a victim increase significantly at night, daytime robberies are not unheard of. The frequency of armed robberies involving weapons continues at high levels. There were a number of reports of shootings and stabbings during armed robberies. While the majority of victims of armed robberies and other violent crimes (sexual assault) tend to be Cambodian, foreigners may be targeted. Visitors should recognize that excessive consumption of alcohol could make them more vulnerable to crime, especially at night.

Many of the phone and purse snatchings are believed to be committed by youth gangs operating throughout Phnom Penh. These gangs can be violent and are known to attack each other over turf battles and/or perceived insults. Late night altercations between rival gangs can occur, including at least one that took place near the U.S. Embassy and ended when a police officer fired into the air to disperse the group.

Random incidents of gunfire occurred in Phnom Penh in 2017. Some of these appear to have stemmed from traffic-related or other altercations, especially after dark, with several resulting in fatalities. Gunfire incidents were reportedly the result of altercations that occured late at night outside of certain nightclubs or bars. In many cases, this involved an individual firing into the air as a warning to others. On occasion, the police have also fired shots into the air to scare off groups of fighting gangs or to get subjects to comply with their orders.

National and transnational organized crime, especially that involving human, drug, and wildlife trafficking, continues to be a problem. There are increasing numbers of Chinese citizens who have acquired hotels in places like Sihanoukville, turning them into mini-casinos where other Chinese come to gamble. Malicious actors have established online fraud operations, which have targeted Chinese nationals in China.

A number of foreigners, including several Americans, fell victim to a “black jack” scam in 2017. In this scam, a friendly local, or in some cases a Filipino, engages the visitor in conversation, inviting the visitor to a private residence to converse about local culture and/or the U.S. The visitor is offered a meal and introduced to a relative who works as a professional black jack dealer at a casino and offers to teach the visitor how to cheat at black jack. A few friendly games follow in which the visitor wins. Then a high roller shows up and the gambling begins in earnest. The visitor ends up losing thousands of dollars and is driven to an ATM to withdraw cash or to a store to buy expensive jewelry, which is then given to the gambler. In some cases, the victims have reported being drugged to make them more compliant with the scammers demands.

There have been occasional reports of foreigner having their drinks spiked, which has left them incapacitated and vulnerable to robbery and/or assault. While the problem does not appear to be widespread, travelers should exercise caution, especially if out drinking alone. For further information on consuming alcohol abroad, see the OSAC report: Shaken: The Don'ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Other Areas of Concern

There are no areas of Phnom Penh or Cambodia more broadly that are off limits for Embassy personnel.

Land mines and unexploded ordnance are found in rural areas throughout Cambodia, and especially in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap, and Kampong Thom provinces. Travelers in these regions should never walk in forested areas or even in dry rice paddies without a local guide and should stick to clearly marked paths. Areas around small bridges on secondary roads are particularly dangerous. Travelers should not touch anything that resembles a mine or unexploded ordnance; instead, they should notify the Cambodia Mine Action Center at 012-800-473/023-995-437.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving can be very hazardous. Traffic laws are widely ignored and only haphazardly enforced. Drivers routinely run red lights and stop signs, drive the wrong way down one-way streets, and fail to use headlights after dark. Many streets are poorly illuminated. While Phnom Penh has sidewalks, they are usually occupied with parked vehicles or food stands, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.

Phnom Penh is installing new traffic lights, but few are operational, and those that do are frequently ignored. The city streets are crowded with cars, tuk tuks and large numbers of motorbikes that weave unpredictably through traffic, creating potential safety risks. Minor traffic accidents are quite common in Phnom Penh. In general, traffic moves very slowly in Phnom Penh during daylight hours. As the streets empty at night, driving becomes more hazardous, because motorists drive faster, giving themselves less time to react.

Drunk drivers are a hazard, especially at night. If involved in an accident, they generally attempt to flee the scene in the vehicle they are driving or, if it cannot be driven, flee on foot.

Many drivers are also distracted; it is not uncommon to see drivers of all manner of vehicles (including motos), texting or talking while driving. Motos often carry entire families, including infants held in a parent’s arms. Helmet use, while increasing, is not widespread.

Driving in the countryside can also be hazardous, and emergency medical care is almost non-existent. Moto scooters, pedestrians, slow moving trucks, and livestock share the roads in the countryside. The risk of accidents increases at night, so personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy are prohibited from driving after dark outside of major population centers.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

U.S. Embassy personnel are permitted to use tuk tuks, taxis, local and intercity buses, and ferries. Passengers are advised to guard their belongings closely. Tuk tuks are the most common form of public transportation in Phnom Penh, but the number of metered taxis is growing. While motorcycle taxis are common, it is against Embassy policy for personnel to take them since there are no licensed motorcycle taxi drivers, and helmets are typically not available to passengers.

While some taxis are metered, passengers taking tuk tuks should negotiate the fare in advance, since the traditional tuk tuks do not have meters. There are at least two smartphone apps that allow passengers to order taxis or newer, three-wheeled enclosed tuk tuks online in Phnom Penh, rather than hailing them on the street or arranging transit by phone. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”

Other Travel Conditions

When using ferries, passengers should only patronize ones with life jackets for every passenger. The safety record of ferries seems to have improved in recent years, but overcrowding and lack of sufficient life jackets for all passengers remains a concern. The U.S. Embassy does not prohibit Embassy personnel from using ferries but advises caution and situational awareness.

Terrorism Threat 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a LOW-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Generally speaking, there is no specific anti-American or anti-Western sentiment among the Cambodia public. While the government has recently decried the U.S. bombing campaign of the early 1970s, arguing that Cambodia should not have to pay its Vietnam-era debt to the U.S. as a result of that campaign, Cambodians generally view Americans quite favorably. There have been no incidents of anti-U.S. protests in Phnom Penh in the recent years.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been in power for 30 years. It has used the levers of government, especially the judiciary and police, to limit the effectiveness of opposition parties by charging and sentencing opposition leaders for various crimes, including corruption, adultery, and defamation. It has refused to grant permits to opposition party members to rally and march.

The main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), faced a number of hurdles going into nationwide communal elections in June 2017 and upcoming general elections July 2018. The CNRP, while in the minority, gained a significant number of seats in the June 2017 communal elections. These elections, which were considered relatively free and fair, did not result in civil unrest or violence. The government arrested Kem Sokha, leader of the CNRP in September 2017 on charges of treason for allegedly receiving support from the U.S. government to foment a “color revolution.” This was seen by many as an effort to weaken the political opposition and undermine the possibility of defeat during the 2018 general elections.

Kem Sokha’s arrest was followed by an increase in anti-American rhetoric by the Prime Minister and members of his party. In mid-November 2017, the Supreme Court outlawed the CNRP as a political party and barred 118 senior members of the party from engaging in political activity for five years. The majority of the 118 individuals fled the country. Additionally, the government began investigating the finances of former CNRP party members, raising the possibility that their assets could be seized.

The government’s banning of the CNRP effectively removed any meaningful opposition to the CPP in advance of the July 2018 national elections. As a result, the U.S. announced visa sanctions on unnamed senior Cambodian government officials responsible for undermining democracy.

It is difficult to gauge whether the Cambodian government’s elimination of a meaningful opposition will increase the risk of civil unrest in the leadup to or aftermath of the election. During the civil unrest that followed the 2013 national elections, CNRP supporters took to the streets to protest and potentially change the outcome of an election they felt was stolen from them.

Civil Unrest 

In recent years, protestors have staged, or attempted to stage, peaceful demonstrations outside several prominent locations including government ministries, Phnom Penh City Hall, opposition political party headquarters, international organizations (the World Bank), and Freedom Plaza (an open square separated from the U.S. Embassy by a city block). Demonstrations are typically held to draw attention to a specific grievance, such as working conditions in garment factories, illegal land seizures, and/or the arrest of political opponents and journalists.

The Cambodian government has generally responded in numbers sufficient to prevent violence and, in a number of cases, to prevent the protestors from reaching their goal.

In September 2016, CNRP supporters planned to march from the countryside to CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh and continue marching through the city. The government responded with massive roadblocks on the outskirts of the city and shut down traffic in front of CNRP headquarters, preventing the masses from gathering.

In every event with the potential to trigger civil unrest since then (the leadup to the 2017 communal elections, the arrest of Kem Sokha, the banning of the CNRP), the government has responded with similar displays of force, proclamations that demonstrators will not be tolerated, and media stories highlighting the police and military’s preparations to quell any demonstrations.

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, the government has repeatedly stated and through massive displays of force that any unauthorized gatherings or demonstrations will be quickly (and potentially violently) suppressed. Whether due to this messaging or the feeling among opposition supporters that there is nothing to be gained by taking to the streets, there have not been incidents of civil unrest.

Post-specific Concerns 

Environmental Hazards

Flooding remains the most significant environmental hazard in Phnom Penh. During the rainy season, streets can become impassible, causing major traffic delays. The standing water on the streets often contains sewage.

Critical Infrastructure

There are hotels of all price categories in Phnom Penh, from cheap backpacker hostels to upscale, five-star, multinational brands. In many cases, hotels and hostels do not meet Western fire codes or safety standards.

Economic Concerns

While economic espionage is not believed to be widespread, travelers are advised to exercise situational awareness with sensitive and proprietary information. Counterfeit goods of all kinds are available. Most banks in Phnom Penh can exchange U.S. dollars for Cambodian riel, but U.S. dollars are accepted virtually everywhere in Phnom Penh, with small change being given back in riel. Counterfeit U.S. bills have been discovered in circulation in Phnom Penh.

Privacy Concerns

Although there does not appear to be any widespread government surveillance of individuals or property, the Cambodian government has demonstrated that it is quite capable of surveilling, in an overt manner, individuals it deems critical of the government.

Personal Identity Concerns

In general, there is tacit acceptance of individuals regardless of their race, nationality, gender, orientation, and disability. Women walking alone in some parts of the city have reported receiving unwanted stares and, on at least one occasion, unwanted physical contact.

Drug-related Crimes

Cambodia is source, transit, and destination country for illegal drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other illegal drugs are available. A number of criminals are believed to be drug users who conduct crime to finance their drug habit. A number of foreign citizens, including Americans, are in jail in Cambodia on drug charges.

Kidnapping Threat

Traditional kidnapping and extortion schemes exist in Cambodia, but the majority of kidnappers and victims appear to be Cambodian citizens. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

The Cambodia National Police suffer from a lack decent pay and adequate training, and officers are not always responsive to requests for assistance. Local police rarely investigate reports of crime against tourists, and travelers should not expect to recover stolen items. Some police stations charge foreigners between $20 and $100 to file a police report. Cambodian National Police typically wear tan or green uniforms, while traffic police wear blue uniforms.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens who are subject of police detention or harassment should request to immediately contact the U.S. Embassy.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crime are advised to notify the local police and contact the U.S. Embassy at 023-728-402, 051, or 234. American victims of sexual assault should contact the U.S. Embassy first.

In March 2017, the Cambodian government announced the creation of a national police hotline for foreign nationals, staffed 24/7 with both Khmer and English speakers. The national hotline, which is also accessible via WhatsApp, is (031) 201-2345 and the email address is fad-info@police.gov.kh.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities and services generally do not meet international standards. Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have a limited number of internationally-run clinics and hospitals that can provide basic medical care and stabilization. Medical care, including emergency assistance, outside of these two cities is almost non-existent.

Local pharmacies provide a limited supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications, but because the quality of locally obtained medications can vary greatly, travelers are advised to bring a supply of medications that is adequate for the duration of their stay in Cambodia. Caution is advised when purchasing local medication, as counterfeit medication, which is often indiscernible from authentic medication, is widely available and can potentially be lethal. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

There are no reliable, Cambodia-based air ambulance services. Both Royal Phnom Penh Hospital and Royal Angkor Hospital in Siem Reap can arrange air ambulance service to Bangkok. For a list of available medical evacuation and medical charter flights in Cambodia, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page. These services generally operate on a provider-to-provider basis and often require payment for services in advance.

Insurance Guidance

Travelers are advised to obtain comprehensive travel insurance, including supplemental coverage for medical evacuation. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Eating street food in Phnom Penh is not advised.

Travelers should avoid untreated tap water and ice cubes, especially outside of urban areas. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

Rabies, from wild animals or stray dogs, is a major concern. Anyone bitten by a dog or wild animal should seek medical attention immediately. There is only one facility, the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, that can test an animal for rabies.

According to the CDC, travelers to Cambodia should be vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis A, typhoid and yellow fever. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Cambodia.

OSAC Country Council Information

Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia and the Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh

#1, St. 96 (entrance on St. 51 between St. 96 and 102)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hours of operation: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700

Embassy Contact Numbers

Phone: 023 728-402; if dialing outside Cambodia: +855 23 728-402

Emergency: 023 728-000; if dialing outside Cambodia: +855 23 728-000

Marine Post One: 023 728-111; if dialing outside Cambodia: +855 23 728-111

Website: https://kh.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.

Follow the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia on Twitter.

Additional Resources

Cambodia Country Information Sheet