What makes Cambodia a unique country to travel to?
Cambodia is a developing country with a constitutional monarchy and an elected government. King Norodom Sihamoni is the constitutional monarch and head of state. Elections for Members of the National Assembly were held in July 2008 and are scheduled to take place again in July 2013. The July 2008 elections sent representatives from five different parties to the National Assembly, with the Cambodian People’s Party holding a majority of seats. The country has a market economy, with approximately 80 percent of the population of 13.4 million engaged in subsistence farming. The quality of tourist facilities varies widely in Cambodia, with the highest standards found in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.
Cambodia has a high crime rate, including street crime. Military weapons and explosives are readily available to criminals despite authorities’ efforts to collect and destroy such weapons. Armed robberies occur frequently, and foreign residents and visitors, including U.S. citizens, are among the victims. The Embassy has also received reports that hotel rooms of U.S. citizen visitors in Phnom Penh were burglarized while the occupants were asleep.
The most common type of theft is “snatch and grab” robbery, and anything that can be quickly grabbed is at risk: cameras, jewelry, purses, backpacks, mobile phones, etc. Exercise caution and keep belongings out of sight if you travel via “tuk-tuk,” as passengers in these open-air vehicles have been targeted by thieves. If walking along the street, make yourself less of a target by carrying bags or items in your hand or on the shoulder this is furthest from the street. If someone attempts to rob you, you should surrender your valuables immediately, since any perceived resistance may be met with physical violence, including lethal force.
Pickpockets, some of whom are beggars, are present in the markets and at tourist sites. Sometimes they may act overly friendly, placing their hand on your shoulder or back to distract you in order to pick your pocket.
To avoid the risk of theft or confiscation of original documents, the U.S. Embassy advises its personnel and all U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Cambodia to carry photocopies of their U.S. passport, driver's license, and other important documents and to leave the originals in a hotel safe or another secure place. Local police rarely investigate reports of crime against tourists, and travelers should not expect to recover stolen items. It has also been reported that some police stations charge foreigners from $20-$100 to file a police report.
In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. Embassy received reports of presumed ATM/debit card fraud. ATM fraud can take place in many different ways, but the most common method is “skimming” card data as a transaction is made, while simultaneously recording the Personal Identification Number (PIN) that corresponds with the card. Several people have reported that unauthorized transactions have occurred after they have used their ATM cards in Cambodia. In light of these events, you should exercise caution by planning ahead and making copies of your ATM card, front and back, so that if you lose it, you still have the card number and contact information. Use ATMs located in secure areas, such as banks or hotel lobbies. Consider using only a few ATMs, and be aware of their appearance. If something looks unfamiliar about a machine, don’t use it until you have verified that any modification is legitimate. You should also be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM. Robberies are more likely to occur as you depart an ATM, so please stay alert to your surroundings and depart an ATM quickly.
The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel who travel to the provinces to exercise extreme caution outside the provincial towns at all times. Many rural parts of the country remain without effective policing. Avoid walking alone after dusk anywhere in Sihanoukville, especially along the waterfront. You should be particularly vigilant during annual festivals and at tourist sites in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville, where there have been marked increases in motorcycle “snatch and grab” thefts of bags and purses.
If you are visiting Cambodia, you should practice sound personal security awareness by varying your routes and routines, maintaining a low profile, not carrying or displaying large amounts of cash, not wearing flashy or expensive jewelry, and not walking alone after dark. In addition, you should travel by automobile and not use local moto-taxis or cyclos (passenger-carrying bicycles). These vehicles are more vulnerable to armed robberies and offer no protection against injury when involved in traffic accidents.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the ‘bootlegs’ illegal in the United States, but if you purchase them or try to bring them back into the United States you may also be breaking local or federal laws.
While you are traveling in Cambodia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws, legal systems, and criminal penalties can be vastly different than our own. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also acts that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Cambodia, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Cambodia, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
The Khmer language comes from an older language called paali, which developed as a successor to Indian Sanskrit. Khmer has 26 vowels and 33 consonants.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical facilities and services in Cambodia 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 outside 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, make sure to bring a supply of your medications that is adequate for the duration of your stay in Cambodia. You should be wary of purchasing local medication. Counterfeit medication is readily available, often indiscernible from authentic medication, and potentially lethal.
Safety and Security
The State Department is concerned that individuals and groups may be planning terrorist actions against U.S. citizens and interests, as well as at sites frequented by Westerners in Southeast Asia, including in Cambodia. Extremist groups in Southeast Asia have transnational capabilities to carry out attacks against locations where Westerners congregate. U.S. citizens residing in, or traveling to, Cambodia should therefore exercise caution in clubs, discos, bars, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, schools, outdoor recreation venues, tourist areas, beach resorts, and other places frequented by foreigners. U.S. citizens should remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and avoid crowds and demonstrations. From time to time, the U.S. Embassy places local establishments off-limits to Embassy personnel due to safety and security incidents. You can contact the Embassy for notification on the current restrictions in place for Embassy personnel, or register with the Embassy through STEP for security updates and alerts.
The U.S. Embassy frequently receives reports of random gunfire in the vicinity of bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues. While U.S. citizens have not been injured and do not appear to have been targeted, the potential exists for serious injury. U.S. citizens should be vigilant in these areas.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid travel along the Cambodian-Thai border in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, and the Banteay Ampil district of Banteay Meanchey province because of a continuing border dispute between the two countries. Thai and Cambodian soldiers have been stationed along the border in this area since July 2008 and have exchanged gunfire on several occasions. Land mines and unexploded ordnance are found in rural areas throughout Cambodia, 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. Areas around small bridges on secondary roads are particularly dangerous. Travelers should not touch anything that resembles a mine or unexploded ordnance; they should notify the Cambodia Mine Action Center at 023-368-841/981-083 or 084.
You should exercise extreme caution when traveling on boat tours and excursions in the coastal areas of the country. In April 2011, a boat containing 90 tourists capsized off the coast of Sihanoukville. While no one was seriously injured, such incidents could occur at any time, as boat tour operators do not take into account basic safety concerns and rarely provide life jackets for all passengers.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Cambodia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Cambodia is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
You should not drive at night in Cambodia outside of city limits. Road maintenance is sporadic in both urban and rural areas. Roads between major areas are adequate; however, roads leading to areas that are more rural are poor. During the rainy season, both urban and rural road conditions deteriorate considerably. Roadside assistance is non-existent. The safety of road travel outside urban areas varies greatly. Cambodian drivers routinely ignore traffic laws, and vehicles are poorly maintained. Intoxicated drivers are commonplace, particularly during the evening hours, and penalties for DUI offenses vary greatly. Banditry occurs even on heavily traveled roads, so all travel should be done in daylight between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. There are also frequent bus accidents, including one in 2012 that resulted in the death of two foreign tourists.
Serious flooding occurs in both Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia starting at the end of July or early August and continuing into November. The unimproved highways to Prey Veng, Pailin, Stung Treng, and Poipet become more difficult and dangerous during this time of the year, and travel on unpaved or dirt roads is virtually impossible. The National Route highways are the only roads that can be traveled with caution during this time of the year.
The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel not to travel by train because of low safety standards and the high risk of banditry. Although speed boats operate between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, travel by boat should be avoided because boats are often overcrowded and lack adequate safety equipment, including life jackets. Boat owners accept no liability for accidents. Travelers also should exercise caution when using inter-city buses, including those to popular tourist destinations such as Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Despite the wide availability of moto-taxis and cyclos, you should not use them due to safety concerns and because personal belongings can be easily stolen. Organized emergency services for victims of traffic accidents are non-existent outside of major urban areas, and those available in major urban areas are inadequate.