Carving the country in two is the mighty Mekong River, which remains the lifeblood of Cambodia, running as it does from the bustling capital, Phnom Penh, to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. A journey down this iconic waterway is one of the great pleasures of Southeast Asia – boats of all shapes and sizes drift, chug and spray their way along the Mekong, carrying piglets, clay pots, bananas, motorcycles, you name it.
Away from the water, the ravages of war have become unlikely tourist attractions in Phnom Penh and other cities. Crowds gather at former prison camps and the notorious Killing Fields to contemplate Cambodia’s darkest hour, a period of unimaginable suffering that took place under the brutal regime of Pol Pot.
The crumbling remains of the Khmer Empire are the biggest draw in Cambodia, though. After building up a kingdom that stretched into neighbouring Thailand and China, the Khmers fell, leaving behind an extraordinary collection of temple complexes, most notably Angkor Wat, which owns the bragging rights to being the largest religious monument in the world.
Then there are more typical Southeast Asian attractions – frenetic cities crammed with rickshaws, strange and exotic food, blissful beaches, tropical jungles teeming with wildlife, and a densely-forested hinterland full of tribal villages.
There are few places that have been through as much as Cambodia, but this optimistic nation has belied its tumultuous history and emerged as one of the warmest, most welcoming destinations in Southeast Asia.
Incidents of politically-motivated violence have fallen significantly in recent years, but particular events or political disputes may trigger violent protests. Avoid large gatherings, demonstrations and political meetings. Don’t express strong opinions on Cambodian politics or culture.
Foreigners present an attractive target for criminals. Violent crime is rare, although weapons have been used during robberies against foreigners. On 6 February 2015 a tourist was injured in a shooting near the Olympic Market in Phnom Penh. In 2014, 2 expatriates were murdered during a burglary at their Phnom Penh home; and in 2013, 1 foreigner was killed and a number of foreigners were shot and seriously injured during robberies.
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.
Since January 2014, 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. Since the beginning of 2015, there has been an increase in the number of rapes and sexual assaults reported against foreigners, particularly in Sihanoukville, but also in other locations.
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. Foreigners attempting to report crimes have reported finding police stations closed, emergency telephone numbers unanswered, or police lacking transportation or authorisation to investigate crimes that occur at night.
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. This information will be collated and reported to the Cambodian national police. 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.
There have been reports of British nationals becoming the victim of a poker scam and then threatened at knife-point to withdraw money at an ATM.
Penalties for drug offences in Cambodia are severe and can include long jail sentences for possession of even small quantities of recreational drugs.
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 Tourist Police 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 are not covered. Make sure your friends and family are aware that you may be out of contact.
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.
There were demonstrations around National Road 5 in Poipet City on the border between Cambodia and Thailand on 25 May. Reports suggest that authorities used force to disperse crowds and fired warning shots into the air. You should avoid all public gatherings and follow local media.
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.
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. Many accidents are due to poor vehicle and driver safety standards. There were at least two bus accidents involving foreigners in 2012. Most roads are in very poor condition. Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of accidents.
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.
Due to the high number of accidents involving tourists on motorcycles in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, the local police occasionally ban rental shops from hiring to tourists. The police are known to stop tourists on motorcycles and advise them to return the bikes immediately. They sometimes also impose an unofficial fine.
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.
The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, National Road number 6 is being upgraded. The previous journey time of 6 to 7 hours, can now take several hours more. Some sections are particularly hazardous, with excavations on both sides of the road and clouds of road dust caused by traffic significantly reducing visibility. Allow extra time for your journey or consider an alternative route.
Accidents have occurred due to overloaded or poorly maintained boats. A boat with tourists sank off the coast of Sihanoukville in April 2011 due to overloading. Don’t board a vessel if you think it is overloaded. Life-vests and other safety equipment are not routinely provided, even on modern vessels. 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 travelers for opinions on travel options.
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. Jellyfish can swim 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.