|Tuk-tuk outfitted with anti-bag snatching netting|
Every year at this time, in the weeks before Khmer New Year, there is a spate of petty crime against foreigners in Cambodia as some less than honest locals try to collect some coin to finance their planned New Year festivities. There will be shakedowns, moto-thefts and muggings, bag snatchings, bar raids and a few break-ins. Not that these sorts of things don't happen throughout the year but such crimes spike in these weeks leading up to Khmer New Year. Like the shopping season before Christmas, this is crime season in Cambodia.
To be up front, I don't have any statistics to back this up, not that there are any reliable crime statistics available anyway, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and accords quite well with my casual observation over the years. And if you mention a tale of a recent robbery or some such crime to a long-term expat, he will likely just shrug his shoulders and mutter "Khmer New Year."
'Tis the season to be careful.
On that note, a few quick tips…
- Bag snatching is not uncommon. When in a tuk-tuk place your bag in the middle of the seat or floor. Do not put it to the outside at the end of the seat where it is easily grabbed. When on a motodup, place your bag either between you and the driver or have the driver set it in front of him between his legs. Whatever you do, do not wear it on your back. More than one foreigner has been pulled off of a moving moto by a thief trying to pull the bag off their back. When on foot, carry your bag/camera on your inside shoulder away from the street. And lastly, do not wear expensive jewelry around your neck if you plan on walking around, especially near the traditional markets.
- Street robberies in Phnom Penh, though not common, are reported with some regularity. Most occur at night, near popular tourist destinations and expat areas, and almost always happen to people on a motorcycle/motodup, in a tuk-tuk or on foot. The robbers are sometimes armed with a handgun and usually only want money. Though there have been some unprovoked assaults, they generally avoid applying violence, but will if challenged. Give up your money and they will likely leave post haste.
- Consider traveling about town in a car, especially at night, whether that be a taxi or your own vehicle. You are far less visible, exposed and vulnerable in a car than in a tuk-tuk or on a moto.
- Muggers work areas frequented by foreigners - the riverfront area, Boeung Keng Kang 1, the Street 51 area, near markets and clubs and other tourist haunts. They lay in wait at the periphery of these areas looking for passing or lone foreigners. You are much more likely to be robbed in these areas than in some dark, lonely all-Khmer neighborhood deep in Phnom Penh. Whereas foreigners tend to let down their guard in tourist areas, it is in fact a place to be extra cautious.
- Sadly, muggers seem to target women more than men. Women need be especially careful.
- Do not dawdle at the gate. Over and over again people have been robbed at the point they arrive home and stop to open their door or gate. The robbers descend while you fumble with your keys or wait on an exposed moto or tuk-tuk for the door to open. Best strategy is to have somebody inside the house (maid, guard, family) open the gate as you arrive. Call home as you leave the bar, tell them you'll be there soon so that they can open the gate as arrive and allow you walk or drive in without ever stopping.
- Pick-pocketing is generally limited to the traditional markets and occasionally discos and clubs. They target both locals and foreigners. It's done in usual fashion, taking advantage of close situations, crowding and such. Tourists often fall victim to seemingly friendly beggar children, allowing them too close, only to have their purse or pocket relieved of its contents while distracted. I have heard several such reports from Phsar Tuol Thom Poung (the Russian Market.) And at the clubs, as the t-shirt reads, "Beware of pickpockets and loose women." 'Nuff said there. Keep your radar up when in close situations. Do not allow people, especially 'innocent' beggar children, to touch you.
- Home owners and renters remember, the thieves rarely come through the front door. They come from above. People usually take great care to make sure the ground floor of their house is well locked and secure. But the thieves often come from the roof or upper windows, climbing walls and traversing roofs to access some weakly locked upper door or window, or cut through unsecured fenced openings. Don't neglect to lock the upstairs doors and windows. Another common trick is for them to use a long stick with a hook to fish your belongings through an open window. When possible, keep windows closed and locked. And do not leave you’re your wallet, phone or purse on a table or draped over a chair near a window.
Two weeks left. Khmer New Year will fall April 14-16. That week, many businesses will close and Phnom Penh will become a ghost town as revelers take to the countryside, traffic accidents on the national routes will skyrocket and Crime Month in Cambodia will come to an end.