Cambodia is a very popular destination for those who are backpacking across Southeast Asia, with a host of brilliant attractions and a range of urban and rural areas that offer unique experiences of the county and its culture. The vibrant cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap offer an incredible range of cuisine and nightlife, the southwest of the country has miles of beautiful beaches and waterfront buildings to enjoy, and rural east Cambodia is a dream for lovers of wildlife and natural landscapes.
Cambodia is an ancient country, with evidence of human settlements that are believed to date all the way back to 6000 BC. The most famous historical period was the powerful Khmer (Cambodian) Empire that ruled from the 9th to the 13th century and left the legacy of the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex, which is one of the country’s most famous sights.
In the 1970s Cambodia was massively affected by a period of extremist rule under the Khmer Rouge political party, which devastated the population with an estimated death toll of over two million. It took until the 1990s for the regime and government to be completely removed from the country, and the majority of the population are still feeling the effects 30 years on.
Luckily for travellers, Cambodia is now a very safe country to visit, with low rates of serious crime and a relatively stable political climate. However, tourists can still be affected by health issues or incidents such as theft or pickpocketing, which can compromise your trip.
One way to ensure that you are protected against any problems whilst in Cambodia is to purchase comprehensive travel insurance, allowing you peace of mind during your holiday and making sure you aren’t affected by anything that might go wrong. We’ve put together this guide to provide you with Cambodia travel advice and answer any questions about whether it is safe to travel to Cambodia.
Health Concerns in Cambodia
Before you travel to Cambodia, you are advised to read up on any potential health risks that you may come across whilst travelling around the country, to make sure that you are prepared and can take the necessary precautions before your arrival. If you are on any long-term medication, ensure that you have enough to last for your trip, and check if there are any restrictions on bringing certain types of medication into the country before you travel.
Healthcare services in Cambodia are quite poor, even in the most developed city of Phnom Penh where services vary and can be expensive. Pharmacies are also potentially unsafe, as many sell medication that is either out of date or counterfeit. It is important that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you come to Cambodia, as this will cover you in the case of any medical emergencies and ensure that you receive the right treatment.
You should make sure that you are up to date on all routine vaccinations before you travel, and check with your doctor 6-8 weeks before your trip if there are any other boosters that you need. Vaccinations that are often recommended include Hepatitis A and tetanus, and you may also want to consider boosters for Hepatitis B, Rabies Typhoid and Cholera depending on which areas of Cambodia you are visiting and how long you will be there for.
Those who are coming to Cambodia from counties that have a risk of Yellow Fever will need to bring a vaccination certificate for the disease before entering, as will anyone who has spent more than 12 hours in the airport of an at-risk country.
Malaria is present in many of the rural parts of Cambodia, and if you are travelling to a high-risk area you are likely to be prescribed malaria tablets to keep protected from infection. If you are not travelling to a high-risk area you are still advised to take precautions against insect bites, as dengue fever can also be caught across Cambodia from mosquito bites and does not have a vaccination. Precautions include using insect repellent, covering your skin (particularly in the evening) and sleeping under a mosquito net.
The parasitic infection known as bilharzia can be transmitted to humans who come in contact with freshwater lakes and streams in Cambodia and can cause serious health problems if not detected and treated. It is wise to avoid swimming or paddling in freshwater lakes and streams just to be safe, and being aware of the symptoms of the disease in case you become unwell after your trip.
There is a moderate risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in Cambodia if you engage in sexual activity with someone else who is infected. You should consider this risk and how you can protect yourself before making any decisions that might expose you to the virus, and act accordingly.
Although there are a number of health risks when visiting Cambodia, most of these are very easily avoided by doing your research before you travel and taking the necessary precautions throughout your stay. Practice good hygiene at all times to avoid getting sick, and always consult your doctor if you become unwell after you return from the country.
Food and Drink Safety in Cambodia
Cambodia is not particularly famous for its food, but this does not mean that it is a bad place to sample unique, cultural cuisine. Khmer curries in particular are wonderfully rich and delicious, and vegetarians will find that they have a wide range of choices when it comes to looking for something to eat.
Food hygiene levels are not as high in Cambodia as they are in the western world however, and you should be cautious of what you are eating in both restaurants and with street food. Something to look out for is salads which may not have been washed or fruit and vegetables that are unpeeled, as these could all be carrying bacteria.
It is sensible to be wary of any meat you are offered whilst in Cambodia, as it is often not easy to determine what animal you may be eating. Seafood also has the potential to make you unwell, so ensure that what you are eating is very fresh before you tuck in.
Street food can be one of the best ways to sample the local delicacies of a country, but in somewhere as warm as Cambodia you should consider how long food might have been sitting outside, and whether it is still safe to eat. By using common sense and just being extra careful, you are unlikely to have any problem with the food that you eat in Cambodia.
Phnom Penh is the only place in Cambodia that tap water may be safe to drink, but even then this is not guaranteed. You are advised to drink only bottled water when you are in the country or bring water purification tablets with you to use instead. You can boil water before drinking it if necessary, but this doesn’t always guarantee that what you are drinking will be safe.
Another drink you need to be wary of is homemade or unlabeled alcohol in Cambodia, which has the problem of sometimes containing methanol, which is a very harmful substance. Symptoms of methanol poisoning are similar to feeling drunk, accompanied by vision problems which can lead to blindness in extreme cases. You should seek urgent medical advice if you or someone you are with has suspected methanol poisoning, but your best bet is just to stick to sealed and branded alcohol to avoid any danger.
Crime in Cambodia
Cambodia is a country that is set up to deal with a lot of tourism, and for this reason it tends to be relatively safe for travellers who visit the country. The most common instances of crime tend to be pickpocketing or petty theft, which are easy to avoid if you remain vigilant wherever you are.
Thieves in Cambodia tend to target people whose bags are hanging from their shoulder as they walk or on their chair whilst sitting down, and many travel on motorcycles so that they can snatch your belongings and make a quick escape. Therefore, you should make sure that your valuables are never on show as you are walking anywhere, keep belongings on your lap whilst sitting down, and ensure that bags are worn across the body so that they can’t be quickly removed.
The best way to avoid having your valuables stolen is to simply not bring them on holiday at all, or to leave them securely in your accommodation when you go out. Consider wearing a money belt under your clothes to keep phones and wallets safe, and do not wear expensive jewellery or watches if you are not willing to risk them going missing.
These kinds of crimes are more likely to happen to travellers whilst you are in big cities and tourist areas in Cambodia such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Always remain aware of your surroundings and belongings to avoid becoming the victim of crime, and trust your instincts if a situation or person doesn’t feel safe.
The majority of serious cases of crime do not happen to tourists and occur instead between local residents of Cambodia. To avoid running into any dangerous situations on your trip, research which areas of the county are best avoided before you travel, never walk around a place you don’t know at night, and use your common sense if travelling on your own or to somewhere new.
There is no recent history of terrorism in Cambodia, and the country is not known for being affiliated with any political groups that are likely to carry out terrorist attacks. Whilst there have been a very small number of bomb attacks and shootings in the past, the majority of these were not linked to terrorist activity and were due to personal or business disputes.
However, terrorist attacks cannot be entirely ruled out wherever you travel, and you are advised to stay alert throughout your stay and know what to do in the case of a sudden attack. Keep an eye on Cambodia’s local news before and during your trip to the country, to make sure you are aware of any potential occasion for political unrest or danger.
British nationals are more at risk at the moment of being the victims of terrorist attacks by groups motivated by the conflict in Syria and Iraq, although visiting Cambodia does not increase your risk of this. Remain vigilant at all times when you are travelling, and trust your instincts if a situation feels unsafe.
Family Travel Safety
Cambodia can be a brilliant place to take a family, as there is a fantastic selection of things to do that many children will enjoy, such as visiting the country’s incredible ancient temples, spending time at the beach or spotting some of Cambodia’s native animals.
Khmer people are notoriously friendly and hospitable, and are particularly welcoming to children of all ages. The country has a good selection of family-friendly hotels and accommodation, and you will find that many restaurants serve Western dishes or plain food alongside local specialities, for children who aren’t as adventurous with their meals.
Whilst Cambodia is great for a family holiday, it is worth noting that the country is perhaps better suited to older children and those who are used to more adventurous holidays, as they are likely to get more out of the trip. When getting around it is safest to avoid public transport if you are with children, and be aware of the wildlife that could pose a threat to anyone in your family, such as snakes or sandflies. Cambodia can also get very hot, and you should make sure that children are always wearing adequate sun protection and stay hydrated throughout the day.
To ensure that you and your family have a safe and relaxing trip to Cambodia, make sure that your children know what to do in the case of an emergency and are able to ask for help or contact you in the unlikely event that they get lost or separated from you.
Female Travel Safety
If you’re a woman travelling solo then Cambodia is actually a really safe place to visit on your own. The country’s culture is very laid back and welcoming, and cases of female harassment, catcalling and sexual harassment towards female tourists are incredibly low.
As when visiting any country however, women are usually more at risk of coming across dangerous situations, especially when on their own. You should follow the same advice as you would whilst anywhere in the world; don’t walk around alone at night, never leave your drink unattended, be cautious when visiting less populated areas, and only agree to meet someone new in a busy and well-lit area.
It is also worth noting that Cambodia is a relatively conservative country, and that wearing clothing that covers your knees and shoulders is considered respectful as a woman. This is only enforced in religious places such as temples, but local women in particular tend to cover up everywhere they go.
Tips for Staying Safe in Cambodia
Buy the Right Travel Insurance
Wherever you travel, it is important that you are covered by comprehensive travel insurance that will cover everything you will be doing during your time in Cambodia, to protect you in the case of an emergency or if something does go wrong. Making sure your insurance covers healthcare is particularly important when visiting Cambodia, as payment will be required in advance of any treatment that you might have to receive whilst you are there.
It is unlikely that you will encounter anything unsafe whilst in Cambodia, but travel insurance from Navigator Travel will give you the peace of mind needed to really enjoy your holiday, safe in the knowledge that you are covered if anything doesn’t go according to plan.
Keep Your Belongings Close at All Times
Theft is the highest reported crime by tourists in Cambodia, and victims tend to be those who weren’t paying attention to their belongings or who were carrying expensive items in full view.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of theft or pickpocketing is to make sure you know where your possessions are at all times and keep anything that is valuable close to your body and hidden. Never leave a bag unattended, even if a local says that they will keep an eye on it, and consider leaving anything that has a high value at home or in your accommodation.
Travel insurance is a must if you are planning on bringing anything valuable with you to Cambodia, as this will cover you if anything does go missing or get stolen.
Use Common Sense
As when travelling in any country, the best way to stay safe is to be sensible and follow reliable guidance so that you don’t run into any trouble. Cambodia is a very safe place, and the majority of visitors will not encounter any kind of crime or danger the whole time they are in the country.
Trust your instincts and use common sense; if something doesn’t feel right and safe then don’t do it.
If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia then make sure that you are covered by comprehensive travel insurance from Navigator Travel, to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday that goes without a hitch.