Important notices to keep in mind before your Cambodia trip (part 1)

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This travel advice contains new information on international surrogacy. Important things to keep in mind when you travel to Cambodia.

>> Travelling Thailand for first timers

Summary

  • If you plan to volunteer in Cambodia, ensure that your volunteering experience is safe, ethical and worthwhile. Research your host organisation thoroughly, especially any overseas organisation offering opportunities to volunteer with children.

  • ‘Snatch and grab’ crimes against foreigners by thieves on motorcycles are frequent and have sometimes resulted in injuries to victims. Assaults and armed robberies against foreigners have also been reported.

  • Foreigners have been the target of sexual assault in Cambodia, particularly in Sihanoukville, Siem Reap and other tourist locations. Victims are often targeted at night, when intoxicated and travelling alone.

  • Be wary of accepting invitations from strangers. Criminals representing themselves as friendly locals sometimes invite tourists into private homes where they are coerced into playing card games. Travellers have lost large amounts of money, sometimes at gun point.

  • Penalties for drug offences, including those involving “soft drugs”, are severe.

  • Avoid all political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. If you appear to be involved, you could be arrested and deported.

  • Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, dengue fever, hepatitis, tuberculosis, typhoid and rabies are common.

Cambodia culture via the education abroad network

Entry and exit

Visas

You’ll need a visa to visit Cambodia.

If you are travelling to Cambodia for tourism, you can apply for an electronic tourist visa (“e-visa”) online through the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. E-visas are valid for entry through Phnom Penh International Airport, Siem Reap International Airport, Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), Poipet (Banteay Meanchey) and Bavet (Svay Rieng). E-visas are not supported at other entry points.

Tourist visas are also available ‘on arrival‘ at air and land entry points that are open to foreigners, including those where e-visas are accepted.  

Tourist visas are valid for thirty days. For longer stays, or if you are travelling to Cambodia for a purpose other than tourism (such as work or study), you’ll need to arrange a visa in advance through the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cambodia.

Day trips (arriving and departing on the same day) are not permitted except when arriving and departing via Phnom Penh International Airport.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Cambodia for up-to-date information.

Land border crossings and visas on arrival

Cambodia-Vietnam Border

There are several legal international border crossing points open to foreign travellers along the Cambodia-Vietnam border, including at Bavet (Svay Rieng), Kaam Samnor (Kandal Mekong), Trapaing Sre (Kratie) and Phnom Den (Takeo).

Tourist visas can be obtained on arrival at these border crossings during opening hours. Visas for Vietnam are not available at the border.

If you plan to enter or exit Cambodia via a land border crossing, first confirm that it is open to foreigners and, if required, that visas on arrival are available. Entry and exit conditions change regularly.

Cambodia-Laos Border

The Lao side of the border crossing at Dong Krolo (Stung Treng) is often closed to foreign travellers with little notice. The border crossing is in an isolated location 50km to the north of the Cambodian provincial centre of Stung Treng. It is not serviced by public transport, although rudimentary and unreliable private motorbike and truck services run to Stung Treng.

Tourist visas can be obtained at the border, but services are unreliable and you should consider other options. Visas for Laos are not available at the border – see Laos travel advice.

Cambodia-Thailand Border

Six legal international border crossing points are open for foreign travellers on the Cambodian-Thai border at Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), O Smach (Oddar Meanchey), Poipet (Banteay Meanchey), Prom (Pailin), Daung (Battambang) and Chorma (Oddar Meanchey).

Tourist visas can be obtained on arrival at these border crossings during opening hours. If you are travelling to Thailand for tourism, you may be eligible for a 15-day “visa exemption”

Cambodia Visa stamp via 123 RF

Money

The official currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel but US dollars are also legal tender. You can use Riel for small transactions but you’ll need US dollars for most purchases.

ATM facilities are widely available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang and Sihanoukville. Cashing services for credit card cash advances and traveller’s cheques are available for a fee at banks in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Battambang.

Take enough US dollars in good condition to cover basic travelling expenses. Sellers may refuse to accept notes that are dirty or torn, or of high denominations. Counterfeit bills are in circulation in Cambodia.

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Some operators may ask to hold your passport as a deposit or guarantee before hiring vehicles to you. Passports are valuable documents that should be protected – don’t provide your passport as a deposit or guarantee under any circumstances. Offer a photocopy or another form of ID instead.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy for advice.

By law, you must, as soon as possible:

  • report a lost or stolen passport online or
  • contact the nearest Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.

If your passport is lost or stolen in Cambodia, you’ll also need to:

  • get a police report – you must apply in person at the tourist police station closest to where the incident occurred
  • get a replacement passport – contact the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, and
  • get an exit visa from the Cambodian Department of Immigration – approval for an exit visa will take around three working days from when you submit your police report, passport and exit visa request.

Make sure you allow enough time to obtain a new passport and exit visa before your planned departure. If you don’t have a valid visa in your passport, your departure may be delayed, resulting in fines and/or detention.

Visas – overstays

Make sure you have a valid visa for the duration of your stay in Cambodia. Overstaying your visa is a serious offence: you may not be allowed to leave Cambodia until you pay a fine or serve a prison sentence.

If you overstay your visa by less than one month, you’ll probably get away with paying the fine at the airport on departure. If you overstay your visa by more than one month, you risk severe penalties, including imprisonment, deportation and/or being placed on an immigration blacklist (preventing you from returning to Cambodia).

Check your visa validity dates carefully.  If your visa is issued outside Cambodia, it may provide for a validity period that is in excess of thirty days. This validity period refers to the period in which you are able to commence your thirty-day visit to Cambodia. It does not extend the time you are permitted to stay in Cambodia beyond thirty days. Tourist visas must be renewed if you intend to stay in Cambodia more than thirty days. Tourist visas can be renewed once.

Safety and security

Crime

Theft

Snatch-and-grab‘ crimes against tourists by thieves on motorcycles are frequent. Many foreigners have been injured in these attacks, particularly when walking along footpaths or travelling on motorbike taxis or tuk-tuks. Some thieves use knives to cut bags as they snatch them.

Travellers have had valuables, such as money and passports, stolen from locked hotel and guesthouse rooms, particularly in cheaper accommodation. Items have been removed from luggage stored in the luggage compartments of buses, including on bus journeys between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap or Sihanoukville.

Bag-snatching, pick-pocketing and other theft can occur at any time, particularly in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.

There have been reports of people being robbed after withdrawing cash from ATMs. ATM skimming machine scams have also been reported.

  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables, including your passport, in a secure location.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch.
  • Walk on footpaths (where available), away from the curb, with your bag held on the opposite side to the traffic.
  • If travelling by tuk-tuk, use those with barriers (such as curtains or netting) covering the passenger sides to reduce the opportunity for thieves to snatch-and-grab your possessions.
  • When walking along roads or on footpaths, walk against the traffic where possible and be careful when crossing roads.
  • Don’t leave your passport or other valuables in luggage stored under busses or away from you on trains or other transport – keep valuables on you and out of sight.
  • Don’t tempt thieves – avoid wearing expensive watches, jewellery and cameras.
  • Pay close attention to your personal possessions at all times, particularly items that can be easily grabbed.
  • Avoid using ATMs on the street – use ATMs inside hotels, banks and shopping centres wherever possible.
  • Take care not to expose your PIN to others, particularly when using ATMs.

Civil unrest and political tension

You should avoid all political gatherings, protests and demonstrations can turn violent, sometimes resulting in injuries and deaths. Local police and security forces have responded with force on occasion, and may not distinguish between demonstrators and bystanders. Large crowds present an added safety risk. Foreigners involved in protests and demonstrations may face arrest and deportation.

In Phnom Penh, possible sites for rallies include political party offices, the National Assembly building, the Prime Minister’s residence (by the Independence Monument), Wat Phnom, the Phnom Penh Municipal Government Office (also known as Phnom Penh City Hall, located on Monivong Boulevard, near Freedom Park), Phnom Penh Municipal Court and other government and military buildings or compounds.

Roadblocks restricting access through the city can occur with little warning.

Outside of Phnom Penh, land and border disputes along the Cambodia-Vietnam and Cambodia-Thailand borders have resulted in demonstrations, violence and cross-border fighting. Ongoing border demarcation disputes and alleged encroachment by Vietnamese onto Cambodian land have fuelled protests in Tbong Khmum and Svay Rieng provinces and disputes in Kandal and Ratanakkiri provinces.

There is an ongoing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over their shared border. The dispute resulted in fighting as recently as April 2012 and has resulted in fatalities. If you visit the Thai-Cambodia border area, you could encounter landmines and unexploded military ordnance. You could also encounter armed conflict, particularly in the areas surrounding:

  • the Preah Vihear temple (known as Khao Pra Viharn temple in Thailand), which is located between Sisaket Province in Thailand and Preah Vihear Province in Cambodia.
  • the Ta Krabei (known as Ta Kwai temple in Thailand) and Ta Moan Thom (known as Ta Muen temple in Thailand) temples, located in Oddar Meanchey province.

Demonstrations have also occurred along the Cambodia-Thai border, most recently in Poipet City.

Tourist attractions and border crossing points in these areas can be closed with little or no notice.

  • Stay well clear of all demonstrations, political events, protests, large-scale public gatherings and roadblocks.
  • Avoid Freedom Park (also known as Democracy Park) in Phnom Penh and surrounding streets.
  • Keep an eye on the news and other sources for advice of possible unrest, protest locations and road blocks. Avoid those areas.
  • Take official warnings seriously and follow the advice of local authorities.
  • Be particularly vigilant in the lead-up to and during religious or national festivals, days of national significance and commemorations.
  • Show an appropriate level of respect, particularly in areas where commemorative activities for the royal family or religious activities are taking place.

Cambodia protest via Cambodia news

Gun violence

The level of firearm ownership in Cambodia is high and guns are sometimes used to resolve disputes. Gun shots have been fired into businesses, and shootouts have occurred. Traffic disputes have also resulted in violence involving weapons. Bystanders can get caught up in these disputes. In 2015, a tourist was injured in a shooting near Olympic Market in Phnom Penh.

Armed robberies and home invasions targeting businesses or business owners have increased significantly across Cambodia. Assaults and armed robberies against foreigners have also occurred, and foreigners have been seriously injured and killed.

Late night assault and robbery against foreigners by motorcycle taxi drivers also occur. Areas frequented by tourists and expatriate residents are particularly targeted, including the Riverfront area, Tonle Bassac and Boeung Keng Kang 1 (BKK1) in Phnom Penh, as well as the town of Sihanoukville and surrounding beaches.

  • Be alert to danger at all times, especially after dark.
  • Avoid travelling alone at night and limit night-time travel to well-lit public areas, especially around Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Travel in groups wherever possible.
  • Don’t travel by motorcycle taxi at night.
  • At night, travel by car is generally safer than by motorcycle, tuk-tuk or cyclo (cycle-rickshaw).

Scams

Tourists may encounter scams and associated serious criminal activity in Cambodia. Criminal rings operating in Cambodia, particularly in Phnom Penh, often use a friendly person to approach tourists and invite them to a private home on various pretexts. Some tourists have been coerced into playing card games and have lost large amounts of money, or have been forced to withdraw money from an ATM or shop, often at gunpoint.

Online relationship and friendship scams also occur. Some Australians involved in such scams have been asked to carry items concealing narcotics out of Cambodia.

Credit card and ATM fraud, including the use of ‘skimming’ machines which can store card data, happens in Cambodia.

  • Be wary of accepting invitations from strangers, including to visit private homes.
  • Never carry parcels or luggage for others.
  • Check for skimming machines before using ATMs.
  • Take care not to expose your PIN to others, particularly when using ATMs.
  • Monitor your transaction statements.

Sexual assault

Foreigners have been the target of sexual assault in Cambodia, particularly in Sihanoukville, Siem Reap and other tourist locations. Victims are often targeted at night, when intoxicated and/or travelling alone.

Parties, including organised dance parties on islands off the coast of Sihanoukville and other locations, may place you at increased risk of sexual assault (as well as robbery, injury, death, and loss of belongings, including travel documents). These islands are often isolated and access to medical or emergency assistance may be limited or non-existent. Excessive consumption of alcohol may make you more vulnerable to violent crime, including robbery or assault.

  • Consider pre-arranging transport with your accommodation when heading out at night.
  • Stick with people you trust at parties, in bars, nightclubs and taxis.
  • Take particular care when consuming alcoholic beverages in popular tourist spots.
  • If you become a victim of violent crime, especially rape, seek immediate medical attention – HIV/AIDS is prevalent in Cambodia. Also contact the the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh as soon as possible.

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(To be continued…)