Cambodia’s history is hardly peaceful but today’s traveller has little to worry about.
For a poor country and one recovering from civil war and the devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge regime, it’s far safer than you might expect.
Landmines are the first thing that most visitors think about.
There’s no denying that Cambodia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world but tourists are at virtually no risk of being blown up by a mine provided they use even the smallest amount of common sense. Ask yourself as you’re walking around if it’s really likely that you are the first person in decades to touch this piece of ground?
Areas like Angkor Wat have been cleared and as long as you exercise caution and refrain from running into the forest you will be fine. Stick to beaten paths.
The only time a tourist might be at risk would be in the north and west of the country, exploring remote temples. In this case, you should have a guide. For a cyclist, landmines mean you should be a little careful when you wander off for a bathroom break – find a farm track instead of running into the forest. Wild camping in the woods is also not an option but in Cambodia you’ll probably be hunting for a hotel every night anyway.
Like anywhere, you should be cautious about flashing valuables in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, where it’s not unknown for a camera to be snatched by a passing motorcyclist. We had no problem out on the main streets in the evening but you should take a tuk tuk if you’ve got a long walk or if it’s very late. Besides the small risk of being robbed, you could easily trip on the poorly maintained and sometimes unlit roads. Wherever you are, don’t leave valuables in your hotel room. In villages you’re more likely to be suffocated by children yelling ‘hello’ than you are to be robbed or hassled.
To keep your bicycle from being stolen, look for a hotel with a guard stationed outside. Few hotels will let you take your bike to the room or park it inside during working hours but most will have a guard to watch over it and take it inside if the reception closes during the early morning hours. In the rural areas, hotels will often have a parking area for your bicycles. The risk of theft in the countryside is low so you don’t have much to worry about in any case.
Perhaps the biggest risk to cyclists in Cambodia comes from the food and water. In larger towns it’s possible to find busy restaurants but in many smaller spots and out-of-the-way places it’s hard to find people cooking fresh food. Sometimes the only option is a lukewarm or even cold buffet. Several pots will be on a table and you can take your choice to eat with rice. The food may have been there for hours. That said, we were never sick from these buffets but the potential certainly exists.
You definitely should not drink the water, which is among the least monitored and lowly rated in the world. Cheap drinking water in bottles is available everywhere (sometimes it can be hard to find larger bottles) or you can bring along a filter to save yourself some money and the world some plastic. Any water or ice offered to you in restaurants will be purified. Otherwise, sample Cambodia’s fantastic sugar cane juice or try a tukaluk, a fruit shake mixed with ice and condensed milk.