Cambodia
Comments 22

Why Cambodia Made Me Want To Give Up Travelling

And before everyone who has been and had the most wonderful time starts berating me, this is just my honest personal account of the horrors I saw in Cambodia. I’m sure that it has some redeeming qualities but it is quite obvious to me now that it is completely unsafe for a woman to travel there alone.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh from Bali I was devastated to begin with, I came from a beautiful paradise to the ugliest city I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to Hull), so I wasn’t impressed. However, I’d heard great things from so many people about Cambodia so I was optimistic about my trip.

One thing that struck me was the filth and the poverty, I’m not a naive person, nor a pampered western traveller, I’m happy to slum it, but this was next level. I happily spent a month in India and while incredibly dirty, the people there still took pride in their surroundings as much as they could – and all the mess just made the place seem vibrant. In Phnom Penh it’s just gross, homeless people line the streets, picking through rubbish.

After about 8pm everything closes, there’s not even a McDonalds here. It’s just a ghost town. I felt unsafe walking and driving around during the day but I was explicitly told not to walk the streets alone after dark, ever, by several people. Also every time I got my phone out for directions someone would run up to me, or a waiter in a restaurant would say “quickly, put your phone away, it will get stolen” so i was too scared to even take out my mobile.

After lamenting this place on Facebook several people recommended I go down to Sihnoukville to the beaches, so I got the first bus I could down there. A Giant Ibis which was actually great, wifi, plug sockets and good air con, but very expensive at $12 for a 4 hour ride (to compare, in Thailand the same length journey would set you back £3).

When I arrived in Sihnoukville the aggressive tuk tuk drivers were there ready to rip me off. $20 for a ten minute ride, I knocked him down to $10 but that’s still more than I would pay back home in London. But when you’re tired and extremely hot, you just give in. I only had a $50 bill and the tuk tuk driver had no change (how?! If all your fares are $10 upwards) so I went into 8 shops asking if they could break it. They couldn’t. The tuk tuk driver started shouting at me and waving his arms and saying ‘fuck you’, ‘fuck you’ so i just gave him the $50.

Looking around me I just burst into tears. It was, and excuse my French, the biggest sh*thole I’ve ever seen. It was like City of God but with all the redeeming bits missing. A dirt track with dog sh*t, broken bottles and all manner of litter, which was actually a paradise compared to the ‘beach’… I’ve never seen so much rubbish and debris on a beach. It was deplorable, how can people treat a place like that? It looked like Haad Rin after the Full Moon Party. But at least in Thailand they clean it up. There were fag ends and nappies floating in the grey water and a lot of very old white men in the sea with young Cambodian kids…

There were men having a cock fight down the street, people from the food vendors washing up utensils in sewage puddles and packs of dogs fighting – encouraged by the staff at the hostel I was meant to be staying in.

The hostel Wish You Were Here (yeah f*cking right) I’d booked had a sign outside that read;

“Hostel closed 2pm-5pm for staff party. Sorry not sorry”.

I took this to mean they might have a skeleton staff but no it literally meant ‘we’re all getting f*cked up in the bar so you can wait three hours’. I was hot, tired and just wanted a lie down. But alas I couldn’t so I just read for 2.5 hours as the staff got steadily more drunk and high. They were play fighting and screaming – God knows what they were on but they were wired. As they were all older white men it was very threatening. They kept going into the street and grabbing dogs and trying to make them fight.

At 5pm I asked if I could check in to which one of the men replied “we’re full. But you can stay in my room” and all the staff were laughing along, making lewd comments. I’ve never felt that threatened or unsafe, especially in a hostel. I’d never noticed my solo female traveller status as much as I had then. I just thought ‘I cannot risk staying in this hostel’. (I’ve since contacted Hostelworld who I booked it through to alert them to this hostel, I honestly would feel terrible if even one more female traveller went here and felt as scared as I did, their job should be to make you feel welcome, not to make you feel almost certain you’ll get raped if you stay there).

So I got another $50 tuk tuk to Utopia where a girl I met on the bus there was staying. I was getting progressively more fearful of Sihnoukville as it was getting dark and I kept seeing old western men with very young girls, the whole place is just seedy. At Utopia I was  greeted by a dirty old French man with no top on who was so rude to me I had tears in my eyes, he kept barking orders at me ‘sit’, ‘wait’, ‘come’. He showed me the ‘dorm’ available which had about 20 P.E. mats crammed into one room, meaning I’d be sleeping about 1 inch from God knows who. No air con… I just broke down and begged him to please get me a bus, taxi, whatever out of there. I honestly would have paid $1000 rather than stay there. I paid $20.

I managed to get the 7pm bus to Phnom Penh, I got to the bus on the back of a motorbike with my 20kg backpack and rucksack as well as a small girl on the front. I was just crying thinking I was going to just fall off the back and die, my bag was so heavy and I was scared for the little girl, so I didn’t dare move. At the bus station there were yet more drunk old white men – the kind you actively try to avoid by crossing the street normally (but here they’re on both sides of the street).

When I got into Phnom Penh at midnight I was still scared. I had nowhere to stay and no wifi and after asking what few people I could find on the street about licensed taxis (they don’t have them) I got in the least dodgy looking tuk tuk and asked him to take me to the only address I knew, the first hostel I stayed in. After ten minutes I knew he was going to rip me off, it wasn’t that far. I kept asking where he was taking me and he just kept driving and talking on his radio. I wanted to jump out but at that time of night there’s just homeless men on the streets and I’d have been attacked within a second.

After a while he slowed down as another tuk tuk driver pulled up and stared talking to him in Khmer. The driver said ‘you get out here. Pay me now. Pay me now’. I tried to give him 10000 Riel which I think is about $2.50 and he got really angry, talking to his friend and laughing in a really aggressive way. He said ‘you have more money. Don’t lie to us, we know you do’. At this point my big backpack is still in his tuk tuk and I have a backpack on with my laptop and basically whole life in it and my passport (which actually wasn’t in there, more on that later). So after crying and arguing with them I just gave them all the cash in my wallet and said ‘please leave me alone’. I don’t even know how much money I gave them.

So now alone, tired, not having eaten since 8am, with no money and no wifi I walked the streets alone looking for *anywhere*. Everything is closed in Phnon Penh at night. I finally came across a restaurant and begged them to let me sit there and use their wifi to contact my mum (I know, but I knew no one in Cambodia and I just needed to hear a familiar voice and get some advice. My mum would rather I contact her than suffer alone). Their wifi didn’t work and they tried to get me into another tuk tuk. Big mistake, I think I had a panic attack… I haven’t ever cried like I did then. As far as I was concerned I was never getting in another tuk tuk in this country.

An American man must have heard my cries and he asked if I needed help. He introduced himself and said he taught English there and knew somewhere I could stay. He seemed trustworthy but also looked terrifying – like a big Hell’s Angel. But I just relented and followed him – I’d resigned myself to dying.

He led me round the corner into the busiest street I’d seen in Phnom Penh – it was poppin’ which made me feel much safer. He then led me to the grubbiest, seediest hotel and said this was the place. Sadly (sense the sarcasm) it was full but they let me sit in the lobby and use their wifi. After five minutes and lots of old drunk white men coming in with anorexically thin Cambodian girls in stripper heels, I realised I was sat in a f*cking brothel. This street was lively because it was the red light district… it seems 90% of tourists to Cambodia are here for girls or children.

After speaking to my mum she booked me into a western 4* hotel and I got a taxi there. Finally I felt somewhat safe. When I checked in though and they asked for my passport, I realised I didn’t have it. You can imagine how I felt – my legs buckled. I’d rented a scooter and given it as a deposit and when I returned my keys they forgot to give it back to me (and I forgot to ask). Thankfully I had a copy of my passport so I could check in. I just drew a bath and sat in it for an hour. I couldn’t even sleep, I was thinking about the scary tuk tuk driver, the b*stards at the hostel in Sihnoukville, my lost passport, all the gross sex tourists here.

Anyway, I got my passport back and I’m in the process of booking a flight straight out of this country.

Before you judge me and call me a drama queen, which admittedly I can be, but I’m also a strong girl, who happily travels alone usually and I know how to stick up for myself – just remember, I’m still a 5’4” woman travelling alone in an incredibly dangerous country. I would never ever want my daughter, sister or friend to come here alone.

I was so pissed off at the people who had recommended Cambodia and especially Sihnoukville to me; but then I realised they were all either men or had travelled in a group. 

When travelling my priority is that I’m safe and I was not safe in Cambodia. Also I want to have fun of course, but I had the worst time. I saw the pit of humanity, I of course knew there was corruption, poverty and the chid sex trade in some places in the world… I just never thought I’d see it quite so up close and personal. Especially as Cambodia is quite firmly on the backpacker trail. Although having now read a few blogs I think it’s gotten so much worse over the last few years. At my hotel I told the receptionist about the tuk tuk drivers who drove me into the middle of nowhere and robbed me and asked if I should inform the police and he just laughed and said “they won’t help you”. As a solo traveller I do not want to be in a lawless country where crime is rife and there’s no safety net or recompense.

Anyone reading this who has been to Cambodia and loved it, I’m jealous of you, I wish I had even one hour of chill or a sliver of a good time but I didn’t. Sorry. Please don’t slag me off or laugh at my experience because I guarantee if this happened to you when you were all alone at the other side of the world from all your friends and family you’d feel the same.

I’m sad to say that this experience has really knocked my confidence when it comes to travelling, I’ll certainly be researching anywhere I go a lot more that I have previously. It’s a shame because I found India, Thailand and Bali to be the most wonderful countries and I felt very safe at all times… perhaps I got complacent by the time I got to Cambodia but people I know well never mentioned how much criminal activity goes on here.

I’m going to try and chill out on a beach for a week or so but I just want to go home to be honest – it’s hard to describe in words just how scared I was in Cambodia. I honestly thought something really bad was going to happen and I knew if it did no one would help. So yeah, I’m massively put off travelling alone for the time being. Which is a shame because I’m a brave, ballsy girl but this experience has made me think twice. One thing is for sure, I will NEVER go back to Cambodia.

Please if you’re a girl planning to travel there alone, don’t.

Fellow travel blogger and solo female traveller Absolutely Lucy also had a similar experience in Cambodia. Read HERE.

FOLLOW MY ADVENTURES ON INSTAGRAM FOR YOUR DAILY DOSE OF TRAVEL! There’s no photos of Cambodia because I was too scared to take out my phone and it was also hideous.

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22 Comments

  1. stuart says

    mmm…how’s life going for you now?…cannot say I enjoy reading that but it was interesting…I spend most of my time in thailand…have been to camdodia several times over the years going way back to 2000 when it was really was like the wild west…anything goes place….over the years I’ve seen phnom pehn devolve into the terrible dangerous shitpit that it is today…and I refuse to subject musrlf to that experience any more…I’m better than that…people with enough self respect morality or dignity just wont step into places such as these if they know enough..if they go once then they dont go back…all of life is a journey…danger increases due to lack of familiarity…but can also be in the wrong place at the wrong time in your town..your own street…even within your own home (the worst injury I ever sustained many years ago was in a bathroom!!! haha)…not pulling your leg on this one but a strong buddhist amulet would have helped enormously….I wear all the time..even while sleeping…the angels associated with the high power piece which has been blessed by a holy monk will help the wearer in many ways…even with timing…not just with where to step…too deep to get into here…I have so many protection mantras for safety and provention of weapons..knife..gun misfire that the confidence shows thru and I pass thru potential dangers….the person thinking evil thoughts will feel bad and either change their mind and walk away or be prevented from touching you at all…I’ve had a thai man come up to me wanting to fight…I have stood there saying nothing…he has been egged on to hit..then shaking..walking away..then coming back again…and again having to walk away…no words from me…basically if you are wearing a good amulet you cannot be harmed…but you yourself should be a good person….we get issues arrising due to karma…lessons to be learned…but places in the world are becoming so dangerous that sporadic unplanned crap breaks out and whoever is there can suffer…hey I’ll let you know…the greatest jouney you can take is within you…by meditation..mantras…breathing method..using visualization..concentration…you can come to the point where all is meaningless and you ate nobody..therefore can be anybody and fit in with any situation…the fear you experienced is part of the demons game…the darkness that rules most of humanity..fear..anger..hatred..violence…..the buddha was accosted by it…he continued his practice and it left him…people have said you project strength to avoid being attacked but for a woman surrounded by males a bit difficult unless the cultivation is there…anyhow….look into buddhist amulets….I have an original luang phor daeng….his amulets have caused guns to misfire…people unharmed in road accidents…many incidents…the energy is very hot….I actually produce quite a bit more than this from reciting all my protection mantras for an hour every day…dont know if you’d want to go so far as have a buddhist tattoo done…I met a cambodian woman travelling around south of thailand which is way more dangerous than north…doing it solo..she looked more lome brazilian and permanent home was italy…a backpacker so open to some trouble…very attractive…could feel a degree of heat coming off her…warding off energy..asked her what she had…she lifted up her shirt to reveal a tattoo done by ajarn noo ganpai in bangkok..dont know the cost …I have no tattoos…the mantras and just one high power amulet are enough…they increase your internal energy..your shakti…life force..whatever you term it….power can be increased so much that anyone with you will agree with you and you can influence them just by your thought…now if your energy is high…when lower energy person comes in your space with negative thought or harming thought about you…you will sense it…your thought about them causes shock wave in them…they feel nervous..uneasy….even under attack and will move away due to physical distress caused by spiritual means…if they are clever and also have mantras or some black magic…they will try not to show what they feel and just go along with you in cooperation….they sense the danger if they cross the line with you so they keep it level and the exchange takes place without a hitch…its a science really….I’m confident I could walk into a gang neighbourgood and not be attacked…the high protective power gives you a presence that is relaxed..a mystery….in the mind of potential attacker..how can one be so cool and calm wihout having something big..some weapon?….if they come close with negative thoughts the energy will attack them..racing heart..shortness of breah…sharp pains in heart…feeling weak..dizzy..serious sudden health issues….a lot of criminals have intense energy…they can intimidate others…if they encounter something they silently acknowlege as a greater force..they back off and there is some respect and dialogue…criminals feel each other out in ways others cant understand…anyhow…peace…continue the journey with knowledge

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  2. I am in Cambodia right now and although I have only been her a week and a half, I don’t see myself staying long. I too came from Bali, and WHOA what a (horrible) difference! I made the mistake of heading directly to Sihanoukville (as referred to me by a friend) from Phnom Penh. I took a $50 taxi ride there as I was told a bus would take 7 hours. I know now that is not the case, but lesson learned. Sihanoukville was a COMPLETE shit hole, you’re absolutely correct. My last night there, I was ready to book the next flight out as soon as I got back to Phnom Penh. IMO Phnom Penh is slightly better, as I do end up feeling a bit safer with loads of people around. But I am constantly being told to hide my phone and make sure my bag is carried on the front, things I’ve never worried about in other third world countries like Honduras.
    I would definitely NOT recommend travelling Cambodia solo, particularly if you are female.

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    • I’m glad you agree! Lot’s of people do not believe me. Anyway, at least you can say you’ve been there. Hope the rest of your travels are better. I’ll check out your blog. THANK YOU so much for reading. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, I’m out of Cambodia now and back in Bali 🙂 Siem Reap was my last stop before heading to Thailand, and it was a night and day difference from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, though I’m sure Angkor Wat had something to do with it. Still as a whole there is a LOT of crime in Cambodia right now and definitely not the safest place for a solo female traveller.

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  3. Reading this broke my heart a bit. I traveled to Cambodia as a solo female backpacker in 2011. It was safe then and I was out and about both during the day and night. It is so sad to know that this is no longer the case. Sihanoukville always seemed a bit shady to me, so I never went. I traveled to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. While reading this, I said to myself over and over.. this can’t get much worse. Yet, it did. I hope that this doesn’t throw you off of having a great time in other Asian cities.

    In the Backpacking community, there are so many posts commenting on how safe travel is, and how everyone should just get out there and ‘Do It’. Stories like these never get as many views and shares. Thank you for being brave enough to put this out there. I’ve had a horror or two myself as a female on the road. It sucks. Keep your chin up and stay safe!

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  4. Patty Roth says

    I’m Cambodian and I WOULD NOT recommend anyone especially foreigners to travel alone in Phnom Penh nor Sihanoukville (I called It a pedos’ paradise). If you want to travel alone and it’s your first time,,,then Siem Reap should be your destination. And do a little research before coming, some areas are still dangerous to go alone at night. anyways I’m planning to go solo to Siem Reap this weekend!!

    About Tuktuk drivers, I don’t ride them anymore in the city. A lot of them say the price after judging how rich you are, well you’re foreigner, no wonder u got ripped off. Taxi costs 2500riel which is around $0.65 per kilometer in Phnom Penh.

    Sorry to hear you have had a bad experience staying in Cambodia 🙏

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    • Hi, thanks for your comment. Since going to PP and Sihnoukville sooo many people have told me how dangerous it is. However before then I had several people reccomend these places to me! Glad I know now. And I can give the advice to only go to Siem Riep. x

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  5. Very interesting to read.
    I want to go to Cambodia one day but I’ll defiantly do my research more before I go.

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  6. I’m so shocked that ANYONE recommended Sihanoukville to you! It’s fucking horrible. I got mugged there and was so shocked by the blatent paedo’s wandering the streets that I immediately left. Awful vibes. Feel the same about Phnom Penh too. Just not safe at night on your own. However, I had a great time in Siem Reap and really liked it, so that was its saving grace! Glad you’re getting out soon 🙂

    p.s. I loved Luang Prabang in Laos. It was like a chilled out haven after crazy Cambodia!

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    • I’m shocked as well, it’s left me questioning people’s sanity. It’s just the worst place ever, regardless of the crime and paedos, it’s still the dirtiest place I’ve seen in my life. Yuk. Ah well at least I’m out now! I’m going to Borneo. 😊 X

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  7. Wow! I am so sorry this happened to you. I actually just wrote a blog yesterday saying if I could go anywhere in the world, I would go to Cambodia. I knew it had its issues, but had no idea it was like this! Be safe on the rest of your journey and thanks for sharing your story.

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  8. Wow, what a story! We’re in Vietnam soon for a few weeks before stopping off in Siem Reap, Cambodia for a few days just to see Angkor Wat. We did consider stopping in Phnom Penh too but decided against it due to lack of time-thank god by the sounds of it! I’m glad to hear that you made it out the other side in one piece; it definitely sounds like a twisted city. My cousin really enjoyed travelling Cambodia and being a lone-female she never felt uneasy at all on her stays so hopefully that was just bad luck our your part. The cleanliness and lack of hygiene is just unacceptable though- ill definitely be considering this when choosing places to eat!

    However, that being said… you knew how heavy your backpack was when you got on the scooter, you arrived in an alien city at midnight with no accommodation and you were easy pickings for the Tuk Tuk drivers- this would have happened anywhere. For somebody so eliquant in your language and clearly well traveled these are all massive oversights!! I’m shocked…. but also hooked! I’m not trolling- I’m just compelled. Great blogging! Cant wait to read more! 🙂

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    • It was a series of unfortunate events. I had to get on the bike with my bag so I wouldn’t miss the bus out of Sihnouksville. And yes I had no accommodation planned but I just felt so unsafe that I panicked and made myself more unsafe. In my defence in most capital cities there’s a 24hour McDonald’s or something where you know you’re safe and you can use the wifi. But yes I am a cautionary tale! Don’t make the mistakes I did. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  9. 😖 so sad to hear that!
    I’ve never been there, but I’d love to! Now, I’m sure I won’t do it alone.
    Hope you feel a little bit better now!

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  10. It’s a shame you had such a bad experience in Cambodia. I have traveled solo through Cambodia many times and have never felt unsafe, but I will admit that Sihanoukville is super seedy- my least favorite place there. If you ever go back try the islands, or Kampot. Anyways, sorry to hear about your bad trip!

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    • I was obviously just unlucky but I still don’t like the culture in phnom penh and sihnoukville – just too seedy for me. I don’t think I’ll ever come back – there are so many amazing places where I can spend my hard earned cash – and hopefully not be robbed of it. A few people have said to go to other places in Cambodia but I’m just too fearful now. Even if it wasn’t scary, the places I’ve seen are so grotty that I think I’d still leave anyway, I know it’s an underdeveloped country but they could still take pride in it. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  11. Never knew that Cambodia is so unsafe! You’re lucky to have survived out of all this shit! Have a safe return!

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