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.