Is Cambodia safe for women travellers is one of the first questions I get asked by women planning to travel here. Cambodia is actually one of the safest countries in the world – based on data, not anecdotes from travellers and bloggers.
Is Cambodia safe for women travellers is one of the first questions women who are enquiring about our Cambodia culinary tours and writing and photography retreats ask me.
My cheeky response is that the most dangerous place for a female traveller in Cambodia will probably be a cooking school – depending upon their knife skills. After that, a street food stall – if they don’t follow our tips for avoiding food poisoning.
The women you see in the image above are just one of many groups of women travellers who have participated in our Cambodia culinary tours and our travel and food writing and photography retreats in recent years.
Apart from a few bouts of ‘bodia belly’, nothing has ever happened to any of the women on our Cambodia trips, and a number of the women have then gone on to travel in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand afterwards without any issues.
However, I’m getting asked if Cambodia is safe for women travellers so often that I thought it time to address the question here with facts and figures, not anecdotes, as most travel blogs and sites do. I also wanted to consider how this perception that Cambodia is unsafe has come about.
But note that while I’m speaking to females here – as they’re the ones who keep asking me if Cambodia is safe for women travellers – the data I’m drawing from does not discriminate. So is Cambodia safe for women travellers or not? Let’s look at the facts.
Is Cambodia Safe for Women Travellers?
I could start by saying that nothing has ever happened to Terence and I (touch wood!) and we’ve lived in Cambodia for almost five years. We’ve not been robbed and never been victims of violence. We take the same precautions that we do everywhere and feel just as comfortable here as we did when we lived in the UAE, one of the world’s safest countries. We actually feel safer here than we do in parts of Australia, our birthplace.
I could also tell you that I know that road accidents are actually the highest cause of deaths in Cambodia. Everyday we can see for ourselves that the traffic is chaotic. We know that people drive without licenses or without having had any driving lessons at all. We know that there’s definitely a chance of you taking a tumble from your bicycle as I’ve witnessed foreigners fall from or get bumped off their bikes by vehicles (generally, big Hummer-like four-wheel-drives) numerous times.
But I’ve also done some research that confirms that traffic accidents remain the leading killer in Cambodia. According to the well-respected VOA news site, “in 2015 traffic accidents killed 2,265 people and injured more than 15,000, 40 percent of whom were seriously injured.” Those statistics came from the director of Cambodia’s Institute for Road Safety although worth noting that there was a 10 percent drop in deaths in 2016 compared to 2015.
But I know that’s not what I’m being asked. I know that after searching online for “is Cambodia safe for women travellers” you’ve read the blog posts that appear on the first pages of Google where bloggers have described their personal experiences or experiences of their friends and based on these express their opinions that Cambodia is more dangerous than it was whenever they last visited – despite the fact that they were only here for a short time on each occasion and they’ve done no research and made no reference to actual data.
So I know your concerns are to do with your personal safety, bag snatchings, petty theft, and violent crimes, because that’s what you’ve read about. So let’s look at the reality of the situation in Cambodia, and let’s look at it from a global perspective, rather than place importance on a few bloggers ill-researched remarks based on their random travel experiences.
How Safe Is Cambodia for Travellers?
Cambodia is actually one of the safer countries in the world and in fact, it’s safer than the USA and UK when it comes to the number of homicides, the incidence of petty crime, and likelihood of a terrorist incident.
Smaller Cambodian cities such as Battambang and Siem Reap are safer than the capital, Phnom Penh, as you’d expect anywhere in the world, but Phnom Penh is still safer than most cities in the USA. In fact, Phnom Penh has the same ranking as the USA’s safest cities with the lowest homicides, Austin and San Jose.
This is why I’m always so astonished when I get asked the question, is Cambodia safe for women travellers – or for any travellers for that matter – so let’s look at a couple of more reports based on real data.
Cambodia Is Safer Than Thailand and the USA
One of the most trusted reports that is released every year is the Global Peace Index. In the 2017 report Cambodia was name one of the top five risers – when it comes to peace, not war or crime! It was #3 of five top risers, including Sri Lanka and Portugal, of 93 countries that become more peaceful. There were 68 countries that became less peaceful.
Cambodia ranked at #89 of 163 countries on the Global Peace Index. Neighbouring Laos came in at #45 while Vietnam was at #59 and Thailand at #120, so why is that I never get asked about how safe Thailand is for women travellers. The #1 question I get asked is where to eat in Thailand. Worth noting that the USA is #114 on that list, while the UK is at #41, Australia at #12, Canada #8, and New Zealand #2.
Another of the most respected lists is the World Economic Forum’s biennial Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report – this year published in April 2017, based on 2015 stats, which means they took this very seriously and spent a lot of time gathering and analysing data.
Sources include comprehensive national statistics from governments as well as NGOs, and organisations involved in collection and analysis include the World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel & Tourism Council, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while Deloitte verifies it all.
The report has a section on safety and security that takes into account common crime, violence and terrorism, as well as the extent the police can be relied upon to protect people from crime.
So let’s first consider that Southeast Asia had over 104 million international tourists arrive in 2015 and the region’s tourism industry experienced an average growth of 8%. Impressive. Cambodia was ranked as the 8th most tourist friendly destination in Southeast Asia
Based on that report, which ranked 136 countries, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper created a map of the safest countries in the world, which is worth looking at – when you’ve finished reading, please. The colour-shaded map uses a scale from ‘least safe’ to ‘most safe’.
Cambodia is on the safer side of the average, along with neighbouring Vietnam and Laos, and, to give some global perspective, the USA, France, Italy, the UK, and Iran.
Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea are a shade closer to the ‘most safe’ end of the scale, sharing the same ranking with Australia, Canada, Spain, Morocco, and Ireland.
Indonesia and China are not as safe as Cambodia, and are one shade closer to the ‘least safe’ end, while Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines are even less safe, just one shade from the ‘least safe’ countries in the world.
The safest countries in the world? Finland at #1 is the safest, followed by the UAE, Iceland, Oman, Hong Kong and Singapore, Norway, Switzerland, Rwanda, and Qatar at #10.
Colombia, at the bottom of the list, at #136 was the ‘least safe’ (i.e. most dangerous) country in the world – despite what anecdotal evidence on travel blogs overwhelmingly suggests – followed by Yemen at #135, then El Salvador, Pakistan, Nigeria, Venezuela, Egypt, Kenya, Honduras, Ukraine, and the Philippines at #126.
The middle rankings included Vietnam (#57), Laos (#66), France (#67), Italy (#70), Montenegro (#75), UK (#78), and the USA (#84) just below the Gabon (#80), Algeria (#81) and Namibia (#82). Interestingly, Iran was at #87 and Cambodia at #88.
Countries that were not as safe or secure as Cambodia included Indonesia (#91), Tanzania (#92), Bolivia (#94), China (#95), Argentina (#97), Ethiopia (#99), Nepal (#100), Brazil (#106), Peru (#108), Mexico (#113), India (#114), Turkey (#116), and Thailand (#118), and the Philippines at #126. Then we’re at the bottom of the list at the ‘least safe’ end.
You can access the full list of ‘safety and security’ rankings here.
If we dig deeper to look more closely at the stats, we learn that Cambodia owes its middle ranking not because of the level of crime in the country, but due to the (in)ability of police to respond to crime. Cambodia is at #118 of 136 countries when it comes to the ‘police’s ability to enforce law and order’.
On the list of ‘homicide’ rankings, which ranks countries by a score based on homicide rates (per 100,000 population), Cambodia has a rank of #50 of 136 countries, with a score of 1.8, sharing that place with Belgium, Kuwait, and Malawi. That means Cambodia has roughly the same amount of deaths by murder or manslaughter as Belgium, but how often do women travellers ask if it’s safe to travel to Belgium? We wrote a guidebook to Belgium once. Based on that experience, I would have said “none”.
In Asia, there are higher homicide rates in Malaysia (#54), Bhutan (#59), Sri Lanka (#64), Taiwan and China (#66), India (#69), and Thailand at #76 – a place that Thailand shares with the USA, with a score of 3.9 for both countries. Again, I don’t see that rate, which is worse than Cambodia’s, stopping women from travelling to the USA, Thailand, or even Bhutan (land of the happiest people on earth).
Central and South American and African countries have the highest homicide rates, while the lowest number of homicides are in Cyprus, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Austria, Bahrain, Indonesia, Switzerland, and Madagascar. Interestingly, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the UK are at #23 and Australia at #29, a spot it shares with Denmark and Morocco, while Canada and Vietnam share #40.
When you click through look at the ‘trends’ column for Cambodia and you’ll see that homicides are on a very dramatic downward trend – in stark contrast to the claims by travel bloggers that Cambodia is becoming more dangerous.
As for the incidence of terrorism, Cambodia is at #42 whereas France is at #110, the USA at #114 and the UK at #117, which means you have far less of a chance getting injured in a terrorist attack than you do in France, the USA and UK.
Are you a traveller who has been to Cambodia? Did you ask the Internet “is Cambodia safe for women travellers” before you travelled? What did you learn and what was the reality of your experience? We’d love to hear from you. We’d also love to hear from the people who actually live in Cambodia.