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Travel Guide > Asia > Cambodia > Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Health & Safety

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As in most developing world countries, avoiding cold, cooked food is desirable to obviate stomach upsets. Salads are also suspect at times. Surprisingly, ice is usually OK as it is made from filtered water in factories, and then sold to shops/restaurants.

Bring your largest pair of sunglasses, as Phnom Penh is dusty year-round (even to a degree in the wet season), and riding round in tuk tuks means a lot of the dust ends up in your eyes.


Phnom Penh is a noisy city. Unrestrained blasting of car horns and a city-wide construction boom put strains on the sanity of the visiting foreigner. There is barely a location in the city that is not within earshot of sledgehammers and power saws. Stay away if you are noise-sensitive - or at the least bring earplugs, earmuffs, an iPod, or whatever it takes.


In seeking medical help in Phnom Penh, the groundrule should be ascertain that the doctor has a Western medical degree. If not, get out of there: local training is poor, and treatment is sometimes fatal. The medical standard of the local hospitals can be very basic as well. This also applies to Calmette Hospital - the number one hospital in Phnom Penh. If you need to see a doctor it is recommended you go to one of the international clinics. They can also arrange transfer to a hospital in Thailand if necessary.

The cost of a blood test for malaria in Calmette Hospital is US$27.50 (April 2009).


Crime-wise, Phnom Penh has a bad reputation. In terms of armed robbery you are safer now than in the 1990s - but not exactly safe. As population and incomes have grown, so has vehicle ownership - but not driving skills - meaning the city's roads are its most dangerous places. Augmenting that danger are the present waves of bag-snatching, and of brick-throwing at foreigners.

Brick attacks

According to The Phnom Penh Post there has been a string of unprovoked brick attacks on foreigners along Riverside in 2010. The brick is generally aimed at the head, and is thrown from a moving SUV. The Post reports eight injuries to date, though the toll may be higher. Police have denied that these attacks are occurring.

Armed robbery

Phnom Penh still has more bad guys with guns than most Asian cities. Official figures (likely underestimates) report an average of 50 incidents per month (Cambodians and foreigners), leading to 5 deaths and 10 serious injuries. Most commonly Cambodians are victimised for their cell phones or motorbikes. Phnom Penh's Expat Advisory online forums reports a resurgence of armed robberies of foreigners - usually women - involving motorbikes with young men who carry knives or guns. (Often around Streets 51 and 57 in the wealthier area of town - but it can happen anywhere.) Avoid walking in quiet areas at night, try to find a dependable tuk-tuk driver, and don't carry unnecessary valuables or cash.

Bag snatching

In recent times Phnom Penh has endured a wave of bag-snatching. The Phnom Penh Post reports - and many foreign residents attest to - a large upsurge in this crime, both in broad daylight and at night; in crowded streets and deserted ones alike. The victims are almost entirely Western and Khmer women riding in tuk tuks or on motorbikes (either as passengers or drivers).

Sometimes these incidents are violent, with women dragged off moving motorbikes and thrown to the road. In November 2007, a 28-year-old French woman named Aurelia Lacroix was killed in one of these attacks - though Aurelia's death may just be the tip of the iceberg.

When targeting pedestrians, thieves grab bags, or snatch mobile phones and purses out of hands.

Unsafe sex

There are dozens of girlie bars catering to foreigners in the cross-streets going back off the river. Freelance girls are picked up at establishments like Heart of Darkness, Sharkys Bar, Riverhouse Lounge and Martini Bar.

Thus another Phnom Penh danger is HIV, which surveys reveal is carried by about one in eight of Cambodia's female sex workers.

Additionally, certain high-risk sexual behaviours are emerging in recent Cambodian population studies: nearly 100% of men who have sex with men (MSM) also have sex with women; a new class of 'hidden' sex workers, such as beer girls and park-based prostitutes, is often out of reach of educators; there is very low condom-use among 'sweethearts', and many Cambodians have multiple sweethearts in one year; male clients persuade or force prostitutes not to wear condoms. (This happens to 67% of Cambodian prostitutes every week.)

NGOs have got the HIV rate down from around 2% to around 1% over the past decade. But it's possible these emerging behaviours will cause that to reverse.


The worst area is the tourist strip along the river - where some Phnom Penh residents won't venture, for that reason. Here drivers tout not only rides, but massage, sex and drugs. A polite refusal will generally guarantee being left alone (though tourists not accepting rides are sometimes abused outside the Foreign Correspondents Club). Older or disabled beggars in the market or other places will be happy to accept half or a quarter dollar (2000/1000 riel), and some older people might even invoke a blessing on you for your gift. Younger kids with modern needs may want a dollar, or to sell you a (pirated) book for around five dollars. A bit more worryingly, gangs of Vietnamese boys in this area sometimes cause trouble by pickpocketing and physically abusing tourists.

Some foreign visitors have cut short their stays in Phnom Penh after a day or two of such harassment. The DRP ('Don't Reward the Pests') movement is growing among Phnom Penh residents: adherents do not engage touts and drivers who harass them, but seek out those who wait to be approached.


Having said all that, the greatest danger in Phnom Penh is none of the above: it is getting hit by a motorbike - or thrown off one - in the city's unpredictable traffic.

Cambodia has arguably the worst drivers in Asia. Although traffic tends to be slower than Bangkok's and less dense than Saigon's, it is literally all over the road: two streams going in each direction at any one time; plus endless switching from one stream to the other.

Crossing the road in this city requires constant 360 degree vigilance.

Using motorbike taxis, or riding your own motorbike, in the stead of tuk tuks, will save you a few dollars a week. However an airlift to a Bangkok hospital will quickly make that seem like a false economy. Tuk Tuks, however, can often give a false sense of security. They are usually very cheap motorbikes with substandard brakes pulling incredibly high loads, and if they need to stop quickly, it will often not be possible. Minimise the risk by choosing sober drivers, vehicles in good condition, and not overloading.

Clinics in Phnom Penh

Hospital American Medical Centre
Provides health care of international standard.
in Phnom Penh
Doctor Dr Marissa Regino-Manampan
in Phnom Penh
Doctor International Sos Medical And Dental Clinic
Has local and foreign doctors providing the whole range of standard health care as well as a 24hr emergency service. This clinic is experienced with foreigners and with travel insurance requirements and will ensure that all documentation for insurance claims are... more
in Phnom Penh
Doctor Naga Clinic
US$30 for foreigners, US$15 for Khmers. Some of the Khmer doctors here are foreign-trained and competent - but a little abrupt and uncommunicative (in the Asian doctor style). The two French doctors are both competent and communicative, and tend to be favoured b... more
in Phnom Penh
Hospital Royal Rattanak Hospital
The second hospital of BDMS (Bangkok Dusit Medical Services PCL) in Cambodia. Private hospital open since March 2008,. The hospital provides full operating secondary health care services including : Emergency medicine, General Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Orthopedi... more
in Phnom Penh

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