The Sihanoukville Crime Wave

There’s a group on Facebook just for Sihanoukville expats.  Most of the content is some kind of complaint that starts a huge argument between competing businesses.  Sometimes, someone will praise a restaurant or guesthouse on their food and service, but more often then not, it’s a venue for mud-slinging and pissing contests.

Recently, there’s been a series of posts about moto thefts.  A moto theft is defined two ways:

  1. A moto carrying two people (usually boys) drives by you while you’re walking and tears away your bag.
  2. A moto carrying two people (usually boys) drives by you while you’re driving a moto and they tear away your bag.

These normally increase before holidays when families are expected to give gifts of cash to each other.  It’s a little strange for them to happen so often without any obvious cause.

After looking through the descriptions of each crime, I’m starting to think that this crime wave isn’t caused by an increasing number of delinquent youths, but by a higher number of tourists carrying around really expensive things.  Hear me out on this:

I don’t condone thievery and I know it’s a symptom of much bigger issues like poverty, access to education, parental involvement, etc.  We need to teach these boys to behave appropriately, but for the moment they’re very much part of life in Sihanoukville and you need to know of the risk when you visit.

Having said that…I firmly believe that 99% of robberies (outside of the home) are due to victim stupidity.  Here is a post from the expat page (with names and pictures removed) that exemplifies my position on this:

robberyscreenshot

  • If you’ve never been to Sihanoukville, the locals will tell you to not drive back from Otres Beach after dark.  The road between Otres and Serendipity is completely unlit with no houses or businesses.  If you find yourself out there after 7pm, get a tuk tuk.
  • Don’t travel with your valuables.  What are you doing with an iPad on the beach? Besides the high likelihood it’ll get stolen, you’re in Cambodia!  You don’t need to be checking Facebook or perusing Pinterest.  Once, I saw a woman sitting feet away from the perfectly clear ocean on a perfectly clear day, with her back turned to the water, watching a movie on her damn iPad!
  • Take only the cash you need.  I can’t stress this enough: leave your valuables in the hotel safe.  Your ATM card doesn’t need to go to the beach, and it would take 10 minutes, max, to run to the ATM, then put the card back in your room.  I know this because, if you remember, my card was lost in Bangkok with nothing but my own stupidity to blame.
  • This isn’t a low season problem.  This has been an especially fruitful low season with a lot of guesthouses being solidly booked.  No one can explain why, but with more tourists, comes a higher incidence of crime.

When I was working at Let Us Create, one of the first lessons we taught volunteers is how to carry their bag when they’re walking around.  Despite what most guidebooks and websites will tell you, don’t carry your bag across your body.  As scary as it is, a thief is going to steal your stuff no matter what.  It’s up to you whether you’re dragged along with your bag.  In fact, don’t take a bag.  If your stuff doesn’t fit into your pockets, get a small wristlet.  If your stuff doesn’t fit in the wristlet, don’t carry around so much stuff.  You wouldn’t walk around West Baltimore after 10pm, chatting on your iPhone and carrying a heavy bag full of Apple products and cash, would you?

The single most cringe-worthy story of tourist stupidity that I’ve heard made my eyes hurt from rolling so far into my head.

A guy in his late twenties came into The Big Easy to pick up some stuff one of the owners found on the street.  I didn’t ask nor did I care how this stuff ended up in the street, but this man offered up his story anyway.  He went skinny dipping on Serendipity Beach and while he was 20 meters into the water, a boy grabbed all of his stuff — clothes, phone, wallet — and hopped on a moto, speeding away.  Without looking up from my computer, I said, “So, the obvious happened?”  There was a dramatic pause and he said, “Yeah…I guess, yeah.”  You’re not getting sympathy from me, naked man.

Serendipity Beach is the most crowded place in town at any given hour.  During the day, there are bracelet sellers and beach kids scavenging.  At night, there’s taxi girls and drunk backpackers…and beach kids scavenging.  The chances of your camera and/or iPhone lasting more than one night there is slim.

I know this is a stretch, but if people would stop walking around with really expensive electronics and more than $20 in cash, not only would they not lose those expensive electronics and more than $20 in cash, but maybe thieves would stop seeing unknowing tourists as potential targets.

The fact is, it’s not more dangerous here than it is anywhere else. As long as you’re cautious, you can still go out and drink buckets of cheap liquor while enjoying the beach.  And what could make your trip a little nicer is if you can do these things without worrying about your valuables.

—————————-

One last note.  I don’t want anyone to get the impression that only Cambodian people steal.  Something that made me love Lee a little more was witnessing him in the throes of a heated argument with some disgruntled Monkey Republic guests.  Their iPad went missing from their room and they were convinced the cleaning lady took it.  Now, earlier in the day, the cleaning lady pointed out to them that it was on the bed and asked if they wanted to put it in the locker.  They said, “No, it’s fine.”  When they realized it was gone, they started berating Lee to search the cleaner because she knew they had left it there.

My head was moving left to right like I was watching a tennis match.  Finally, Lee said, “Look around you.  There’s a lot of people in this bar who aren’t brown and are far more likely to steal your stuff.  That’s why we give you lockers.”

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About Tavie Crockett

Like "Davy Crockett," but with a "T."
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2 Responses to The Sihanoukville Crime Wave

  1. Tom Williams says:

    Completely agree with this article. Don’t take valuables to the beach. I wouldn’t do it in Australia/USA, why do people do it in a poverty stricken country and not expect to get robbed?
    Maybe you could explain this to Adventurous Kate http://www.adventurouskate.com/cambodia-has-changed-and-not-for-the-better/

    She got robbed twice, being as she is a full time backpacker it astounds me how she neglected such fundamentally obvious as not leaving her stuff on the beach, and is now warning people about thinking twice about visiting Cambodia.

    • After reading her post, I think there’s little I could say to sway her from her new view. She makes it seem like Cambodia is for hardcore adventurers, when I walked by a Western family of four today. Businesses here have formed the Sihanoukville Tourism Association, spearheaded by the owners of Coolabah Hotel. They’re working with police to catch petty thieves, and the chief is even posting photos of the thieves on the expat page. Sure, it’s a way for cops to pat themselves on the back, but it’s making a difference. I had lunch at Coolabah other day, and their guests were leaving their rooms with simple, opaque plastic bags with their belongings, reassuring the owners their iPhones were in their rooms. The fact is, if you practice responsible tourism, Cambodia is a place you’ll fall madly in love with.

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