Security: the country with 10 million land mines
I think that for both tourists and volunteers, one thing, which is very important, is security. For me, it was one of the main factors when choosing a country for volunteering, especially because I was a girl and because I was travelling to a very far country, for a very long time and completely on my own. Although I consider myself quite a brave person, after being kidnapped by a taxi driver in India, I didn’t want to take any more chances!
Although initially I was a bit nervous and did not really know what to expect, Cambodia turned out to be a very safe country. I could not even think that something bad could happen to me. In the evenings, I was teaching at university, so many times I would walk home after 9pm or 10pm, but I never experienced any incidents, even though some of the streets were completely dark. I never had any incidents with the drivers either. On contrary, some of them became my good friends and would always stop to chat with me on the street.
Before leaving to Cambodia, I read many forums, and everyone, including women travelling or living in the country, was claiming that it was very safe. I got an impression that it was perhaps a bit less safe in the capital and I read that there had been some incidents, when NGO workers would get attacked while getting the money from an ATM, but I stayed in Phnom Penh for too short to be able to comment on that. It does look more crowded and active in comparison to Siem Reap, although I think it should still be much safer than Delhi or even Bangkok.
Although the crime rate in Siem Reap seems to be very low, it does exist – just like anywhere else in the world, well, except perhaps from some Arabic countries, where crime rate is close to zero. We had to lock our bicycles, because they had been stolen in the past, and during holidays, someone even tried to break into the office. One volunteer had her handbag grabbed by a man passing on a motorbike. The worst crime that I heard of while living in Siem Reap was the rape and slaughter of women, who happened to live not far from the PAGE boarding house. That definitely does not sound very encouraging, but I can assure you that it is not as bad as it may sound. There are still many people sleeping with their doors unlocked, not to mention that some people do not have any door at all! In my opinion, as long as you do not take any unnecessary risks and do not step on an unexploded landmine, you should be fine!
I was of course kidding – landmines are probably the last thing that you should worry about. Although there are about 10 million of landmines left and although it is one of the most land-mined countries in the world, all of them are way beyond the reach of tourists (or volunteers for that matter) and don’t pose any threat. Any guess, what is the most land-mined country in the world? It is Egypt! The number of land mines in Egypt is more than a double of that in Cambodia but that does not stop the tourists spending their vacations there, does it? Most of them probably even do not know that they are there!
Most of the land mines are deep in the jungle and although they do affect some local people, who are short of land and move to the new fields before they are clean, you can visit all places of interest without any fear. During my stay in Cambodia no one even mentioned landmines as if they didn’t even exist. Official sources claim that land mines are completely removed in Siem Reap, and I guess there is no reason not to believe that. They have been removed by a local man Aki Ra, who actually had to put them during the war, when he was a child. Later, he started neutralizing them and even opened a landmine museum, which you can visit on your way to Banteay Srey temple. There are also some NGOs, who search for the mines and neutralize them. Unfortunately, it is a very slow and expensive process. Maybe those, who have left them, should come back and collect them? That would be nice! Do you not think so?