Getting robbed in Phnom Penh

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The last picture of Luke and his “murse” together in Vietnam.

While travelling South East Asia, we’ve felt safe most of the time. We had read and heard some of the horror stories of Phnom Penh — bag snatching, muggings, and scams — but we felt that our general cautiousness and not cutting corners on safety was all that was necessary. Those stories can be heard from almost any country you visit, after all.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we checked into our guesthouse and headed towards the night market. We were starving, so we just dumped our bags and headed out. As we stopped to check directions on our phones, Luke suddenly got shoved and a guy on a motorbike ripped his side bag off of him and drove off. Luke was okay and luckily his bag was cheap and it was a clean break of the strap. He had his wallet in his pocket, his passport at the front desk, and his cell was in his hands — thank goodness. It was definitely a fluke since he normally keeps everything in the bag. But, we soon realized that we had forgotten to take out my passport. Just like that, my passport was gone.

We went back to the guesthouse and the front desk staff gave us a “meh, it happens” sort of reply. We went to the police station, which was a hole in the wall that had zero actual cops in it. Someone called the police, and two eventually showed up. An officer took our statement, stopping us constantly to ask the most redundant questions. Things like, ‘so have you been to the musuem? Where were you headed? Which shoulder was the bag on?’. We knew enough about Cambodia to know the cops weren’t going to be much help, but for insurance purposes, we needed the statement. We didn’t sleep all night.

The next morning, we went to the Australian embassy (the closest Canadian embassy to us was in Bangkok) and began the process. The costs and hassles we were facing were insane. I was informed that I’d need to buy an exit visa, since my Cambodian visa was in the passport, which would take about four days in Phnom Penh. Then, I needed an emergency travel document (a one-time passport, essentially), which would take me to one place — either home or Bangkok. In Bangkok, I would then need to apply for a whole new passport at full cost and wait a month for it to come, since I needed it to continue our travel plans. All in all, this was starting to look like a month and a half ordeal plus about $1000, when we factored in the accommodations in places we hadn’t intended on staying in, the unplanned flight to Bangkok and so on. We were devastated. The silver lining was that thankfully it was just one passport and no cell phones, cash, or cards.

As we got back to the guesthouse after many tears, I checked my phone and had four emails from people commenting on my personal website. Three foreigners told me that a local guy posted on a Facebook group that he had my passport and left a number. They had Googled my name and found my website and Twitter. We quickly called the embassy, cancelled the paperwork, and got a tuk tuk driver to call the guy and arrange for us to meet him. We waited for an hour in the tuk tuk for the guy to finally call us again. Finally, we get a call and head down a sketchy alley way. We had read online about cases of extortion when passports had been stolen, so we came empty-handed other than a small bit of cash. We were still a bit nervous about  to what to expect.

Finally, we found the right house in the heart of a Cambodian slum, and the man came out with his entire family. He was the sweetest guy and he told the tuk tuk driver that he had found my passport scattered on the ground with a few papers. He just wanted to make sure it was me before giving it back, which he promptly handed right over. We offered him $40 as a thank-you and he humbly accepted it and offered us a ride back on his motorbike. It was an extremely emotional day for me to say the least.

The kindness of strangers was overwhelming. Our trip got to go on completely uninterrupted (other than some shaken nerves) and to this day, I can’t believe it worked out the way it did.

We got lucky, but honestly if you’re visiting Phnom Penh, please be extra careful. On the Phnom Penh Facebook group, there were three additional posts about people being robbed in the same way as us that week. Our friends commented similar feelings towards the city – it’s normal to see motorbikes drive by slowly while conspicuously checking out what you have on you. You can never be too careful anywhere — wear a money belt (uncomfortable and not stylish, I know) and hold your purse/backpack while you’re walking. Lastly, always keep your passport locked up at your hotel and never get too comfortable.

With that, we take a massive sigh of relief and thank the kind locals of Cambodia for showing how great this country can be, despite a few bad seeds.

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