Written by Guyanne S

Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination for backpackers and tourist groups alike. It is home to the largest religious site in the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat. The majestic temples, built between the 9th and 14th century, expand over 160 hectares and remain relatively untouched from urban development. The closest town, Siam Reap, is a tourist hub full of hostels, restaurants, markets and brilliant nightlife. Tourism has increased from just over one million in 2004 to over six million in 2018, boosting Cambodia’s economy massively.

Despite successes in the tourism industry, Cambodia is still recovering from genocide led by a merciless Communist regime, called the Khmer Rouge, who executed over 1.5 million Cambodians between 1975 to 1979. The devastation and displacement have impacted the lives of many Cambodians over generations. As a result, criminal activity and drugs are rampant in Cambodia, particularly due to its close proximity to the Golden Triangle, a large area in South East Asia that produces opium.

In 2017, the Cambodian government launched an anti-drug campaign that led to over 17,000 arrests. The large number of new arrests has caused overcrowding in Cambodia’s largest prison, Prey Sar Prison. Reports suggest that there are over 25,000 inmates crammed in a facility fit for 18,000. Cells typically hold between 40-80 inmates who each have about 0.7 square meters of space each.

Life in Prey Sar Prison is dire. Due to a lack of space, clean water and food, disease is rife. At night, they must sleep on a hard, concrete floor. Meals consist of a bowl of rice and soup, leaving inmates to source their own from of protein. According to a former inmate, it is not uncommon for inmates to eat insects and rats that make their way into their cells.

Inmates that misbehave can be restricted from leaving their cell. Many of the inmates have not even been convicted of their crimes and are awaiting their trial. Cambodia has a shortage of pro bono lawyers, meaning many detainees are held in prison for extended periods of time. According to the FCO, foreign embassies have limited power to ensure fair trials. If you are found guilty of a crime, your visa will be revoked, and you will have to serve the full time of your sentence in Cambodia.

Despite governmental and grassroot efforts to improve conditions, many of the prisons still lack plumbing, electricity and ventilation. Prison officers rely on expensive and unreliable generators that result in frequent power-cuts and shortages. The prisons can charge inmates to access basic goods and services. A wife of an inmate says she has to provide US$150 a week so her husband can access goods, such as food, drink and electricity.

Cambodia’s beautiful landscapes, ancient sites and lively cities are absolutely captivating, but being captive in Cambodia is a brutal ordeal. When travelling to Cambodia be sure to look at the FCO’s information on local laws and customs to ensure you do not get in any trouble. To find out more about travelling to Cambodia check out FCO’s travel advice.








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