Written by Kiana Salamian

Nestled in between Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, Cambodia has always been a popular destination for Brits, particularly amongst students and those on a gap year, as its central location and low prices make it an easy addition to any trip around the region. It’s no wonder 162,000 of us decided to visit it in 2017 alone. As well as its practical benefits, Cambodia’s French colonial towns, the white sand beaches of Koh Rong, bustling nightlife in Phnom Penh and ancient Khmer temples at Angkor Wat means that there is always plenty to pack into a trip to this small south-east Asian country. However, whilst it can often feel like you’re in paradise when visiting Cambodia, ignoring some of its strict laws and customs can quickly bring your trip crashing back down to reality.

What should I avoid doing in Cambodia?

Even though it’s often very hot and humid in Cambodia, make sure you pay attention to the dress requirements at Angkor Wat and other religious sites. Though you probably will end up being very sweaty and sticky, all skirts and shorts must be below the knee and your shoulders should be covered. If you choose not to obey these rules, don’t be surprised when you’re not admitted into any religious sites.

Once inside, don’t become the next person to join the latest “naked tourism” trend of posing in the nude at these sacred sites. A surprisingly high amount of people are actually silly enough to decide to do this and not only is this hugely disrespectful to the local culture, doing this can also lead to you being charged with crimes such as ‘trafficking pornography’ and ‘exposing sexual body parts’, facing fines or time in prison, being deported from the country and even banned from ever re-entering Cambodia.

In terms of partying, since Cambodia’s beaches, towns and cities are lined with an endless sprawl of bars and clubs, you probably will end up going for a night out at least once on your trip, but you do need to be mindful of a few things if you decide to dance the night away. In some bars frequented by foreigners, police have reported several cases of drinks being spiked and violence in the evening, so always keep your drink in sight and leave a bar or club at the first sign of trouble.

No matter who offers them to you or how tempting it may be, don’t ever do drugs or be in possession of them in Cambodia. Doing drugs in Cambodia has not only led to the deaths of several foreigners due to issues with their purity, but penalties for drug possession, manufacture and dealing, including Class C drugs, are very severe, with sentences ranging from 1 to 10 years in prison. As well as that, since the UK has no prisoner transfer agreement with Cambodia, expect to serve the entirety of your sentence out there and to be deported as soon as it’s up.

What happens if I get arrested in Cambodia?

Should you end up in a Cambodian prison, expect conditions to be very different to those found in the UK.

Firstly, pre-trial detention can last for many months, as the legal process is very unpredictable, lacks transparency and can be open to influence from powerful political and business interests in the country. Then if you are convicted of a crime in Cambodia, expect to receive a very lengthy prison sentence.

In terms of actually serving that sentence, prisoners in Cambodia are often forced to live in squalid, crowded conditions, as prisons regularly hold up to three times the amount of inmates that they were designed for. Adding to that, inmates routinely endure poor food and brutal punishments, so Cambodian prisons are definitely somewhere you want to avoid ending up in at all costs. 

So should I just stay at home and never travel abroad?

No! Cambodia is still an amazing place to visit with beautiful landscapes, friendly people, tasty food and a fascinating history, just do your research before you go. Check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Travel Advice page for specific information about Cambodia (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/cambodia) and the Travel Aware site (https://travelaware.campaign.gov.uk/) for general travel tips. As long as you’re aware of the local laws and customs and abide by them whilst away, your trip should be trouble free.