So you’re travelling the world and unfortunately become the victim of a theft. Not nice! Now let me make it clear that I hope no-one over needs the info in this post! However I think it’s really important to know the procedure for if you’re the victim of theft while travelling, specifically in Cambodia. (Just because that’s where it happened to me).
Mind the Bikes!
Sadly Phnom Penh is notorious for motorbike thieves. I have been twice and both times have witnessed a theft. The first time I was in a tuk tuk with three male friends, one wasn’t holding on to his bag and a bike went past the side of us and just grabbed it from his knee. (The reason I specified male friends is because it isn’t just females they target, this occasion was 3 boys and 1 girl travelling together.) A motorbike can get through the traffic far quicker than a tuk tuk so they got away easily. Luckily they picked the worst bag to try and take as all that was in it was a bottle of water and a half empty suncream. My friend didn’t bother reporting it as there was nothing of any value.
I have always been an especially Cautious Cathy while travelling, something my friends have always found hilarious! I love a bum bag for my valuables. When I have my camera which doesn’t fit in it, I’ll take a cross body bag which I will also keep hold of with my hands.
What Happened to Cautious Cathy?
This week I was walking down the street with a male and a female friend. I was in the middle, bag across my body and I was holding it in front of me. They still managed to spot me as a target and drove straight past me, ripping it off me on the way past. Luckily the bag snapped and I wasn’t injured other than a few little marks on my neck. I’ve got friends who have been pulled over when their bags haven’t snapped!
Let’s face it, we are well aware we won’t get our things back, and the culprits probably won’t even be looked for. At this point all we need is a crime reference number from a police report so we can speak to our insurance.
It happened to me around midnight, and after going back to the hotel they were no help at all. We were expecting there to be a number similar to 999 in the UK but there wasn’t, the night porter rang the local police station (after us begging him to help) and just shrugged and told us it was closed.
My hotel room key was in the bag, so when I mentioned this he gave me a new key and a bill for 10 dollars … not particularly tactful if you ask me!
Realising there was nothing we could do we went to bed. By the way this is the simplified version, we were awake for over 2 hours trying to convince the hotel staff to help or show any interest. This including asking the night porter, security and a few strangers who were on the street and came over to see what was happening! This will differ per hotel of course, and I have stayed in hotels before that have gone above and beyond to try and help you. I was just especially unlucky on this occasion!
What to do first:
In a normal situation the first place you would head to is the police station. Trust me, this isn’t a priority. Police stations close at 5pm and as far as I could find, there isn’t an emergency number – not for tourist theft anyway! Go back to your hotel / hostel and get yourself together. Call the bank to cancel any cards and call your insurance to notify them you’ll be making a claim. They will advise you need a police report obviously so just let them know you’re doing that next.
Which Police Station do I Visit?
You need to find a map and figure out exactly where the theft happened. Once you have that you need to find the police station closest to that area. The police in Phnom Penh work by local area, so if you were to go to the police close to your current location they will send you away to a different station. The ‘this isn’t my problem’ attitude reigns supreme within the police in Phnom Penh!
As I have mentioned in my post about travel apps I couldn’t cope without Maps Me, and on this occasion it certainly saved my sanity!
The day I tried to report my mugging I left the hotel at 11am, the closest police station was the one closest to where the incident had happened as I had been walking home. It was a block away. They still sent us away saying I needed to go to a new station.
I got to that second station and they sent me back to the first station … this was looking like a long day ahead! After being passed around various stations I decided to contact the British Embassy to see if they could help. It took two hours of waiting outside to get in as they were closed for lunch.
They advised me I would probably need to bribe the police and that they were corrupt and wouldn’t be interested. I knew this I just needed a bloody crime report!
Try and Find Someone Who Can Translate:
Very long story short, and 7 police stations later one policeman spoke excellent English and really got involved. He sent me on a motorbike with his colleague to show him the exact place it happened. This was so he knew which police needed to file the report. Then he put me and my friends in a tuk tuk with a fluent English speaking driver, and his mate on the motorbike escorted us back to the other side of town to the first station I had gone to!
A few stern words between my two escorts and the police in the station and we sat down to file the report. My big police escort on the bike left and the tuk tuk driver stayed to translate. It was now 4pm and we had a flight to catch at 7pm so I was getting a bit panicked!
We got the report filed but then had to go to a second police station to have it signed off by someone higher up, it was 4:15pm and the stations closed at 5pm so we had plenty of time. We arrived at the second police station I had been to that day … great! And they said they were sorry but they were closing at 5pm so wouldn’t have time until tomorrow.
Step forward my English speaking driver! A bit more shouting and we sat down to get the report stamped. I forked out 2 dollars for photo copying my passport, 10 dollars for ‘processing’ and a further 20 dollars for the police escort who had driven me around earlier (and left so I am pretty confident that money wasn’t going to him!)
We got the report stamped at 5pm on the dot, so we had to race to the hotel, pack my things (I had missed check out which was at 12 midday) and got a taxi to the airport. Again, the hotel lacked any sensitivity – knowing I had spent 6 hours racing around the city to report a theft they charged me an extra night in the room and asked again for me to pay the lost key charge. I paid the room but refused the lost key charge, as it wasn’t lost it was stolen. They just nodded and wished us a safe onward trip … all very strange!
Stand Your Ground:
If I knew that after 6 hours, 8 police stations, 3 embassy trips and a load of money on tuk tuks would result in me being back at the first police station I had started in I would have stood my ground. Basically the police are lazy and uninterested in tourists. They don’t understand that if tourists stop visiting the economy will suffer.
If you know you are at the closest station to where the incident happened you should refuse to leave until they give you a form. The best thing to do it find someone who speaks English to come with you, look for tuk tuk drivers, perhaps someone from your hotel. This was invaluable and if we hadn’t found one nice policeman who introduced us to his friend I don’t think I’d have got my crime report done.
The Embassy were kind, and could advise on what to do but couldn’t leave the premises to try and help, so unless you loose your passport I wouldn’t bother going to see them.
I need to report a theft – the lowdown!
- Go back to your hotel, or somewhere you feel safe and calm down, you’ll be in shock and angry! (But hopefully not hurt)
- Call the bank and your insurance company to report the theft.
- Try and find a local who speaks fluent English to come with you – this couldn’t be more helpful!
- Go to the closest police station to where the incident happened, they will only make a report if it is on their ‘patch’.
- Explain calmly and clearly, you might have to repeat the story 100 times today, so stay cool – losing your temper will get you nowhere!
- Take cash, you’ll need to pay them if you want to get any thing done.
- Remember they close for lunch, usually between 12 and 1, so go before this. It could literally take all day so don’t put it off.
- If you know you’re in the right station, do not let them fob you off! If I knew how it worked I’d have been a bit tougher and not wasted a whole day running around the city!
I hope this helps anyone who has a bad experience, as I said, this happened to me in Phnom Penh and so is very Cambodia specific! I just hope I don’t need to find out how the system works in any other countries!
Stay safe everyone x