As 10 foreigners found out, it appears dirty dancing can get you locked up in Cambodia. The arrests came in January 2018, after police raided a party at a villa in Siem Reap and found them “singing and dancing pornographically”. Photos released by Cambodian police show the fully-dressed tourists imitating sexual positions on the floor. The 10 foreigners were charged with producing pornographic pictures and materials, and face up to 10 years behind bars.
When in Cambodia, drive motorbikes at your own risk. A drunken road accident is likely to result in you praying for the police to appear since, more often than not, you’ll find yourself quickly surrounded by an angry mob of locals. If you’re lucky and no one is hurt, you’ll have to pay for any damage caused – for the wrecked vehicles, to appease those involved, and to pay off any police who turn up. If someone has been seriously injured, then you’ll find yourself in much more trouble.
Here’s an activity that may see you escape time behind bars, but it will definitely result in you getting arrested and sharply booted out of the country, as several Westerners discovered. In 2015, a series of episodes saw five tourists strip down to their birthday suits and pose for photos at the sacred site – another definite no-no in this predominantly Buddhist country.
It’s illegal to take ancient religious artefacts out of Cambodia, so you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble with customs if you’ve managed to buy one from the black market. In 2015, five locals were sentenced to seven years in prison after stealing Buddhist relics.
This is another act that will land you in serious trouble and should be avoided at all costs, as should anything that can be regarded as derogatory to Buddha, such as defacing a picture – while this probably won’t see you put in prison, it will land you in a lot of trouble. In 2014, a Dutch woman avoided arrest by leaving the country after destroying a statue at Angkor Wat, which she claimed was “fake” and “didn’t belong there”.
It bodes well to remember you’re a visitor to this country, and the bounty of smiles can quickly turn into snarls if you try to mess with a local. While this is more likely to get you seriously beaten than put behind bars, if the police turn up, things could get messy. A common error booze-fuelled tourists make, which gets them into fights, is trying to short-change a tuk tuk driver. Don’t do it.
Again, if you’re caught stealing, you’ll probably end up praying for the police to save you, because public justice is commonly served in Cambodia. A mistake often made by travellers is running up tabs at guesthouses and eateries and not paying. Cambodians’ vast network of connections ensures many are caught and face nasty consequences.
Con artists are rampant across Cambodia – and usually come in the form of foreigners. From those who have way over-stayed their visa trying to blag some cash from innocent tourists, to more elaborate plots hatched by criminal gangs. Either way, get caught and you’ll get locked up.
A common misconception is that drugs – especially cannabis – are legal in Cambodia. They aren’t, and if you’re caught with them – depending on the drug and quantities – you’ll either end up behind bars or slapped with a hefty bribe to steer clear of a spell in the country’s notoriously grim prisons.