Road leading to Angkor

Almost Robbed in Cambodia

Dec 6, 2014 - Carlos

After finally making it to Siem Reap, our most anticipated city in Cambodia, we rented bikes on the second day and rode to the ticketing office for Angkor Archaeological Park. Halfway to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap, the ticketing office allowed us to get park passes the day before we planned on actually visiting the park. One main paved road connected Siem Reap to Angkor. The ride was smooth as the road was flat with lots of trees on both sides that provided shade. We made it to the ticketing office without any problems and even though there were some lines, we got our passes pretty fast since it was the end of the day. Park passes were sold in three different packages: 1-day (USD 20), 3-days (USD 40) and 7-days (USD 60). We got the 3-day park pass as we wanted to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

Since it was already after 5pm, entrance to the park doesn’t count towards a day on the park pass, so we went for a sneak peek. It was a great chance to see the sunset as well as what we should expect for the next day. I won’t get into details here as we will extensively cover Angkor Wat in a later post, but it was so beautiful. We rode back to Siem Reap really excited for the day to come.

The next morning, we dragged ourselves up at 4:40am, went to the bike shop, got our bikes and went off to see the infamous sunrise at Angkor Wat. We had some saddle soreness from the day before, but not nearly as bad as after Hualien. Even though we brought flashlights with us, the way was still pretty dark, turning the previous easy ride into a more challenging one. After passing through the ticketing office on the side of the road leading to Angkor Wat, we kept riding for maybe another 200m, when it happened.

At around 5:40am, Julie was riding her bike about 5 meters in front of me. I heard a motorbike approach me, thinking it was one of the many regular motorbike or tuk-tuk that passed by, taking other tourists to the sunrise. It passed me at a high speed. Then suddenly out of nowhere, when they were right beside Julie, the man sitting on the back of the motorbike reached over and tried to snatch Julie’s bag that was in the front basket of the bike. From my point of view, I heard Julie scream and saw the motorbike drive off at full speed.

Fortunately, we covered our asses – we had wrapped our bags’ straps around the bike’s steering bar, thus all the thieves got was a frustrated attempt of robbery. They only pulled the bag out of the basket, but could not take it away since it was secured to the bike. We stopped a few meters from where it happened and I made sure Julie was OK and nothing was taken from us. In less than two minutes, there was a police officer right across the street from us telling us he heard us screaming and asked what happened. It turns out police camp out along the road overnight for this exact purpose. We explained the situation and he immediately sent radio messages to other policemen in the area. Literally a bunch of policemen came out from the trees. He told us to keep riding, since nothing was taken.

After the initial shock, we rode on for a few more minutes. As we approached an intersection with a dirt road, we heard some shouting noises followed by a motorbike approaching to merge into the main road, which by this point was blocked by policemen. The policemen shouted for the motorbike to stop, but of course they ignored the warnings and kept driving. At this point, I saw that the police had laid a wire on the road, tied to one of the trees. I shouted at Julie to stop the bike immediately.

As the two suspects merged into the main road and tried to speed away, the police pulled the wire, bringing the two men to the ground and pointing their guns at them. Seeing the danger of the situation and the possibility that the thieves were also carrying guns, I ordered Julie to ride away as fast as possible. Fortunately, the thieves didn’t have any guns with them. There was no shootout and an easy arrest was made by the police. After capturing the suspects and taking them to the nearby police station (right across the street from the entrance to Angkor Wat), the police escorted us (still on our bikes) to the station as well.

Upon arrival at the police station, they took us to the room where the two men were. Stripped to their underwear, the two thieves were kneeling on the ground with their hands tied. The policemen asked us if we recognized them. Since it was too dark and too fast when it happened, all we knew was that there were two men – a larger man driving the motorbike, while a smaller man on the back wearing a dark green jacket grabbed Julie’s bag. The description matched the two captured men, and a few minutes later the smaller man (we found out later that he was just a 16-year-old boy) confessed to the attempted robbery.

We were ready to head out, but the police asked us to wait for the tourist police to arrive to the station so we could file an official police report. These two thieves have already been arrested before, but with our report, this time they can finally be tried in court. The whole process took about two hours, from providing our personal information and description of the occurrence to translating our description into Khmer along with accounts from policemen who were on site with us. I had never thought about the concept of tourist police, but it was very helpful to have someone who spoke English well. All in all, we were treated well and it was clear that Cambodia police took tourist-related crimes very seriously. Considering how tourism-dependent Cambodia is, this makes a lot of sense. We requested to follow Cambodian law for these criminals.

During the police report filing, members of the local press came to cover the story. We realize the importance of reporting such incidents in the media and want this story to be shared; however, at the same time, we value our privacy. In this blog, we decide what we share about ourselves and how we share it. We have no wish to be featured in Cambodian news and let the media share information about us outside of our control. Thus we were happy to talk about what happened but requested our personal information to be kept out of the article. Days later we found an article online in a Cambodian newspaper that describes the incident only vaguely without mentioning us specifically. You can read it here (the website is in Khmer only, so we are providing a google translated version of it instead).

It’s times like this that we’re glad we are always extra careful with our belongings, even though sometimes we think we’re bordering on being paranoid. If there is anything to learn from this incident, it’s this: never leave valuables in the bicycle basket! Always secure it to the bicycle or to yourself. That one time you get lazy could be the time you get stolen, and you will regret not taking the extra few seconds to prevent it. We always make sure to cover our asses (so to speak)… multiple times. Things would have been so much more complicated had the thieves successfully taken Julie’s bag to begin with.

We finally left the police station to head to Angkor Wat, four hours after we originally intended to. What a beginning of a day that was. Obviously, we missed the sunrise and a big chunk of the morning, but we’d like to think that we brought some justice to this world. Coming on this trip, we expected to deal with thieves at some point – it’s unfortunately a part of traveling, tourists are targets. Nonetheless, it was still traumatic when it did happen, more for Julie than for me. We will never forget it, but we did not let it ruin our Angkor or Cambodia experience at all. We were just happy that we were both OK and didn’t actually have anything stolen from us. So all things considered, it was the best ending to an otherwise unhappy story.