HO CHI MINH CITY - The opinion of numerous backpackers in Ho Chi Minh City is
that Cambodia is too dangerous for travel and many have canceled plans to go
because of international news reports of kidnappings, killings and continued
problems with the Khmer Rouge.
Tourists interviewed at Kim's Cafe, a
popular backpacker and expatriate hang-out in Ho Chi Minh City, indicate that
press reports of Cambodian problems have had an effect on travelers planning to
see Southeast Asia.
If their opinions are representative of backpackers
in general, then this is significant for Cambodia. Backpackers generally worry
less about danger than other types of tourists.
Sarah Miner, a tourist
from Australia, said: "I decided not to go to Cambodia after reading an article
in the Travel Section of the Independent in Melbourne [Australia] about the
kidnappings of three westerners. The article advised against travel in Cambodia
so I am spending more time in Vietnam.
"But a French girl I know left for
Cambodia yesterday. She didn't think it was a problem.
"I got a copy of
the T&T weekly magazine. It's published in London and contains general
gossip from around the world advising backpackers. They said it wasn't safe to
travel in Cambodia."
Alan Mozes traveled to Vietnam after spending months
on a film crew in Malaysia. He said: "Three months ago my friends and I made
plans to go to Angkor after Malaysia, but we have canceled them.
Malaysian papers are not alarmist about the situation in Cambodia, but they are
saying that things are not as good as they were three months ago. The take in
the Singapore Straits Times, which gives the government line, and the
International Herald Tribune is that things are not so good now [in
Other travelers are not so confident. Jorgen Oulund, from
Copenhagen had originally planned to spend two weeks in Cambodia, until he read
about the deaths of the peace marchers.
He said: "I will spend the time
in Thailand instead. In Denmark we heard that it is very dangerous on the roads.
We heard about the kidnappings and the theft of Land Cruisers. Five or six
months ago a friend of mine drove through a fire fight between Funcinpec and CPP
soldiers." Yaron Shlomi, from Tel Aviv, Israel, said: "The American and Israeli
Embassies [in Ho Chi Minh City] warned us against traveling to Cambodia. We
heard about the kidnapping of the Australian and talked to people coming from
Cambodia. They said that there were people walking the streets with loaded
Katyushas (Russian made anti-tank weapons). It sounded a lot like
In spite of the majority view among back-packers, there is some
reason for hope. Tourists who have gone to Cambodia learn that in spite of the
fact that kidnappings and deaths occur, risks can be minimized, and the stories
that get press attention worldwide do not reflect the general conditions in
Cambodia. These latter tourists are finding that Cambodia is still a travel
bargain and a unique travel opportunity.
New Zealander Alison Kapina, who
went to Vietnam from Cambodia, said: "For me the decision to go to Cambodia was
very easy, though I knew about the abduction of Elizabeth Foster. I have friends
in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. That helps me to understand the real
"Though the perception in New Zealand is that Cambodia is an
Asian version of Dodge City, a bit like the old west, my friends told me that if
you are careful you should have no problem. They told me not to go out at night,
and to use more common sense about what you do."
"I had no problems.
Cambodia is a beautiful country, but tourists don't understand that you can
travel safely there."
At the Capitol Hotel, the number one choice for
backpackers arriving in Phnom Penh, owner Pan See Pon said on June 28:
"Occupancy is up in the last few days. Twenty three backpackers took the boat of
Siem Reap yesterday. Pan said: "During the Pailin offensive our occupancy fell
to 20 or 30 percent of normal. It stayed low through the months of April, May
and the first part of June. Things did not improve until last week."