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How to avoid getting mugged in Siem Reap

Claire Byrne smiles on the outside but churns inside after being mugged. Photograph: supplied

Getting mugged is not the most pleasant experience. One minute you’re cycling home, the five minutes between now and your bed, your most pressing challenge.

The next you’re screaming your neighbours' names into the dark night, hoping someone will wake up to let you into your house. Your keys are gone for one, as is perhaps cash, a phone, a camera. And that’s just if you’re lucky enough not to be hurt.

I recently became the newest member of a growing club in Siem Reap, a group who over the past few months have had purses pinched after dark. Apart from the hassle of dealing with cops (though the good-folks at the Immigration Police did process my report in double-quick time) and the insurance company, and of course losing your stuff, the violation is probably the worst aspect.

Cycling home after dark isn’t quite the stress-free experience it once was. I’m pretty freaked out cycling at night on my own, I’m constantly paranoid I’m being followed, and my back goes up at the feeling of a moto driving too close behind.

Luckily after living here for a year, it hasn’t spoilt this place for me. I know it’s a few bad eggs in an ocean of wonderful ones. But that may not be the way of thinking for the countless tourists who, in town for a matter of days, have had their bags snatched and their valuables taken.

I’m writing this, not because I need your sympathy – I got that in bucket loads (thanks Mum! thanks neighbours! thanks friends!) I’m writing it to raise public awareness on the issue. I was fully aware that muggings were on the rise. I had stopped bringing my bag out most nights, had left my cards at home and didn’t carry cash. But of course, we all have to go about our daily business, and of course, on that night, I happened to have all the things I need for my daily business in the ill-fated bag.

So how can this be stopped? Well the Immigration Police seem to be taking it more seriously, and will escort anyone home at their request. Friends International is now selling basket covers, a must-buy that doubles up as not only a safety measure but a stylish addition to your bike as well. And vigilance, that’s all we can do.

My muggers were two guys on a moto, both untypically, wearing helmets. They were driving slowly behind me, waited until the road darkened, came up on the grass verge on my inside, and within a second, my bag strap – which was across my body – had snapped and they were gone.

My in-hindsight-advice is this. Try to get their number plate, pull over under a light if you think you’re being followed, and whatever you do, don’t try to hold on. You’ll feel better about your lost possessions in the morning, but you won’t feel better about a broken bone or a cut up face.

We may also discourage these guys from their unsavoury work by carrying fewer valuables, keeping the police phone number to hand, and watching out for dodgy characters on the way home.

In the meantime, my friends are planning a sting. It involves wigs, handbags, and a pile of dung. If that doesn’t discourage any would-be muggers reading this, I don’t know what will.



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