Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Cambodia?

Our travel expert offers tips on Cambodia and Christmas Island, finding Washington hotels and comparing airline comforts.

Donald D. Groff
June 10, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

I am going to Cambodia this summer and while I am determined to visit Phnom
Penh and Angkor, I'm unsure about the other parts of the country. Are they
safe for a single female traveler?

Cambodia doesn't get the widespread thumbs-up that, say, Vietnam gets as a
welcoming destination. It's at an earlier stage of change in many ways,
rougher around the edges, and that may affect its appeal to a solo traveler,
male or female. One of my female correspondents who visited Cambodia with a companion said that while she didn't exactly see it as unsafe, she wouldn't relish going it alone there.


For certain travelers, though, being on the edge of the travel frontier is alluring. And as anyone who's done it knows, when you travel solo
you quite often hook up with other solo travelers. Freelance writer Kennerly Clay spent several weeks in Cambodia early this year and had this to report
on the matter:

"I flew to Phnom Penh from Bangkok, somewhat wary of what I was getting into,
but mostly excited by the prospect. A fellow backpacker in Bangkok had
recommended reading 'Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns,
Girls, and Ganja,' by Amit Gilboa, so I was fully immersed in what I would consider absolute recommended reading for anyone, male or female, visiting Cambodia.

"As with many places in Southeast Asia, there is a strong expat community, but in Phnom Penh, it is overwhelmingly male, middle-aged and 'misfit.' Guesthouse topics of conversation range from prostitution (most of the men I met frequent the brothels of Phnom Penh almost daily) to pot-smoking to shooting AK-47s and M-16s at the firing range. I had a good time gabbing with
all these guys, but sometimes couldn't believe my ears; fortunately I'm not easily offended. Phnom Penh is definitely not for the faint-hearted, in many ways.


"Transportation, unless you're a diplomat or someone who's not necessarily there for the adventure, is by moto. You flag down a motorbike just as you would a New York City taxi, hop on the back and off you go into the madness
of hack-inducing fumes, stops, starts and near misses. One of my drivers
crashed into another bike, sending my heart rate soaring, but you just take
it all in stride, as you do when visiting any place -- just go with it, all of it, whatever it is.

"I heard many stories from risk-taking travelers while I was in Cambodia, and though I wouldn't recommend it highly, I myself took a small risk and sneaked into the Angkor Wat temple area on the back of a motorbike at 4 a.m. The
passes cost $20 a day and the realm of temples is so vast you need a good three days to get to all of it. So in the early-morning hours I was breezing
along behind this Cambodian guy who spoke no English, only understanding that I'd pay $6 if he'd scoot me around for the day. We passed
armed policemen lurking in dark stone gateways, and each time I feared I had made the wrong decision, but eventually daylight came and there I was, in the midst of it all on my own and nothing exceptional had happened -- almost to my dismay.

"About Cambodian men, you can tell they're paying you some attention but in general they seem really shy and wouldn't dare make a hiss or catcall. I
had absolutely no problem walking around on my own and never got harassed. I even went out dancing with another girl until the wee hours and the moto
drivers were cordial, friendly, and totally nonaggressive with us."


For other views of travel in Cambodia, consult the Lonely Planet site for a string of recent warnings and anecdotes, as well as recommendations for what to see and do there.

You can also direct your browser to Cambodia-Web, where you'll find links to many businesses that operate there, from which you can get
firsthand advice on current conditions. The site also has a message board through
which you can gather information from people currently there. Although it
appears to be an official site, it doesn't seem to be censored. There also is a Travel Tales section, with e-mail addresses for some of the contributors.


Also, be sure to read Salon's own Vagabonding columns for a taste of what our solo traveler in Cambodia has encountered there.

My boyfriend has wanted to go see Christmas Island ever since he was a little boy. How can I find out information about flights (and the frequency of them) to this island?

Christmas Island, located in the Pacific island group known as Kiribati, is
way the heck out there, well beyond Hawaii, which is the usual
connection point for U.S. visitors. Weekly flights between Honolulu and
Kiribati are operated by Aloha Airlines on behalf of Air Kiribati, (888) 800-8144. (If you call Aloha Airlines, the agent will deny Aloha
flies to Kiribati; more on that later.)


To get the inside story on Christmas Island, contact Frontiers Travel,
(800) 245-1950, which operates fishing
and diving trips -- about the only reasons anyone makes the long haul. The company also offers a non-fishing, non-diving program, but it's not a popular
package since there's simply not much to distract people who require varied
entertainment. The island's two hotels are described as basic.

The Honolulu-Christmas Island flight takes about three hours.

Air service also is available from a few Micronesian points if you happen to
be coming from Australia or other directions. Additional travel information
can be found on a Kiribati Web page that originates in New Zealand.


You can get a good feel for what it's like on Christmas Island, along with
practical information, in an article by Paul Theroux that appeared in the
December issue of Outside magazine.

You can also get background from the U.S. State Department's consular information sheet on Kiribati. Not to make you nervous, but among other tidbits, the advisory notes that "as a
result of an assessment conducted by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
in June 1994, the FAA has found the government of Kiribati's Civil Aviation
Authority to not be in compliance with international aviation safety
standards for oversight of Kiribati air carrier operations. Operations to the
United States by Kiribati carriers are not permitted unless they arrange to have their
flights conducted by a carrier from a country meeting international aviation
safety standards."

Hence the Air Kiribati flights are handled by Aloha Airlines.

For a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., I would like information on hotels
within walking distance of major sites.


The Washington Convention & Visitors Association has a well-organized
brochure, arranged by rate category, and many of the hotels listed
have weekend rates. The descriptions of the hotels also provide their
locations relative to Metro stops and attractions. The bureau also occasionally offers brochures on special rate programs, such as "summer hotel packages."

Among current specials are a "Dreams Deals" rate of $99 per night at the
DoubleTree Hotel Park Terrace on Embassy Row, including a deluxe room for two
adults and two children, plus full American breakfast; a $98 nightly rate at
Georgetown Suites, including a single-use camera; and a $112 double rate at the Windsor Park Hotel.

Contact the Washington Convention & Visitors Association, at (202) 789-7000.

If you're interested in B&Bs, dozens in the Washington area can be located
through the B&B Channel.


For a trip from Washington to Rome, I have a choice of flying US Airways or
United Airlines. For such a long trip, how can I determine if one offers more
leg room in coach class than the other?

First, determine from a reservations agent what kind of aircraft the airlines
usually fly on the route at the times you expect to travel. Then consult the
July 1997 issue of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, which has a chart showing
the roominess of each airline's seating configuration on each type of
aircraft. It also assigns a comfort rating.

In the example you cite, the Boeing 767s used by US Airways are rated well
above United's Boeing 747s, about equal to United's 767s, and below United's
Boeing 777s and some of its DC-10s.

The July 1997 issue is available by sending a check or money order for $5 to
CRTL, 101 Truman Ave., Yonkers, NY 10703-1057.


Keep in mind that certain seats, particularly those in exit rows, are
roomier. Airlines often assign these favored positions to their best
frequent-flying customers. But when you check in, it's worth asking if any are
available, especially if you arrive well ahead of flight time.

Donald D. Groff

Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

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