Everything women travelers in Cambodia need to know about healthromancewomen’s rights and safety.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Feel free to add your voice!

  

Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Meghan: Items such as pads and tampons are readily available in the capital, Phnom Penh. The best place to buy from would be either one of the many Lucky’s Supermarkets or a U-Care Pharmacy.

Caitlin: I am currently using a diva cup, also known as a moon cup. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it is a reusable feminine hygiene product. Unlike a tampon you can leave it in for up to 24 hours, there is no risk of TSS, and there is no waste. All that is needed is anti-bacterial soap to rinse it before and after each use. I would highly recommend one, but if you are loyal to tampons, they are sold in Phnom Penh in pharmacies, specifically U-Care pharmacies.

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Finding tampons with applicators is challenging and should not be expected. OB without the applicator is what you will be buying here, and a pack of 8 will run you about $1.50. If you find tampons with applicators stock up, because who knows when you will see them again.  Pads are in abundance in the Kingdom of Wonder.

Tina: In Phnom Penh & Siem Reap (which have a big supermarket chain called Lucky and corner stores pretty well equipped with western products) you get what you need. Tampons and liners are available but maybe not your preferred size in the smaller stores. It’s worth checking out multiple stores in that case because they stock different things. In the smaller towns your best bet is a local pharmacy but they might not have much. Just bring a supply if you plan to stay remotely with no visits to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.

Birth Control

Meghan: While I didn’t personally need birth control pills, the U-Care Pharmacy would be the best place to check for this. My advice is to avoid local pharmacies and make sure you read the ingredients on what you do buy so that you know it’s the real thing. Condoms are readily available and many NGOs hand them out for free.

Caitlin: I am currently not on birth control, but I know it is sold here in pharmacies. You probably won’t be able to find your exact kind but what I would recommend is bring the informational pamphlet of your birth control and shop around to find the one that has the closest ingredients.

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If you are traveling for more than three months, talk to your doctor about receiving more than the allotted 3-month supply at one time. My friend was able to swing a year’s supply before moving to Thailand.

Condoms are sold here but I have only seen packs of 3 and 6 and they are expensive. I also don’t know if the sizes are different here as well.

Plan B is sold here for 2.50$. You can find it any of the pharmacies.

All medicine here is inexpensive and you are able to meet most medical needs through the pharmacy.

Tina: Condoms are available at corner stores in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, some service stations and pharmacies. The local pharmacies are mostly just a street-facing counter so you’ll have to ask for them but Cambodians seem pretty relaxed and polite so there shouldn’t be any embarrassment.

The pill is available over the counter but I couldn’t get my brand (Vallette) anywhere and nothing that had the same ingredients so I did a lot of research and decided to go with Yasmin instead which is widely available and priced between $7 and $12 for one month. Other brands that I often came across were Diane and some first-generation pills.

By the way here’s a great article by Lina Goldberg who has also written a really helpful and reliable expat book for Cambodia.

Recommended Gyncologists and Doctors

Meghan:  Very similar to a home experience. However, you might want to find a western gynecologist to speak about pre-marital sex since it is illegal in this country.

Caitlin: I have not been to a gynecologist here. There are hospitals (SOS and Naga Clinic) but I am not sure if they have a women’s health care integrated in. There Dr. Scott Travelers Medical Clinic, that gives STD, STI, and HIV tests. It is located at No.88 St 108 near Wat Phnom. I would recommend making an appointment before if possible because it is one of the few if not the only one that does proper STD/STI/HIV testing.

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My roommate at the time went and got tested and it was expensive (over $100) but the doctor (who’s British) went on to explain that it is so expensive because they have to send the blood out of the country to get it tested properly because the machine that is needed is not in Cambodia, and for his practice it is more economical to send it out then to buy his own.

If you happen to have a yeast infection, they sell medicine for it, at the pharmacy and it runs you about $1.50.

Tina: Cambodian healthcare is very poor and I personally would be too scared to go to a local clinic for anything (not that I’ve noticed any local gyns anyway). However in Phnom Penh there are western clinics which can provide decent standard healthcare, but they aren’t equipped for complicated cases. Expats usually go elsewhere (e.g. give birth in another country).

In Phnom Penh everyone seems to go to the “International SOS” clinic. We’ve been there, too at night for a feverish emergency and it was ok. We could hear the American doctor give training to the local staff and I had to ring the bell every time before the IV line ran empty so if you can, bring someone to watch over you.

 

Romance

Dating Locals

Meghan:  Expats date openly. There is no kissing in public for anyone of any faith. Dating is very common. Dating between local Emirati men and expat women is very rare, but I have seen this before. Look out for men who are only looking for a holiday fling or married.

Caitlin: I only know 2 women that are dating locals. Cambodian men are extremely attractive but most don’t know English, are poor and misogynist. Of all South East Asia, Cambodia has one of the most misogynist societies.
I think that it would be extremely challenging dating a local due to the huge discrepancies in economic welfare as well as societal differences, but it is definitely possible if your heart is set on it.

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I have been told that a lot of local men watch white women porn and they think that all white women are like those in pornos. I have one experience that leads me to believe that this is true. One evening I went out with my girlfriends for happy hour and we were playing pool. We ended up playing against two Cambodian men, Cambodians are sharks on the pool table, and we lost. One of the men came up to all of us after and tried to have us blow up this balloon in front of him. To me, that sounds like some weird thing that he saw in porno. We told him no and he said, “But the losers have to do what the winners say.” We all said no again and walked away without another word.

I am not advising against dating locals, but I am not advising to date locals either.

Tina: Most local guys over 20 will be married but that doesn’t seem to be a problem here. Even if you say you have a partner they might still ask if you’re interested in a Cambodian boyfriend.

I haven’t tried to date here. From what I’ve picked up the social standard is that girls come into marriage as virgins and social pressure is high to marry and have kids, but the reality looks a lot more flexible than that to me. Heterosexual couples usually don’t show much public affection while same-sex “couples” can often be seen holding hands (men, too) but that doesn’t mean they’re gay.

Types of Men

Caitlin: There are types of local men, which was discussed in the question above.

Tina: There are the ones that are brave enough to talk to you, the ones who just give you a shy smile and the TukTuk drivers who might cat-call you with “beautiful” (Srey Sa’aat) and “I love you.”
No matter what, it’s all very polite and no is accepted as an answer. Usually they keep talking for a bit (sometimes I get a feeling they just like to practice English) and almost always wish you well at the end of the conversation; I haven’t had any troubles.

LGBTQ Friendly

Meghan:  This one is kind of difficult. Because of their Buddhist culture they are very accepting of everyone, but that’s as a whole. I’ve spoken to many locals who express dislike for those of LGBTQ orientation but they won’t do it openly.

Caitlin: From what I have seen and heard it is middle of the road. There are gay bars, gay resorts and bars that do drag shows in the city. There is a large number of people who are still closed off to it, so if you are traveling with your girlfriend I would not recommend any serious PDA, just because you never know, and PDA isn’t really a thing here in general. I don’t have the impression that it is anything to be afraid of but you can make the judgment for yourself when you get here and feel it out.

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Tina: Yes. There isn’t a big scene for it here because it’s not a special thing. While locals are under social pressure to have a family being LGBTQ is still tolerated. Same-sex friends often are quite playful with each other so gay couples even have a slight advantage showing affection in public.

 

Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Meghan: In the city they do. I can tell because I now quite a few women filling the same positions in the workplace as the men.

Caitlin: The societal gender roles here are extremely traditional. Women do hold jobs outside the house, as well as inside the house. You will see women working with their babies right next to them. In my classroom, one of the favorite things for boys to say to the girls is, “Stupid girl.” Girls and women are below men in Cambodian society.

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I can’t outline a specific event that I have seen, but when you’re here you can see it, it’s noticeably in the air. Very rarely do I see a mixed group hanging out, it is usually all women hanging out together and all the men hanging out together.

Tina: There is some contradiction about “the social norm” and reality. In theory woman should come into marriage as virgins, be protected, and not stray far from home. In reality woman are very confident and well able to fend for themselves. Cambodia is a very hierarchical country where rich people often don’t even publicly recognize someone who is worse off economically- even their own employees. Also the language places a lot of focus on the age of the person you’re talking to. Even though there are quite a few factors determining your social status here, gender doesn’t seem to play a large role. Nobody is surprised (like many westerners) when I say that I build websites and women here come across as refreshingly confident, quick-witted and at ease with themselves. However, mixed-sex friendships don’t seem to be very usual.

Local Women

Meghan: Local women tend to stick with other women. In the USA I have some guy friends and I wouldn’t think twice about spending time with them, but in Cambodia it’s an accepted “rule” of sorts that women shouldn’t be with those of the opposite sex without being in a group. So this kind of makes dating not that common.

Caitlin: All women can relate on some sort of level, because we are all women, we have the same parts, experience periods, pregnancy as well as oppression. But no matter how hard you try you are not able to fully escape your culture and societal norms and their bounds. Cambodian women have a completely different experience than western women. It is safe to bet that majority of Cambodians were raised below the poverty line.

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Different things are expected of them, and it is normal to be married in your late teens early 20s and pregnant soon after. Sex trafficking and prostitution are a lucrative business in Cambodia and Cambodian women are at a high-risk to be manipulated and or forced into those lifestyles.

The standard of beauty here among local women and men is that the lighter you are the better. It represents wealth because you are not working outside. I personally have not noticed “envy” from local women about my skin tone versus theirs, but I have had a complete women stranger come up, grab my arm, look at me with this sad look on her face and ask me why my skin was so red. I told her it was sunburn and she looked at me like I was a fool to not wear long shirts and pants in the 100- degree heat.

Tina: I admire how relaxed, confident, and open they seem to be. They are not shy commenting on my appearance and body in any way (glad that it’s usually positive because they don’t seem to hold back with their honest opinion.) Many just have an amazing energy! I’m not sure if their behavior is different towards local men but I think I could learn a thing or two from their composure.

Women-Specific Environments

Meghan: I didn’t come across any places that are specifically for women, or not for women.

Caitlin: Not that I have heard of or experienced. Late at night I don’t feel comfortable walking by myself. Tuk-Tuk and moto drivers all hang out on the street and when it gets later in the night, especially on weekends they are drinking and driving. The mob mentality with drunk Cambodian men is overwhelming.

Tina: None that I know of.

Perception of Foreign Women

Meghan: People’s reactions are either accepting or excited. They want to know which state I’m from and what it’s like or how it’s different from Cambodia.

Caitlin: I haven’t had any bad experiences telling natives that I am from the United States. Phnom Penh is an international city and there are a lot of Americans traveling and working here.

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Tina: When I say Australia, many come up with a “G’Day mate”, when I say Germany, sometimes they say “Guten Tag” or just “aah”. I don’t think it makes a difference to them, where you come from is just a polite question to ask. In more remote regions men and woman alike often stare at me. It’s just curiosity so I simply smile at them and always get the nicest smiles back.

 

Safety

Transportation

Meghan:  When taking tuk-tuks or motos, women should really be aware of their purses at all times because it is very common for a thief to ride up beside you in stopped traffic and snatch the purse.

Caitlin: There are really only two types of transportation in Phnom Penh: tuk-tuks and motos. There are some taxis but they are a waste and not as fun.

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The major safety issue is purse snatching. While this seems fairly harmless there are unforeseen consequences. Imagine: you have your purse crossed over your body, feeling safe, then all of a sudden someone comes up behind you and snatches your purse but to your and their surprise the strap doesn’t break and you get pulled off the bike and dragged or worst situation get run over by the motos, cars and tuk-tuks that are behind you.

I do not hear stories about people getting run over often, but getting dragged and pulled off motos is extremely common. Purse snatching does happen out of tuk-tuks as well but chances are you are not going to be pulled out of the tuk-tuk, which is why they are safer. Moto rides are some of the most fun, so what I would recommend is to wear a helmet if you can and definitely do not have a purse wrapped around you, hold it in your hand or in your lap, so if it does get snatched you don’t go with it.

I put everything in my bra, but if you are a lady who MUST have a purse buy one from the market here. They are cheap, most times not made well, meaning the strap will break easily. With all of this being said make sure to not put anything of huge value is a purse when traveling in Cambodia.

Also, if you are enjoying the nightlife make sure that when you are taking a moto or tuk-tuk home that they are not wasted. Use your judgment; we all know what a drunken person looks and acts like. Also if you see the whole group drinking beer you probably should walk and find a driver who is not drinking, at least not at that moment.

Overall I feel safe when going places and if you are going to be anywhere in Cambodia for an extended period of time especially in Phnom Penh and you find a moto or tuk-tuk driver that you like, get their phone number and ask them if they want to be your driver, it’s a normal thing to do here.

Tina: Safety of transportation here is questionable no matter your gender! Usually even taking a scooter is okay but if you feel unsure, make friends with a TukTuk driver, get his number, don’t be stingy and he’ll look after you. You could even call him in the middle of the night to take you home from a club.
Watch your bag though as in Phnom Penh there have been a few cases where guys on scooters tried to snatch bags from girls. Apparently one didn’t let go of her bag, got pulled off the scooter and died in the traffic. If you think your bag might be too easy to grab, get a TukTuk and sit in the middle with your bag close.

Shady Areas for Women

Meghan: There really isn’t any area in particular that is dangerous for women, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid poorly lit streets, have your senses about you when you are out at night, and try not to be out late at night by yourself.

Caitlin: Everything is relatively safe. As it gets darker and later in the night it gets less safe. There are not a lot of streetlights unless you are on a main road and there are always men on the streets, so it makes me uncomfortable walking alone late at night.

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Also there are stories (more for expats than tourists) of motos/tuk-tuk drivers casing places when they drop you off then robbing you, so I like to be dropped off on my street not right in front of my house.

Tina: I haven’t come across any dangerous areas. I roamed some really dodgy looking markets in Phnom Penh during the day and got nothing but smiles. I walked around a park full of homeless people in Phnom Penh at nighttime with no issues and I even feel safe walking back alleys after dark in Siem Reap.

Clothing

Meghan: Compared to countries like Thailand, China, or South Korea, Cambodia is very conservative when it comes to women’s clothing choices. A good rule of thumb is to wear something that covers your shoulders and knees. Also, be careful about wearing flashy jewelry, etc. because theft is common.

Caitlin:  As a white woman you are going to get stares. You will get more stares if you are walking around in short shorts and a low cut shirt. I usually wear maxi skirts and t-shirts. I have worn tank tops, but not shirts that show cleavage. I do wear shorts but they are mid-thigh. There are temples (Wat Phnom, Angkor Wat) where you must have your knees should and stomach covered.

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The more you show the more unwanted attention you will get. Maxi skirts and dresses are my best friends here. There are travelers that I see wearing short shorts, t-shirts etc and they don’t seem phased, but traveling and living are two completely different things. Most women dress very moderately here and I always feel the best bet is to try to blend in with the culture instead of standing out more than I already do.

Tina: Local woman wear long jeans and t-shirts during daytime but at night this might get a little more relaxed (sometimes you’ll even see shorts in Phnom Penh). You wouldn’t give offence wearing less than that, but you might catch attention from the local eye.
Just because of the sun, I usually stick to t-shirts, but I rarely wear more than shorts; it’s just too hot! I feel that’s good enough in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. In Sihanoukville, the major party spot, tourists often enough just wear swimwear everywhere; I’m sure the locals are used to it or at least very forgiving. In the provinces I would just wear knee-long pants until I get a feel for the place.

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