Not-so-safe safe

Siem Reap is the town nearest to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and on my visit to the famous temple, Jan. 11-14, 2007, I stayed in one of the town’s smaller hotels (about 30 rooms). The room had an in-room electronic safe into which I put some U.S. dollars, my passport and a few travelers’ checks.

I didn’t give it a second thought, having used these safes countless times over decades with no problems. I always assumed that a “safe-deposit box” was exactly what the words imply.

When I opened the box the next day, I noticed that several hundred dollars of the cash (hundreds and fifties) were missing. But I wasn’t 100% sure that I had brought the amount I thought I had — maybe I had made a mistake — so I didn’t make any accusations while I was there. I also didn’t file a police report because I had heard that they wouldn’t do anything except try to extract a bribe.

After I got back home and checked the amount I had in my safe there, the theft was confirmed. I had taken the larger amount of cash because my year-old guidebook said there were no international ATMs in Cambodia. Recently, however, a New Zealand bank has opened such ATM branches; travelers to Cambodia may want to take note of that.

I then started to think about what had happened.

For such safe-deposit boxes, there is an override key or similar device. There has to be such a feature for guests who forget the code numbers they set, in case the batteries in the safe die, etc. So my guess is that a hotel employee simply used the key and took the cash but left some cash as well as my passport, travelers’ checks, etc. Then the safe was relocked, and it operated normally when I reopened it.

I started to think about what I could have done to thwart the theft. I could have left in the safe my travel wallet that has a lockable zipper around it; I could have left a Scotch Tape-sealed envelope with the contents inside and written my signature over the tape. . . . By that point, I thought I was starting to get paranoid. In addition, a seal could have angered the thief and he might have just taken everything and opened it at his leisure.

So I offer this sad tale as a warning to anyone using an in-room hotel safe. I might have been better off just putting my valuables into some hidden area of my locked luggage.

Does anyone have any better suggestions for a situation like this?


New York, NY