It’s very difficult to get the balance right about the dangers of travelling in PNG. If you believe the hype, you’ll never go and you’ll never understand that Melanesians are by nature among the most gentle, hospitable and generous people in the world. While urban drift has undoubtedly caused ‘law and order’ issues, it’s not like the Wild West where gun-law rules and stepping outside is to put your life in danger.
If you use your common sense, especially in larger towns, the chance of encountering the notorious raskols is small. That said, when things do go wrong in PNG, it can be pretty frightening. Violent crime is not unusual, but the victims are rarely tourists.
So what does this mean for the traveller? Most importantly, don’t be paranoid. Those who have travelled to developing countries in the past probably won’t be overly concerned, but for inexperienced travellers the lack of structure and the number of unemployed standing idly around the cities can be intimidating.
Bear in mind that everything is much more relaxed outside Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen. Tribal fighting is still common deep in the Highlands, and while this can make things unpredictable it rarely embroils outsiders. In villages people quickly get to know you and you rapidly lose the anonymity that makes a stranger a target. Expats will tell you not to ride the buses and PMVs, but that’s just silly. They’ll regale you with stories of rape and pillage and plunder (even murder), but these tales are often urban legends that can have very tenuous connections to real events.
It’s pretty simple – it would be highly unusual to encounter any trouble in the main areas where travellers are likely to go in the daytime with people around. The mantra is common sense. Fortunately, common sense is not rocket science, but here are some tips:
Don’t flaunt your wealth – wear unremarkable clothes and keep your camera hidden. Carry a bilum (string bag) rather than a daypack.
- Always keep at least K50 ‘ raskol money’ in your pocket to appease any would-be thief. Hide the rest of your money in a money belt or your shoe.
- Speak to people rather than being aloof.
- Be especially careful on the fortnightly Friday pay nights when things can get pretty wild.
- If you get held up, as in this situation anywhere, stay calm. Most robberies are fairly unsophisticated affairs.
GOVERNMENT TRAVEL ADVICE
For the latest travel warnings and advice log onto the following (overly cautious) websites: