A Terrible Tourist Pays Beggars for a Photo

Scams in Cambodia

Consider yourself warned: there are scams on nearly every corner in Cambodia.  No visitor should embark on a journey to these amazing lands without being forewarned of the dangers lurking behind seemingly innocent offers.  With that being said, most Cambodians (the ones who aren’t approaching you) are kind-hearted, well-natured and always willing to help.  The people are what make this country unique, and they have been through hell and back.  The majority also understand that in many areas tourism is a lifeline and supports local economies.  Unfortunately, there are a few who can’t comprehend that honesty is the best policy, and they are out take as much money from you as they can.  In fact, those particular people and organizations in Cambodia view Western tourists as nothing more than walking ATMs.  While it is truly disheartening, don’t let it influence your opinions of the general populous.  As long as you know what you’re doing and you keep your eyes peeled and ears open Cambodia can be one of the best tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.

Border Scams:

You Must Get a Visa before Leaving Thailand

A lie.  You need to get your visa after you’ve stamped out of Thailand and before you clear customs in Cambodia.  There is an official government office located between the two that offers on-arrival, 30-day Cambodian visas for $20.00 US.  There are beaucoup, well-dressed, slick men who await the arrival of buses and cabs at the land border crossings on the Thailand side.  They try to lure you in by telling you it’s required to get a visa before you stamp out of Thailand.  They will lead you to a visa agency, where you will pay outrageous sums to secure a visa.  At the least, you’ve been ripped off but have a valid visa.. at the worst, your visa may not work.

..And 100 Baht (Pay More Scam)

Even if you do follow all the rules and avoid the scamming touts, chances are you will be scammed by Cambodian police officers at the border crossing.  It’s truly shameful and shocking that no matter how many articles are written or complaints made – it still happens.  I call this the 100 Baht scam because that’s the additional amount we were asked to pay at the Poipet crossing, but often it’s 5 or 10 dollars more.  An official visa into Cambodia costs $20.00 US – DO NOT PAY MORE.  Some people simply don’t feel like arguing over a few extra bucks, but that’s the problem.  When the police get the extra cash from a few, they think they can get it from everyone and the cycle of border corruptions continues.  The police officer who took our forms and passports even showed us a ragged piece of paper with 100 Baht chicken scratched on the front.  We simply said it only cost $20.00 dollars and acted confused.  There is a sign at the Poipet crossing above the visa widow that clearly says $20.00 US.  Just keep pointing at it and give exact change only.  They may not act like it but you will get your visa for the correct price if you stand your ground.

Siem Reap Scams:

Orphanages

It cannot be said enough – do NOT visit an orphanage while in Siem Reap.  Surprisingly, there are a number of people working to shut down a number of orphanages in area.  The worst offenders recruit children away from their families and they’re placed into orphanages to tug on the heart strings of visitors passing through.  The most impoverished children the tourists see, the more money the give to the orphanage to help.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t help.  Other orphanages do at least hold the interest of the children at heart, but by allowing short-term volunteers and tourists into their facilities, they’ve created a huge issue as some children become easily attached to the temporary visitors.  Not only is it emotionally taxing, but it’s also danger to allow outside visitors into orphanages, and it violates the children’s rights.

Milk or Food Scam

There are several women, children and one young girl in particular who wander Pub Street in Siem Reap grasping in their clutches sleeping babies, who seemingly are always knocked out.  The sight is enough to break your heart.  The children often grab at your hips or arms and the women will gently touch you as they utter the same line, “I don’t want money.”  Like a broken record, they’ll continue to repeat it.  “I don’t want money.  I don’t want money.”  All the while, they are holding an empty bottle.  They will lead you to a nearby store for milk or food.  You’ll pay an extremely exorbitant amount money for the items they want.  But, as you walk away feeling as if you’ve helped a poor, hungry woman or child, they’ll return the items to the store and split the money with the store owner.  As much as you want to help, don’t.  Giving money to the beggars on the streets only perpetuates the problem.

Cars Aren’t Allowed in Town Scam

If you’re coming from a land border crossing, you’ll most likely end up on a bus or in a cab.  Likewise, some cabs from the airport may even be brave enough to participate in this one so beware!  Your cab driver will stop along the outskirts of town in a dry, dusty parking lot filled with waiting tuk tuks.  Your bags will be transferred from the cab to the tuk tuk despite your repeated pleas and demands to be taken straight to your hotel.  The cab and tuk tuk drivers will tell you cars are not allowed inside the center of Siem Reap and you must take a tuk tuk.  Lie.  Of course cars are allowed inside the town.  You must insist your cab driver take you to your hotel.  If not, the tuk tuk driver may take you to another hotel or shop all the while insisting they’ll be your driver the following day to the temples of Angkor Wat.  It’s simply a way to drum up business, but it’s extremely annoying.  Tell them you have a tour already booked and to take you straight to your hotel.

Blackjack Scam

According to tourist publications distributed in Siem Reap, the Blackjack scam is waning, but it’s still around.  In this unsavory scenario, a stranger will approach you on the street and strike up a conversation – mostly like by paying you a few compliments.  When they’ve hooked you into thinking you have a blossoming friendship, they’ll invite you to their home to see how a local lives.   A friendly card game will ensue and you so-called friend will take you for all the cash you have.

Rice Scam

The rice scam is seemingly a lot like the milk scam, but the scam artists try to involve “credible” organizations.  If someone tells you that a school or an orphanage is need of rice to feed the children – they’re lying.  If you let them, they’ll take you a market to pay highly inflated prices for rice.  Again, the rice isn’t actually purchased and the person scamming you will split the cash you’ve paid with the rice vendor filling both their pockets and none’s belly.

For more on how to truly help the children of Cambodia research ahead of time through Child Safe, a campaign designed to stop orphanage tourism in the country.

When Dealing with Officials:

..pack a healthy does of skepticism.  In Western cultures we’re taught to trust police officers and respect those with authority, but it’s quite the opposite in Cambodia.  While many Cambodians may fear those in power and succumb to their demands, tourists don’t have to.  With that being said, be smart and be careful.  Don’t every be rude or make demands if you’re being blackmailed or scammed by a police officer, but do not blindly to what they are telling you.  For example, a Cambodia police officer stationed as a guard outside the Vietnam Embassy stopped our tuk tuk several doors down from the Vietnam visa office.  “Visa?” he asked.  We told the man yes and were immediately told to give our passports and extra cash to the police officer who would get our visas for us.  He went so far as to ask when we needed them by, etc.  Luckily, we had already secured our visas with the office the day before and were simply returning to pick them up, although it took a long to time to explain that to cop who was trying to extort more money from us.  It seems simply acting confused or lost in translation and sticking to your guns helps alleviate many of the issues you may encounter in Cambodia.  The police and people know the rules in Cambodia, but they try not to play by them. If you’ve done your research and act like you know what you’re doing.. in the end the scammer or police officer trying to get your cash will lose the battle.  But again, don’t be stupid.  Your surly attitude or disrespectful manner could end up getting you in more trouble than you bargained for because, after all, they don’t play fair.

When Dealing with Beggars:

Bottom line here.. don’t.  It absolutely breaks your heart not to reach out to them, but by doing so you’re simply perpetuating the problem.  Many orphans in Cambodia learn basic English skills from volunteer teachers at the orphanage.  While their English language skills have the potential to help them succeed in life, many former orphans use the basic knowledge to beg for money from tourists.  Some orphanages even teach the children how to look destitute and sad in order to get more money.  Is this an excuse not to help them? No.  But, simply giving money to the children who approach you on the street isn’t the right way to help.  There are dozens of fantastic organizations working to help Cambodia’s youth or those living in poverty.  Supporting those organizations by volunteering your time or making monetary donations is the correct way to help.

Here is a list of organizations published in the Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide that  you can reach out to for more information on helping advance Cambodia’s youth in a meaningful way:

Angkor Hospital for Children

Haven Restaurant

Singing Tree Cafe

The Global Child