It is all too easy for a wonderful holiday experience to be ruined by one or two unscrupulous scam artists. As the Cambodian economy relies quite heavily on tourism, such people are unfortunately quite numerous, particularly around the popular destinations like Angkor Wat. The easiest defence against getting conned is knowing the con, which is why we have written this list of 5 Common Scams in Cambodia.
Fortunately, most of the common scams in Cambodia are fairly passive and easily avoided. Many will prey on greed, offering “easier” or “cheaper” solutions. Generally, the savings you would make in the unlikely event that the offer was genuine and honest would be so slight as to be insignificant, making the most successful way to avoid being scammed a polite but firm “no”. A good rule for Cambodia (and anywhere in the world) is that any offer which seems too good to be true is usually exactly that.
A well-dressed local approaches you, saying that he’s an avid collector of foreign currencies, but he has some big gaps in his collection. He asks if he can buy your foreign money off you for the equivalent value in Cambodian riels, claiming that he’ll give you a better rate than you would get at the official currency exchanges because there’s no fee involved.
Naturally, the rate he’ll offer will actually be much worse than the official rate because he is depending on you not really knowing how much a Cambodian riel is worth. Furthermore, exchanging your currency for riels is essentially pointless because most purchases can be made with US dollars. If you are approached by such a scammer, politely but firmly decline and, in the unlikely event that you do happen to want or need some Cambodian money, go to an official currency exchange.
This scam is obviously most common around Angkor Wat and the other temples near Siem Reap, but can also be found close to any tourist hotspot in Cambodia. Touting and selling stuff near popular attractions is not, in itself, a scam. However, the lies told to convince you to make a purchase are, particularly when the prices for their goods and services are often massively inflated.
Common cons around temples include unofficial guides, overpriced guidebooks and souvenirs, selling incense so you can do some (probably entirely made-up) prayer and insisting that you won’t be able to find food and water around the temple complex. In all of these cases, the best solution is to ignore the touts entirely.
You find a young lady holding a baby, begging outside a shop. She tells you that she needs milk formula for her child, but can’t afford it. The shop sells the stuff she needs and she asks you to buy it for her. This seems innocent enough as you are not giving her the cash directly. What else can she do with the formula other than feed her baby with it?
Once you’re out of sight, the woman will immediately take the formula back into the shop and effectively sell it back to them, pocketing the cash. As much as it may be emotionally painful to do so, the best thing to do is politely decline the beggar’s request and, instead, give your money to one of the many NGOs operating in Cambodia who support mothers and infants genuinely in need.
Tuk tuk and taxi scams
To be fair, the overwhelming majority of drivers in Cambodia are fair and honest. However, a few bad apples do ruin their reputation. Common scams include claiming that the meter is broken so that they can charge an over-inflated flat rate, using the meter but taking an unnecessarily long route and saying they have no change.
There are a few scams which are fairly unique to Cambodia, particularly involving the Angkor Wat complex. One involves promising to take you there for the sunrise, then suddenly ramping the price up as soon as you’re through the park entrance. Since it’s so early, there will be virtually no other tuk tuks around at that time, forcing you to either pay the increased fee or walk the 5 km to the temple. To avoid any problems, book your transport through your hotel, since they will almost always know honest drivers.
Motorbike rental scams
Renting a motorbike may seem like an easy way to avoid the taxi scams, but you will then fall prey of a different selection of scams. One of the more common is for the rental company to steal their own motorbike off you, then charge you for its replacement. While they may give you a padlock to secure your rented bike, they will keep the spare keys to make stealing it simple. One solution, therefore, is to have and use your own padlock. Where possible, use a reputable rental company and never hand over your passport as collateral.
Furthermore, the traffic police in Cambodia are rather notorious. In some cases, they have been known to stop foreigners and then invent laws that you have broken so that they can demand that you pay a fine. The best way to avoid this is to give them nothing to stop you for – wear a helmet, have an international driving license and, if all else fails, insist on paying the fine at the police station and not on the spot. In many cases, they will “let you off with a warning”.