Cambodia

Biggest Cambodia Scams And Lies You Absolutely Have To Be Aware Of

Last Updated May, 2019

scams in Cambodia

Wow, this is my second post about Cambodia during the last two months since the moment we launched our blog. Our trip to this country left such an impact that we wanted to share every detail and warn you before your own journey.

Usually, during all our travels we get some type of euphoria. You know, that one when you get super excited when going to a new place. But with Cambodia, we experienced how unpleasant actually travel can be.

I would really like to write a more inspiring article, but I can’t. My goal is to reflect on the real side of the place, not to present it in a glitzy shiny way, and to make things look prettier than they are.

We wish we could sing praise to land with the largest religious monument in the world, but unfortunately, we are not able to. This is one of the most disgusting tourist destinations we have ever been to.

Loads of trash and the uncaring attitude of locals is one part. Scams and tricks is another one. Amount of scams and traps is so high that we don’t understand how most tourists don’t pay attention to them. Perhaps they do, but don’t care much.

Mark and I were considering not only to visit Cambodia but to move there. Before the actual visit, we were thinking to rent an apartment and stay there for a couple of months. But our intentions changed within days after crossing the border. At the end of our third week staying in a country any longer became unbearable, so we ran away.

All the guides and articles we read about Cambodia prior to our visit turned out to be completely opposite to our experience. And today we are sharing our story with you.

In case you are planning a trip now and need a few tips, take a look at our one week Cambodia itinerary. I highlighted only the best spots.


RELATED POST: DISAPPOINTMENT AND LEARNED LESSONS IN SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA


Scams in shops and at the markets

If you visit Cambodia, you’ll find that only large cities, such as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, offer a few decent chain stores that have a good selection of products with prices attached to them. If you don’t have a chance to get to this type of store then head out to one of many small family owned shops that can be found almost around each corner.

Privately owned minimarts usually sell water, snacks and some toiletries.

But they are by no means cheap. None of the items in these shops has price tags and a seller is free to quote any amount he wants.

It happened to us on a regular basis.

One time, for instance, we walked into a store to buy a bottle of water. A teenage girl who was selling it told us the price was four dollars. Drinking water in Cambodia is scarce, that’s true, but four dollars for one bottle is definitely too much!

We left the shop without buying anything, but not having many options where to go else made us return ten minutes later. What a surprise it was to hear from another lady at the store that the price for water dropped. It went from four dollars down to three. Who knows how much it would cost if we decided to leave and come back for the third time?

Unfortunately, this situation was not the only case. From the East to the West and all the way to the South sellers were trying to rip us off telling way higher prices.

Depending on who we got across the counter meant that the price was going to differ. Markets were even worse. Vendors not only tried to fool us around but were getting pretty angry once we refused to buy anything from them. We’ve heard it was common but didn’t expect it would be so out of control.

Cambodia scams
Market and store scams in Cambodia are so common
siem reap cambodia
This picture doesn’t have to do anything with scams. I just wanted to show you one of the places where locals live in Siem Reap.

What to do about it if you go: shop at the hotel where you are staying at or go to a chain store. Visit markets for the experience, but be ready for an aggressive approach.

Change of price for a meal at the restaurant or street food stall

Probably we could predict that a shop or market seller was going to rip us off. But we did not expect that a restaurant person would lie about the price on the menu.

We were sticking to the rule to ask about the price of a meal before placing an order. Yet so many times it didn’t really help. Food vendors were quoting one price, but in the end, when we were done with our meal, the check amount was often higher.

On our question why the final price differed so much from a price quoted in the beginning, a seller or a waiter was responding we didn’t understand correctly or looked up the wrong item. The response was always ready. If we tried to argue back they pretended they didn’t speak English that well enough.

What to do about it if you go: not all places are like that and there are still honest and lovely people. However, be ready to pay more in many cases and embrace the fact that people in Cambodia live by today trying to get the most out of this day.


RELATED POST: ONE WEEK CAMBODIA ITINERARY: THE BEST YOU CAN GET


Visit Cambodia
The price for this meal on the menu was $2.50, but we ended up paying $3.50. Which is not a big deal but we can’t stand when others are taking advantage of us. To our question why we had to pay more the waiter answered that the menu hasn’t been updated yet.

Tuk-tuk service scams

This one is funny and annoying at the same time.

In Cambodia, you bargain, bargain, and bargain some more. There is no public transportation in the cities (only between them) and crafty tuk-tuk drivers along with taxi guys are the only folks to give you a ride.

They make up a price based on a mood, phase of the moon or either they like you or not. We feel really bad that these men don’t have a better way of making money. We understand that tourism helps them to survive. But we can’t stand when someone is trying to take advantage and scam us.

When we went to Angkor Wat the owner of a guesthouse, where we were staying at, offered to use tuk-tuk service of his brother. He was quoting only 15 dollars for the entire day. We felt like it was too little and at the end of the day paid a driver more. Also, since he was with us all day long we gave him money to buy lunch. We wanted to do that from all our heart.

cambodia

By contrast, another tuk-tuk driver who was stalking us on the street (literally), offered the same service for 50 dollars, claiming it was the cheapest price. When I say “stalking”, I mean it. He was coming to the guesthouse where we stayed for 3 days in a row, asking to use his services.

So many other times in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap drivers were asking for too much for a short distance ride. To give you an example, we paid between $5 and $10 for riding less than 5-kilometer (3-mile) distance. And it was not by a taxi, by a tuk-tuk. In a country such as Cambodia, that’s a lot of money.

What to do about it if you go: If you end up going to Cambodia then keep in mind that prices for tuk-tuk around the city can not cost more than public transportation in western countries. Of course, price depends on the distance, but the number you hear should be reasonable enough. Never ever use the services of someone who claims to be a taxi driver, but doesn’t have a meter.


RELATED POST: EXPAT LIFE IN KUALA LUMPUR: WHAT IS IT LIKE?


Cambodia scams and lies
In smaller towns, we felt it was easier and cheaper to move around by bike

Scams from beggars

In Phnom Penh, we were observing one fascinating picture.

A poor disabled guy on a wheelchair tried to convince passersby to buy some of his books and CDs. He also approached us shedding tears and begging to purchase something. He looked miserable and we felt sad.

We got an impulse to buy an item, but an inner voice was stopping us. The guy left and we stayed for a few more hours in a city center. After a while, much to our surprise, we stumbled upon the same person loading into his brand new Lexus car. He was disabled indeed, but most likely driving fancy expensive cars was his weakness. Where the money came from was a riddle, as well as the entire beggar’s thing.

One of the local expats we met in the capital told us that many beggars are not really beggars, but rich residents who learned how to skillfully deceive others.

Another scam comes from children asking you to buy one of their trinkets for ridiculously high amounts of money. They can be selling low-quality jewelry, magnets, key chains and other useless little things making you feel pity for them at the same time. Parents of these little people wittingly encourage them to beg instead of going to school or learning how to earn money. Don’t fall into their trap!

What to do about it if you go: just don’t give money to beggars, thereby encouraging them not to work. If you spot them approaching you, try to walk away. Ignore the children and don’t give a penny, even though your heart may be melting for them.

Cambodia scams to be aware of
This is the same beggar on a wheelchair who is selling books and CDs. At the end of his working day his personal chauffeur (or a family member) drives him around in Lexus car.

Police scams

You’ve probably heard how corrupted Cambodia is. Don’t attempt to rent a bike there or your chance is pretty high you will be stopped by the police. Apparently, making money on tourists is a very common tactic Cambodian police employs.

Even if you don’t do anything wrong you can still get in trouble for whatever reason local police makes up. Don’t hope for fair justice and be ready to pay cash. We’ve also heard stories from expats that police is arresting foreigners for being foolish and drunk, and asking for money in return for freedom.

What to do about it if you go: The best way to avoid this scam is not to do anything crazy and not to rent a bike. Get a tuk-tuk instead (which is also a rip-off, but still cheaper than a bribe) and be wise.


RELATED POST:  WHY WE DECIDED NOT TO LIVE IN VIETNAM AS EXPATS


visit Cambodia
Even though a lot of Cambodian people looked sketchy we felt really bad for them. They don’t know a better life and have to survive on a daily basis.

Money Scams in Cambodia

Money, money.. again it comes to money. This one is simple and short. Many sellers and vendors very often don’t return change in full. They probably assume you are stupid enough not to notice. If you notice, they’ll turn around and do their own thing.

What to do about it if you do visit Cambodia: the solution is easy. Always have exact change to pay for your food or service. In nice hotels staff members, usually, don’t cheat (they really appreciate their jobs) but outside of the hotel walls, it’s very common.

life in cambodia
Phnom Penh from above looked way better than on the ground

Conclusion

From time to time we feel that instead of going to a new place on our own it may be better to learn about this same place throughout the story of another traveler. Why? Not to spoil the moment and save time, energy and money. Visiting this part of the world was definitely informative and in many cases eye-opening, but if we didn’t go, we wouldn’t miss much.

If you plan to check Cambodia out and tick this country off your list any time soon, just watch out and be wise.

Also, our recommendation for you is to go to Angkor Wat only. Another option, more meaningful one, includes volunteering. Flying to Cambodia with a goal to serve local people is highly commendable, and then all the scams and reasons why not to visit this land shouldn’t matter at all.

Scams in cambodia are real. There are a lot of them in big cities and small towns around the country. Learn how you can avoid them and what to do in case you get scammed by locals #triptocambodia #cambodiascams #southeastasiasafety

Anya is originally from Ukraine but in heart she is a citizen of the world. She is working online and that’s why has an opportunity to travel slowly and live in different countries around the world. On this blog, her main goal is to inspire others to travel to under-the-radar-places and discover the world through life and work abroad.

36 Comments

  • Christine King

    Thanks for the very honest post! Lots of good tips and things to look out for in Cambodia. We were a victim of some of these ourselves when travelling Cambodia, but I can’t help but still love the place.

    • Anya

      We met lots of people who went through the same scams but didn’t really care much and loved the country. I guess we personally do not tolerate those attitudes and they easily spoil our experiences.

  • Ellis

    My experience in cambodia wasnt that bad. Maybe it was because i spend some time in homestays among smaller villages along the mekong river that are not that touristic yet. I thought the people there were lovely. I only spent one day in pnom penh and that was indeed not my favourite place and angkor wat i explored by bicycle.

    • Anya

      We were hoping that Phnom Penh, as a capital, would be more welcoming but it turned out to be a complete disappointment too. If not an Australian couchsurfer who hosted us there, we would run away after the first day.

  • Queenie

    I’m really sorry you didn’t enjoy Cambodia. I can totally see why. I didn’t experience this as much only except when I took money out of ATM, a little boy followed me for at least 8 blocks and begged for money. I feel bad but didn’t give him money. But I can see how poor the country is and how money is such a big thing for them. Either way, thank you for sharing your honest opinion.

    • Anya

      Thank you for sharing your experience Queenie! We’ve also heard stories about locals stalking foreigners, thank God it didn’t happen to us! However, we were told more than once to never keep a phone or camera exposed on the street.

  • Rachel Silverwood

    Glad you wrote such an honest post! Its a shame that these scams ruined your trip, Cambodia sill looks beautiful in your photos though

      • Angela Doman

        I’m sorry your experience wasn’t good; we had practically the opposite experience. We loved Siem Reap and found the city to have charm and character. We were never ripped off and we were so blown away by how friendly and happy everyone was in spite of the total lack of money. I feel it’s not helpful to write such negative post about a country as anyone researching beforehand knows traveling to third world country comes with their own challenges. The people experienced genocide under the Khmer Rouge and still struggling to find their identity. In a place that is very poor, people will do what they can to survive. The fact that the government hasn’t been able to find a good solution for the trash doesn’t discount the beautiful Apsara dancers, the delicious Khmer food, the beauty of the temples at Angkor Wat and the fun of exploring and learning. It’s great to share things to be wary of but telling people it’s awful etc takes away from their tourism. Most people don’t choose Cambodia as their first experience out of country. I’d say it’s for an experienced traveler but there is beauty and culture there if you look.

  • Erica

    I love the honesty in this post. I’ve never been to Cambodia but I still want to go despite these warnings. Thanks for including tips for avoiding them!

    • Anya

      Erica, you should definitely check this country out if your heart desires! I guess the best way is to be prepared and know what may expect you there.

  • Madhu

    So sorry that you had to face bad situation and dishonest people. Well i have to admit that many times is India too local sellers change prices for foreigners ..

    • Anya

      We really want to visit India but worry it may be very similar to the experience in Cambodia. We just don’t want to spoil the entire experience. Perhaps hiring a guide is our best bet.

  • Maggie

    Thank you for being so honest and open!! I really appreciate posts like this, because I think people tend to focus only on the good things about countries they visit without talking about any of the bad. I think it’s important to have a good balance of both pros and cons, though I’m sorry you didn’t really have any positive takeaways from your trip :/

    • Anya

      Thanks, Maggie! We believe so too. It’s very easy to get euphoric during the travels pretending that everything is great around us, but it doesn’t really change the reality. We know that some people may think all of these scams are not a big deal but we believe there are also travelers, like us, who appreciate those tips.

  • Katie

    Wow sounds like you guys had some bad luck during your time there. I spent a month there and found the people really friendly and I didn’t find the level of scamming any different than other countries in SE Asia. The worst place for scams that I experienced was the Philippines. But this just shows how different people have different experiences.

    • Anya

      That’s true, Katie! I also think it really depends on how you travel within the country. We haven’t been among tourists (except Angkor Wat) and tried to live/stay with locals. Also, we were looking at Cambodia not as visitors who come and go, but as expats who wanted to move there.

  • C-Ludik

    Loved reading your post. I have heard so many people saying that they loved visiting Cambodia. I should admit I never thought about Cambodia as a travel destination. This country has never been on my radar (I don’t know why ?). Most scams are fairly harmless, involving a bit of commission here and there for taxi, tuk-tuk etc. However, I’ve been hearing reports of an increase in crime in Cambodia – and it’s got me worried… So, I feel like I definitely not need to go 😉

    • Anya

      We were told that Phnom Phen, for example, is very safe even late at night. However, you don’t want to have your smartphone exposed on the streets or have a lose grip on a camera, things like that. But it’s a common sense for countries like Cambodia.

  • Lyne

    This was a very nice read, it’s crazy to see how many scams you may possibly fall into while traveling, thanks for the tips and honest post. Rich prople pretending to be beggars are so disgusting..We got a handful of them doing the same here in Paris.

    • Anya

      Thank you, Lyne. I’ve heard things like that about Paris and even though I really want to go there, I am afraid to be disappointed because of people like that.

  • Teja

    Wow! It’s been nearly a decade or thereabouts since I’ve been to Siem Reap. Thought it might have got better by now. We stayed in a Malaysian-owned hotel (I think it’s closed down now) because it was the only one then that served halal, and it was quite good; we were well taken care of. Back then, within the Angkor complex fruits and coconuts were cheap, although we did have to walk past many desperate souvenir sellers and beggars at the entrance. There again, we’re Southeast Asians ourselves, so maybe we just didn’t get as scammed as tourists from outside the region.

    • Anya

      There are must be more shops no shops and cafes now inside the complex. And there are a lot of kids who try to invite tourists to buy something or to eat. I remember that the costs to bananas were definitely much higher then what you would expect. Which is probably understandable. How many people come back to Angkor Wat. So locals try to get from tourists what they can

  • Michaela

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience, but I have to disagree with the way you’re portraying this beautiful country. You can come across scams like these everywhere in Southeast Asia. Why? Because it’s a region that’s visited more and more every year so the more people from “rich” countries come here, the more the locals start relying on making money from tourism, and yes, that always involves finding new and unfair ways to get money off tourists. If someone is offering you high prices or trying to rip you off (rip off – that’s how it’s spelt by the way), walk away and find someone with a fair price. It’s too bad you were too focused on money and scams during your trip that you missed the real charm of Cambodia. Personally, I was amazed how friendly, kind and smiley the locals were. And always happy, despite the little possessions they have and despite the dark history they’ve been through.

    • Anya

      Thank your for your comment Michaela and for correcting a mistake, I am not even sure how I could miss that. So many people read this post but no one has ever said a word, so thank you for that.

      Regarding the rest, I am not sure if it really makes sense to have this conversation. We are obviously on different pages. It is just too sad that you are one of many bloggers who cover up the wrongdoings and show a destination in a better light than it really is. I always was and always will be reflecting not only on positive but on negative things too. Unfortunately, Cambodia has too many of them. And at some point, it has to stop and improve.

      If you read the post, you would notice that it was not only about the money and scams. Based on the comment – you didn’t read it in full (which does not surprise me at all) but jumped straight to conclusions.

      Anyway, this post is not for people who believe scams, lies and corruption are not that big of a deal. Because they are. And in Cambodia they are not the same as everywhere else in Southeast Asia. They are much worse.
      This post is for those who appreciate transparency and want to learn about two sides of a place, not only about an euphoric idyllic one.

      Again, I appreciate you correcting a mistake. And good luck on your travels.

    • David from travelscams.org

      Hi Michaela, we actually thought this was a good post by Anya! The thing is everyone has different experiences and claiming that another’s experience is “wrong” or “correct” just reflects a really narrow worldview. Both good and and bad experiences coexist. It’s good that Anya is sharing what to look out for and to be wary of, a topic that is really not expanded on much.

      On our end, our community has contributed even more tourist targeted scams in Cambodia (28 currently)! But we do not aim to scare, we are sharing these just to educate, to help, just like what this article is doing.

      • Anya

        Thank you for your input, David! Yes, I love reflecting on both positive and negative experiences and truly appreciate posts of others that do the same.

  • Robert

    There’s no perfect place on earth including the U S where I’ve lived all of my life.I’ve been around the world three times not for a few days but instead a month or more at a time at each location.I’m not defending Cambodia by any means and yes it’s a filthy place.Furthermore I spent two months in Kiev and two months in Odessa.The main squares in both places were pristine but travel beyond either square by ten blocks only to view filthy rundown houses.The U S isn’t exempt from those conditions either.Your long rant about how much you hated Cambodia is your opinion and you’re entitled to that.But why are you living in my country being the U S instead of living in a war torn broken down country like Ukraine is? Scammers are worldwide no matter where anyone visits. I have pictures of pure garbage dumps called houses in Kiev and Odessa but I’d never post them,no point.Why don’t you just leave my country being the U S and not come back? We really never needed you in the first place besides Trump is ridding the U S of undesirables just like you on a daily basis remember that and if you’re married to an American citizen it doesn’t matter either, because many are deported daily. Regards

    • Anya

      This is the most preposterous comment on this blog. “Why are you ranting about Cambodia if you are living in the US?”
      Makes much sense.
      For the same reason why you are dropping your xenophobic comment on someone’s blog while living in the U.S.
      Why don’t you just build a tent in a field of corn in Nebraska to stay away from immigrants? Trump won’t help you and undesirables are coming to get you, haha.

  • Paul

    Hi there, I cannot believe what I have just read in this blog. Your take on Cambodia is just not an accurate picture of this beautiful country. I live here in Siem Reap and yes there are petty scams left right and centre as there are anywhere and being Ukrainian/American you should know about being ripped off as there are no government better than those for ripping off its own citizens. Yes we come here with money, like insane amounts of it by Cambodian standards, and yes many locals have a very rough deal in life so to scam us rich westerners is a no brainer, especially when you and your family have very little. This blog will put people off coming to what is actually a beautiful place with, on the whole beautiful people that is when you bother to engage, and will leave Cambodians poorer than before.
    You know what summed this whole blog for me and perhaps an insight in to the type of traveler you are….. When you recommend only. Anchor Wat Temple… Yes its obvious and a must see but there are hundreds of other temples that are worth visiting,, not for stupid box ticking but really immersing in the history in order to understand.
    And lastly your comment about flying to Cambodia to serve…. “Is highly commendable”
    Well doesn’t that make one feel better.
    Altruism… Look it up.
    There is always something to learn…

    • Anya

      Hi there, so the biggest difference between a traveler like you and me is that I do not approve or accept wrongdoings in the name of travel while you think they are totally fine if you personally like the place for some reason.
      Scamming and ripping off others on the “right left and center” as you say IS a big deal. If it happened just once, twice or even a few times, there wouldn’t be much to write about. But when scams were happening every single day multiple times on every occasion, we started to understand that there was so much wrong with a place. And I wanted to share with others who, by the way, are capable to analyze information and make their own conclusions.
      This post is meant to educate and let people know what to expect. And they decide for themselves what to do with this information. And a lot of people are thankful for this piece of advice and not for a glitzy presentation.

      As Ukrainian/American, I definitely know what it means when my government is taking advantage of me and ripping off my own nation! I will not be approving that, saying that corruption, lies and scams are ok for me to do because I am a victim and my family has so little. No and No! If I wasn’t in those shoes before, I would be justifying their actions too.
      Even if my government is abusing the system, it does not give me a reason to be a deceiver. It has to change!! And that change often comes not from a government but from an ordinary citizen.

      There is a reason why many people don’t travel to countries like Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, etc. and there are a lot of things to know about those countries. The same comes to Cambodia. Even though it doesn’t stand anywhere close to those countries, it still has many of its own problems that make travel there uncomfortable for many travelers. And they have to know that. It’s that simple.

      I, as Ukrainian, and my family had a very rough deal in life in Ukraine in the past, still my values were high. Actually because of my rough life in the past I have high expectations from myself, government and people today. Ukraine had and still has to change. I am ranting about it too.
      Cambodian people have to change if they want to see better days. And that change often starts with one person in a small community in a tiny village.

      Oh, and I know what altruism is. And don’t find anything bad about it. Doesn’t matter how it makes you feel. People help and serve for different reasons. If you feel awesome while helping others and making this world a better place, what is so bad about it?

      What is really eyeopening after reading comments like yours is a fact how many westerners actually support and justify scams and deception. This is unbelievable. It seems people don’t care at all about wrongdoings when it comes to their own travel goals. And that is so sad.

  • Allan

    I always appreciate blog posts like this one where a person talks about reality and not just romantic stuff.
    I also lived in Cambodia for almost two years in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and thought those were filthy places. Scams are real as well as many other issues this country has and denying that they exist is simply wrong.
    It’s almost funny to see how some commenters are trying to diminish author’s opinion and experience. Cambodia is really that place where it’s easy to have an unpleasant stay. And she really talks about what they felt when being in that country, why would you be putting your stupid two cents saying that what she experienced wasn’t true?

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