Last Updated February, 2021
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.
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.
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
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.
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 a 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, the 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?
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.
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
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.
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.