While traveling in Southeast Asia, it's important to be on alert for anything that sounds too good to be true, as there are plenty of scams out there just waiting to trap unsuspecting tourists who aren't paying attention. Here are some of the scams to watch out for in Cambodia.
The infamous tuk-tuk is a three wheeled vehicle, a little like a bike with a carriage on the back. Sometimes these vehicles are powered by an engine, and sometimes they're pedal power alone. They're the main form of transport around towns and cities. They're a common mode of transport at Angkor Wat, too.
Occasionally, as a tourist, you'll come across a driver who's on a commission to deliver you to a particular shop/temple/restaurant/hotel/bar. You might find yourself miles away from your intended destination, and being pressured to buy/consume/stay.
That's not to say that you mustn't sample this traditional Asian transportation device if you really must, but try to do that safely, either by sharing with another tourist or travelling companion you know well, or by taking a trip along a route you'll recognise. That way you'll be able to spot the danger signs if you end up straying from the main drag.
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the detour experience, but be very strict about not falling for the ruse.
You'll find that most con artists will be lurking in the packed streets of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, where you might be too distracted by the chaos of the area to give much consideration to the people approaching you. However, by becoming a clued-up tourist with a keen eye for trouble, you'll stay one step ahead of the game.
So, be aware of these favourite scams, and Cambodia will be that delightful destination you want it to be.
Numismatics is the term for coin collecting, and this is one of the most popular (and thankfully, least harmful) scams in Cambodia. You might find yourself approached by a local who will likely be dressed quite smartly as you enjoy a drink in a local bar.
The ruse here is for him to convince you that he's a well-educated coin collector who is missing certain denominations from (surprise, surprise) whichever foreign currency you happen to have. After a little bit of persuasion, your new numismatist best friend will ask you for some of the denominations he needs to complete his collection in exchange for local currency.
The deal is that you'll get a straight swap without having to pay exchange fees as you would in a bank, so you'll be convinced that you're gaining out of helping someone with their hobby.
What you won't get of course, is a fair deal. Unless you're a regular traveler to Cambodia, and familiar with the Riel, you'll easily be duped into thinking you've got the same money back in return. Meanwhile, your local coin enthusiast will be rushing off to get his newly acquired Dollars or Pounds converted into something a bit more useful.
With such a profoundly corrupt government as Cambodia's, the local cop might not be the friendly face in uniform that they would be back home. The officer who approaches you in a Cambodian street might not be a legitimate cop at all.
If you find yourself approached by a cop or two on the street, you may be asked to hand over your passport. If you haven't reported a crime to anyone, then the chances are they're not real officers and the likely result of handing over your passport will be a hefty fine to get it back.
The best advice is to always carry a photocopy of your passport as well and tell anyone asking that your passport is either at the hotel, or with the consulate.
If the cop presses the issue, or says he needs it to verify your identity, you can either offer him a copy or tell him you'll meet him at the consulate where he can view the real thing. Chances are you won't see him for dust after that.
This is a particularly nasty one, and is usually targeted at lone male travelers.
The con artist in this case will be a group, but to begin with you'll just meet the "front" - a beautiful female who doesn't look as if she roams the streets hunting for unsuspecting prey. She'll look as if she has money of her own, which is all part of the ploy.
Cue a romantic relationship between the victim and the alluring temptress that may go on for several days, and will usually end up with a romantic rendezvous in your hotel room.
The next day her "brother" and followers will arrive on the scene, along with a teary eyed, and somewhat more dishevelled than when you last saw her temptress, accusing you of rape.
You won't be too surprised to learn that the only way to get yourself out of this mess is the production of your bank card and a brisk walk to the local ATM.
This scam is by far the most popular in Cambodia, and usually occurs when travelers stay at the same hotel, or frequent the same bar over a period of time. While there's little personal danger involved here, it's still a particularly unpleasant experience to fall foul of because it involves an element of trust.
The con artist in this case will be a fellow traveler, out enjoying the sights of wonderful Cambodia. He'll be from the same country as you, and probably speak your native language with a passable accent. Over a few days he'll get to know you, maybe even buy you a drink, and certainly share stories of his travels with you, even though it's doubtful that he'll ever have been to the places he mentions.
You'll be sitting at the bar one day when your fellow traveler will come in looking a little upset, and he'll announce that he's just had his bag stolen, along with his wallet, his passport, and anything else he can think of. Once he's got you sympathising with him, he'll ask you for a loan of a reasonably large amount of your native currency so that he can get to the consulate and pay for a new passport, as well as pay his hotel bill which he's just been presented with. Of course, he'll swear to pay you back once the consulate arranges the transfer of money for him.
Now, this one is a particularly difficult scam, because you'll have built up a friendship and you really won't want to let him down. But think about it seriously. The best way out of this is to either apologise and say you've run out of money yourself until more comes through from home or, if you want to test the validity of his claim, offer to take him to the consulate yourself. Either way, don't hand over any money - you just won't see it again.
English is the world's most common language, so you'll probably find that most people who approach you will automatically start talking to you in English.
It's tempting to talk back, especially if you're asked a question. But beware, the criminals and con artists know this too, and engaging one of them in conversation is like offering a shortcut to your bank card.
Once the scammer thinks they have made a connection, they are unlikely to leave you alone, and where one scammer shows an interest, others will follow.
To avoid this situation, definitely don't answer any questions that could cause you further problems, so if you're asked where you're staying in Phnom Penh, for example, announcing your hotel and room number is probably ill advised.
If you suspect you might be being scammed, and if you can keep a straight face, pretend you don't speak English. It's amazing how quickly you'll be left alone by petty criminals if they can't communicate with you. This works particularly well for travelers who speak at least one other language – unless that language happens to be Khmer of course.
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Local laws, how to avoid petty crime and deal with police corruption in Cambodia. Stay safe on your trip with these tips from our local expert, Cassie Wilkins.
Cassie Wilkins goes beyond Angkor Wat to discover Cambodia’s most off-the-beaten-track historic sites.