12 Most Common Tourist Scams in Myanmar

Safety at Yangon/Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan, Nyaung Shwe, Ngapali, Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo), Kalaw, Naypyidaw, Taunggyi, Nyaung U, Ngwe Saung, Mawlamyine, Bago, Hpa An, Hsipaw, Mrauk U, Myeik, Dawei, Pyay, Myitkyina, Sittwe, Chaungtha, Loikaw, Monywa, Kawthoung, Lashio, Magwayy, Pathein

Myanmar

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Myanmar is one of the most beautiful countries in Southeast Asia. For many years Myanmar was difficult to enter but now this amazing country is open and many are pouring in to enjoy some of its prettiest sites such as the spectacular temples of Bagan. Other highlights include stunning Mandalay where you can check out lakes, pagodas, and palaces, and this part of the world also has lively markets and a delicious street food scene.

This country however also remains one of the least affluent in Southeast Asia and this brings with it some tourist targeted scams as its tourism picks up. Most visits to Myanmar are trouble-free and violent crime is rare, although visitors need to keep their wits about them to avoid falling prey to any scammers in the region. Read on learn how to protect yourself!

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS/ACTIVITIES

1. Shoe guardians

Shwedagon Pagoda

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One of the most common scams in Myanmar takes place outside temples or pagodas. It is common practice in Myanmar for all visitors to religious sites to take off their shoes before they enter as a sign of respect.

As you remove your footwear to enter a temple in tourist areas like Bagan and Mandalay, a helpful local will tell you that they will ‘look after’ your shoes until you return. When you get back, they will ask for a small fee for their troubles or ask you to buy a souvenir from their shop or kiosk as a way of repaying them.

Rule of thumb:

It is true that you will need to remove your footwear before you enter a temple but unlikely you will need someone to take care of them as locals would not usually steal from a religious site. You can either make it clear you do not need any assistance, or just take off your shoes and carry them with you into the temple in a bag.

 

2. A friendship tour

Myanmar village

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This is a prevalent scam around tourist areas, usually guesthouses or cafes. A local will make your acquaintance and get talking to you. They will appear very friendly and ask you all about your life and then say that they consider you a friend and would love to give you a free tour of the city ‘for friendship.’

Once you go on the tour however, they will take you to eateries and shops where you will feel pressured to buy something as they will get a commission. At the end of the tour they will tell you that they have spent a huge amount of money on gasoline to take you around and will ask you for a high price for the tour.

Rule of thumb:

If someone offers you a free tour then you need to make sure it is actually free. Most of the time it will not be and you will be expected to pay at the end despite anything your guide promises you. As such it is better to avoid the situation by politely refusing to join a tour or have a firm agreement that you will not be paying any money for your guide’s services.

 

3. Restaurants without set prices

Some restaurants in Myanmar are basic and as such do not have menus. Some will come with a menu but it will not have any prices stated on it.

If you ask your server how much something will cost, they will usually tell you a low price, but when you pay you will find that the bill is much higher than you expected. Your server will tell you that this is because you ordered additional items even if you thought these were included in the meal price.

Rule of thumb:

Try to only eat in restaurants with a menu or a sign board that has set prices that clearly state how much each dish costs. In case of any disagreement when the bill arrives, you can then refer to the prices printed on the menu or publicly displayed board.

Although best, would be to do some online research or check with your hotel staff and eat at places with a reliable reputation.

 

4. Coin collectors

This scam is rampant in Southeast Asia (e.g. such as in Cambodia) and is often used in Bagan or Yangon. A friendly local will strike up conversation with you and ask where you come from. They will then say they are a coin collector and need some notes or coins from your home country which they will exchange for a few Kyats.

The problem is that you will be getting a bad rate of exchange and the scammers then try to pressure other tourists to buy back the coins and notes at a similarly bad rate of exchange, claiming they are useless as the locals can’t change foreign currency in Myanmar.

Rule of thumb:

If you are asked for foreign currency or pressured to accept foreign currency in exchange for Kyats then the best thing to do is walk away politely or say that you don’t have any foreign currency on you.

 

5. Fake entrance tickets

myanmar temple ticket

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This is the biggest scam in Bagan which is famous for its temples. A group of scammers will sit inside a temple usually with just a small wooden desk and claim that you have to pay a high entrance fee in order to see all the temples.

In reality this is a scam and you will only need to pay once to enter the Bagan Archeological Zone. Once you are inside the zone you do not have to pay again to visit any of the individual temples.

Rule of thumb:

If you are asked to pay a fee inside a temple then show your pass for the Bagan Archaeological Zone and explain that you have already paid. If the scammers persist then simply walk away and visit another temple.

 

6. Pickpocketing

Pickpocketing is prevalent across Southeast Asia (e.g. Indonesia, Vietnam, etc) and it happens in Myanmar. Usually pickpockets operate in crowded areas around tourist spots in Bagan and Mandalay and sometimes they may be children.

Often another member of the group will engage you in conversation and try to sell you souvenirs while another one will stand close to you and take valuable items from your pockets.

Rule of thumb:

The best advice is to only carry small amounts of currency with you and only take as much money as you need when you leave your hotel. Use a spare wallet or money belt if you have.

If your hotel has a safe then leave your most valuable belongings such as credit cards there and bring a photocopy of your passport with you rather than the original.

 

7. Snatch theft

Snatch theft is a rising problem in Myanmar and wider Southeast Asia (e.g. Malaysia, Philippines, etc). This usually involves thieves on motorbikes who drive close to you and then snatch valuables from your person, either from your hand or by pulling off your bag or camera.

If the strap of either of these doesn’t break then you may be dragged along the road and can be severely injured.

Rule of thumb:

Always wear your bag across your body and hold it close to you so that there is little room for thieves to snatch it from you. If you are walking along a road then always carry your bag on the side facing away from the street and try not to carry items in your hand such as a phone or camera.

 

C. TRANSPORT

1. Non-metered taxis

Yangon taxi

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Non-metered taxis are a problem all over Southeast Asia and this also applies to Myanmar. Once you get in a taxi and ask the driver to switch on the meter, he will tell you that it is broken or that you can pay him a flat rate fare which will be cheaper for you.

This is a common scam and you will usually end up paying more than you would have done if the driver had used the meter.

Rule of thumb:

Before you get into a taxi make sure to ask if the driver will use the meter. If they give you a story about why they can’t turn it on then simply look for another taxi. Many taxi drivers will agree to use the meter once you make it clear you won’t get in their taxi without it.

 

2. Long taxi routes

This is also a common scam all over Southeast Asia to get you to pay more for your taxi journey. If a taxi driver is using the meter he will take you on a long detour around town to keep the meter ticking over so that he gets a higher fare for the journey. For this scam the driver is relying on the fact that you are unfamiliar with the city and don’t realize that anything is wrong.

Rule of thumb:

You could consult the hotel staff how long a trip should take or simply do some online research. A good tip to avoid this scam is to make the driver aware that you know where you are going and will not be easily fooled.

Also, if you have your mobile phone with you then look up the route using GPS and follow it so that you know you are going the right way. Alert the driver if he seems to be taking a longer and less direct route.

 

C. MISC

1. Fake gemstones

Myanmar is famous for its gemstones (same as in Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc) but this also means that fake jewels are rife. A common scam is to be offered gemstones from a local, usually produced from their pocket, which they claim are sapphires or rubies and come from Mogok which is an area in Myanmar famous for its beautiful stones.

They will almost certainly be fake however, especially if they are being sold at a lower price than usual.

Rule of thumb:

Remember that if a deal sounds too good to be true then it probably is. If you want to buy real gemstones then do so from licensed shops so you know that they are not fakes.

 

2. Unique stone carvings and paintings

Myanmar stone carvings

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One scam that is on the rise in Bagan centers on a seller telling you that you are getting a ‘unique’ item. This is usually a painting or stone carving that the craftsman or woman will tell you took hours to create and is one of a kind.

Due to its unique design features, you will be asked to pay a high price for the piece, which in reality is not unique at all and can be found all over Myanmar.

Rule of thumb:

Always bargain when you buy souvenirs in Myanmar and be mindful of anyone telling you that they are selling you a ‘unique’ piece. In reality these are extremely rare so only pay what you really think the item is worth and feel comfortable paying.

 

3. Fraudulent money changers

Money changers in Myanmar are known for several fraudulent tricks.

The first of these is to give you a bad rate of exchange, but the second is more difficult to detect. Once you agree on a price, the money changer will hand you half the bills to count. Due to the large number of bills they will then offer to hold the money for you as you keep on counting but will actually take some of it when you aren’t looking.

Often a crowd will form and take an interest in the transaction so that you are distracted. The money changer will then put an elastic band around you money and may also take the opportunity to pocket some notes at the same time.

Rule of thumb:

If at all possible use only money changers inside banks or hotels and avoid money changers in the streets. If you do use an unlicensed money changer then watch very closely to make sure they are not pocketing any of your money.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency Numbers to Call

Myanmar police

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  • Police:  199
  • Fire Service: 191
  • Ambulance: 192
  • Tourist Police – Yangon: +95 1 379 991
  • Tourist Police – Mandalay: +95 267 382

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