20 Most Common Tourist Scams in Cambodia

Safety at Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kampot, Battambang, Kep, Koh Rong, Banlung, Sen Monorom, Koh Kong, Kratie, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Chi Phat, Prey Veng, Stung Treng, Takeo

 

Cambodia

Image source: tourismcambodia.org

 

Cambodia has firmly established itself on the tourist scene in Southeast Asia.

Many visitors travel to Cambodia to see iconic locations like the stunning temples of Angkor as well as moving historical sites like the Killing Fields.

Other reasons to visit include the delicious food, colorful markets, and the chance to take a river cruise along the mighty Tonle Sap that bisects this beautiful country.

Coupled with the low costs of visiting, Cambodia has seen an influx of tourists in recent years.

However, this has also led to a rise in tourist targeted scams. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Visa scam

cambodia visa scam

Image source: itsbetterinthailand.com

 

How it works:

This takes place at the land borders between Cambodia and Thailand. Although you will not even have entered the country yet, this is very definitely a Cambodian scam.

When you are queuing to obtain a visa from the Cambodian immigration authorities, you may be approached by people posing as Cambodian immigration officials.

These people will offer to get your visa for you so that you don’t have to wait. However, this will cost much more than a normal visa on arrival.

An extension of this scam involves ‘officials’ approaching you in line and telling you that you don’t have the correct documentation for a visa.

They also claim that you need to provide medical documents and immunization certificates. If you don’t have them, they can help facilitate the visa for you, again for a higher price.

Note: since late 2016, children require a visa (free in the past) as well, unless he / she has a Cambodian parent.

 

What to do:

If you are approached when you are in line, the people in question are almost certainly not officials working for Cambodian Immigration.

Do not engage and only deal with the real officials at the immigration counter.

A tip is to say that you already have a visa and are just waiting to get your passport stamped.

 

2. Coin collectors

cambodian coins

Image source: thespruce.com

 

How it works:

This is one of the most common scams in Cambodia and takes place in tourist hot spots.

This involves a friendly local who starts chatting with you and explains that he is an avid coin collector.

He will first establish where you come from. Then, he claims not to have any coins from your country and would love to have some to complete his collection.

They will offer to exchange these for Cambodian currency and promise to give you a fair rate. In reality however, they will be using a very bad rate.

 

What to do:

Politely explain that you have just changed all your money and only have local currency.

 

3. Scam orphanages

 

How it works:

Do you know that over the past 5 years, the number of orphanages in Cambodia has risen by 75%?

Further, 75% of the children here are not orphans! These orphanages exploit poor families by claiming that their children can get free education and food there.

However, there are also children who are “rented” by these orphanages so that they can get donations from tourists.

Regardless, much of the donations go to the owners of the orphanages, and little trickle down to the children. The children are also poorly treated and forced to act pitiful to attract donations.

 

What to do:

Do not visit these orphanages or donate to them. If you really want to help, check out restaurants that take kids and teach them hospitality skills.

You can also stay in NGO accommodation which help to teach and encourage Cambodian youth.

Alternatively, donate to other legitimate / reputable organizations / charities.

 

4. Angkor Watt touts

Cambodia touts

Image source: seeyousoon.ca

 

How it works:

You will find tons of touts outside Angkor Watt. They sell guidebooks, maps, water, food, souvenir and what have you.

However, that is not the scam itself, the scam is the lies thrown about. e.g. claiming that the guidebook / map cost $20 when you can get it for $1 if you were to buy in the temple. Or claiming that no water or food is sold in the temple when there is, etc

 

What to do:

Just ignore them. Do not bother buying from the kids as well as little of the profits goes to them.

 

5. Incense / prayer scam

Image source: moriachappell.com

 

How it works:

At Angkor Watt, do not accept incense sticks from anyone.

If you do, they will show you how to make a quick prayer, and then charge you $5 for each stick.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject.

 

6. Tonle Sap floating village rice scam

 

How it works:

Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake and you can find 3 floating villages on the lake.

Most tourists are brought to the Chong Khneas floating village as it is the closest to Siem Reap. This village is a tourist trap and scam.

During the boat tour, you will encounter other boats pulling up and asking for one dollar. These are usually asked by a kid with a water snake around them. They hold the snake up you to you, which could be a ploy to intimidate you to pay.

After a while, the boat driver will mention how the community here is so poor that they cannot afford proper food and safe water. He then suggests buying food or stationery for the community here.

You will be brought to a shop and be pressured to buy rice, noodles, books or pencils, etc for the local school at crazy prices (e.g. $50-$100).

What really happens is that these items will not be given to the kids. Rather, they will be returned to the shop with the “donation” shared amongst the scammers.

At this point, the tour ends, you are brought back to your pick up point and tips will be demanded.

The whole thing is a tourist trap as well, as there isn’t much to see and you might be scammed further (e.g. paying an inflated price for entrance tickets).

 

What to do:

Don’t waste your time and money with this tour. If you really want to see floating villages, catch them in Vietnam instead.

 

7. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

This happens quite a bit in Asia and also in other parts of the world (e.g. Sri Lanka, Philippines, Dominican Republic, etc) and there are endless variations.

One such is thieves on motorbikes driving up to you and snatching your valuables from you.

  • This can be dangerous as you can also get dragged along the road at the same time.

 

Another variation is that of a simple snatch of your phone / jewelry from behind you, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

  • Restaurants seem to be a favourite place for these thieves, as victims are usually in a relaxed state.
  • A bag, wallet / purse or camera slung around the chair, or left on an adjacent seat are super easy pickings for thieves. The either steal it stealthily, or do a distract and grab.
  • Hotels are another as you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually distracted while handling the registration process.
  • The seats beside a train’s doors are a great spot as well as the thief can time his escape perfectly just before the doors close.

A third variation could be a thief snatching your valuables through a car / bus window. It will be difficult to catch him, as your car / bus would not be able to reverse into oncoming traffic.

 

What to do:

Stay alert at crowded places, and even at seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

  • Do not lay your valuables out on the table or expose them unnecessarily in public.
  • Keep your bags in your line of sight and as close as possible (e.g. on your lap when at a restaurant).
  • Ideally, use a money belt or hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

While out walking / on a vehicle on the road or streets:

  • Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).
  • Carry your valuables in a bag across your body with a cross body anti-theft bag, away from the road / windows of your car / bus.
  • Do not carry items in your hands such as a mobile phone when walking by the road or when beside the window in a car / bus.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off your body.

 

 

8. Milk / food beggar with child scam

sick children sob story

Image source: madmonkeyhostels.com

 

How it works:

This is a scam that is often used in Cambodia (around Pub Street at Siem Reap) as it usually attracts sympathy.

A local, usually a woman, will approach you in the street with a small child or a baby. She will explain that the child is very sick and needs medicine or baby milk which she cannot afford.

Many visitors feel compelled to help and hand over some money, but this is almost always a scam.

The scammer will reject your offers of money, and bring you to a shop to buy milk / food at inflated prices instead.

After buying, the scammer will return the item to the shop and split the amount you paid earlier.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject. If you want to help, check out restaurants that take kids and teach them hospitality skills.

Or you could stay in NGO accommodation which help to teach and encourage Cambodian youth.

Alternatively, you can donate to other legitimate / reputable organizations / charities.

 

9. Invitations to visit a local home (gambling)

 

How it works:

This is one of the most popular scams in Cambodia and usually takes place in tourist areas. It also takes place in other countries such as China, Malaysia, etc.

As you are admiring an attraction or eating in a cafe, you will be approached by a friendly local who asks you where you are from.

When you tell them, they remark on the coincidence as one of their family members is just about to move to your country and is very nervous.

They ask if you would mind talking to them so that they feel less stressed about the move and invite you for dinner at their home.

If you agree, you will often get there to find a gambling game in progress. You will be asked to join in and bet for money which you will then lose.

A variation of this scam is that once you get to the house, you will be held at gun point if you refuse to participate in the gambling game.

 

What to do:

Be skeptical of anyone who says they have a family member traveling to your home country, or who invites you to their home.

 

10. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Pickpocketing happens in Cambodia, particularly around crowded tourist attractions in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it)
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

Also watch out for the kids following you around at Angkor Watt. They are just waiting for the right time to strike.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap, spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Angkor Watt (sunrise) tuk tuk scam

angkor watt sunrise

Image source: navutudreams.com

 

How it works:

Tuk tuks have a really bad reputation in Asia (e.g. Vietnam, Thailand). It is no different in Cambodia.

During your trip, you might have engaged a tuk tuk driver and he offers you a cheap price to tour Angkor Watt. This tour starts from watching the sunrise at Angkor Watt the next day.

On the day itself, the tuk tuk driver shows up and drives you to the park entrance. Once the park tickets are bought however, the driver changes his mind and charges you an inflated price instead.

As the entrance is 5km from the park, you won’t see spare tuk tuks around. In your rush to not miss the sunrise, you are forced to negotiate the price but still end up paying an exorbitant amount.

Should a price not be agreed upon, you will simply be ditched.

 

What to do:

Do not engage any tuk tuk drivers on the streets and do not be tempted by their cheap prices.

Hire one through your hotel instead – they wouldn’t just ditch you.

 

2. Tuk tuk partnership

cambodia tuk tuk

Image source: lifeofabackpacker.com

 

How it works:

You might find your tuk tuk driver missing at the final leg of your tour. At this point, another tuk tuk driver will appear out of nowhere and offer to bring you back to your hotel.

Should you accept, you will find your first tuk tuk driver back at the destination (the hotel).

The driver will claim aggressively that you have cheated him by not paying and taking another tuk tuk. An exorbitant amount is demanded as compensation.

 

What to do:

Again, engage a tuk tuk driver through your hotel / accommodation.

Also do not pay any tuk tuk driver upfront until all services have been provided.

If possible, try to get the driver’s mobile so that he remains contactable. If caught in such a situation, negotiate the price down.

 

3. “Official bus” / taxi – tuk tuk partnership after crossing border

cambodia tuk tuks

Image source: castawaywithcrystal.com

 

How it works:

After crossing the border from Thailand, you will find yourself hounded by touts.

They will claim that you have to take the official bus to get to the bus station as it is illegal to take other modes of transport.

Should you accept their offer, you will be taken to the tourist bus station and put on an expensive bus.

You will then end up somewhere out of town, but in front of a travel agency with many tuk tuks. To get you to your destination, these tuk tuks will charge exorbitant prices.

 

What to do:

Instead of taking the “official” bus, approach the taxi drivers down the street instead (about 100 yards away). They are no saints as well, so bargain hard.

Also, do not pay in full until reaching your destination. This is because some taxi drivers might break off halfway and send you to a tuk tuk in the outskirts.

They may use lame excuses such as pretending that they do not know the way or that cars are not allowed in town.

Ideally, keep your luggage in the car beside you rather than in the boot. This is so you can leave easily without the risk of the driver running off with your luggage.

 

4. Non-metered taxis

Cambodia taxis

Image source: howtogotocambodia.com

 

How it works:

This scam is a problem all over Southeast Asia and is particularly prevalent in Cambodia.

Once you enter a taxi, the driver will tell you that the meter is broken or that it is cheaper for you to pay a flat rate.

However, this is a scam. You will be paying more for the taxi ride than you would if they used the meter.

 

What to do:

Ask if the meter can be used.

Else, do your research (online taxi fare estimation, check with your hotel) to get a rough idea of how much your trip should cost and negotiate with that figure.

 

5. Non-direct routes

Image source: adventuresaroundasia.com

 

How it works:

If you do get a taxi with a meter the driver will often try to find a way to inflate the fare.

This may mean that they drive all over town first before dropping you at your destination. Or they could drive deliberately through very crowded areas.

 

What to do:

You could consult the hotel staff how long a trip should take or simply do some online research.

A good tip 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, look up the route using GPS and make sure are going the right way.

Alert the driver if he seems to be taking a longer and less direct route.

 

6. Corrupt traffic police

 

How it works:

Many travellers rent a motorbike to get around in Cambodia and a corrupt traffic police will stop them at the side of the road.

They will claim that you have broken the law in some way and demand you pay a fine on the spot.

The favourite hot spot for this is at Golden Lion Roundabout in Sihanoukville.

 

What to do:

Make sure you do not break any traffic laws, that you have the correct license and are wearing a helmet.

Note that you do not need an international driving license if the motorbike you rent is below 125cc.

If you are stopped when you have not committed a driving infraction, ask to go to a police station to deal with it officially.

Often the traffic police will not want to do this and will let you go with a warning.

 

7. Motorbike theft

 

How it works:

This often happens in tourist areas where many businesses rent motorbikes to foreigners.

Often a motorbike rental company will ask you to leave your passport with them as a collateral in exchange for a padlock and key.

They also have a copy of the key however and someone who works for them will follow you and wait for you to park your bike.

They will then unlock it with the spare key and drive off so that you think it has been stolen.

You will then have to pay the full cost of the bike to the rental company in order to get your passport back.

 

What to do:

Do not hand over your passport as collateral.

Also try to rent a motorbike from a reputable business.

Finally, do consider investing in your own lock and key (e.g. getting a padlock that can’t be broken without professional cutting tools).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. A rape accusation

 

How it works:

This is one of the most disturbing scams in Cambodia and although it may be rare it does happen.

The scam is targeted at male travellers who meet a local woman and become friends over several days. At some point she will find a reason to be alone with you in your hotel room and will then leave.

Soon after that you will be approached by a gang of men claiming to be her brothers or other family members. They will accuse you of raping her.

The woman will suddenly appear at the scene in tears and corroborate this story. The group demands that you pay some ‘damage money’ and leave Cambodia immediately, or they will press charges against you.

 

What to do:

Be wary of female locals who appear to be extremely friendly before you have even got to know each other.

If possible, avoid being alone with a female in a situation that can be manipulated, such as a hotel room.

 

2. Fake police officers

 

How it works:

This is a common scam in Cambodia and you may find yourself stopped by someone claiming to be a police officer.

The scammer will ask for your passport. When you hand it over. they will make up a reason why you need to pay a ‘fine’ to get it back.

 

What to do:

If you are stopped for no reason by someone claiming to be a police officer, ask to see their identification. Threaten to call the hotline (at end of this article) to verify their identification.

Also, ask to be taken to the nearest police station or consulate to sort out the problem. However, double check with a local on where the nearest police station is, or if you have mobile data, to use Google maps.

Another good tip is to always carry a photocopy of your passport so that you don’t have to use the original.

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside for daily transactions, while the rest of your valuables are hidden securely in your money belt or hidden pouch.

This way, the scammers might simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash on you.

Even if not, you can simply give up that wallet or the cash in it with minimal loss to yourself and save a ton of trouble.

 

3. A friend who has been robbed

 

How it works:

This scam has started to arise in Cambodia lately and is one of the most difficult to detect.

It will start when someone at your guesthouse (a fellow traveller) befriends you. You may go out and visit some attractions together or they may buy you a drink at the bar. The idea is to earn your trust and make it seem as if they are a traveller as well.

Nearer to the end of your stay they will approach you and say that they have had all their possessions stolen. They can get a new passport but their local consulate needs them to pay and they don’t have any money.

This is often a scam and you will never see them again once you give them the money.

 

What to do:

This is a difficult situation and sometimes it may be true.

If you really want to help, offer to go with your friend to their consulate and pay for the new passport to make sure their story is genuine.

If you don’t want to help or are not in a position to do so financially then politely say that you are unable to do so.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Cambodia police

Image source: scmp.com

 

  • Police: 117
  • Fire service: 118
  • Ambulance: 119
  • Tourist Police – Phnom Penh: 012 942 484
  • Tourist Police – Siem Reap: 012 402 424

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4 Comments

  1. Mukesh Chander Mishra

    Hi all I find new scam her in PNH like if some massage parlor gives to discount and they returned your 100$ note returned to you it means it could be changed with duplicate note be careful. It happens with me yesterday night on 15/05/2018. Go with your change money.

    Reply
  2. Mick Desmond

    A scam I fell victim to Riverside in Phnom Pehn, the cheap $5 massage shop asks you to leave your bag in a specific place, behind your vision. The massage comes with allot of loud slapping. Meanwhile they are going through your bag, only taking your large currency notes but leaving one of each. I guess if they got caught they could argue that you must have spent the others. This happened to me in two separate $5 massage shops before I realised the scam.

    Reply
    • Del

      A very “Unhappy” ending then lol

      Reply
  3. Ken

    I “loved” Cambodia when I went there first time as an NGO three years ago…Made some good friends.

    So, I decided to go back after couple of months privately.
    I stayed there nearly one month, met a girt at “shopping mall”. She smiled and asked about me… Shortly, we became “friends”. After few days, “very close friends”.

    She took me to her “village home”, introduced her “family”, who can’t speak any “English”.
    They were so good to me, offered drinks and food, treated like a “family member”. When I asked her why, she replied that she said to her family “you are my boyfriend”. She was young, beautiful, and I am a divorced person…I got excited!

    Make it short, we were in touch and I went to her more than 6 times again. At my last visit, she asked me to get “married”. I was more than happy that I can have such a young and beautiful girl as my wife. She asked me to have a “wedding ceremony”.

    We prepared for “wedding ceremony”, done at pagoda with her family and close friends. Next day big “party”, with 1000 guests.

    On the whole, I paid more than 10000USD to her “MOM” a Cambodian “tradition”!

    After few happy days, came back here because of my work.
    Since that, can’t contact her as she “BLOCKED” me on all platforms!

    So please beware of “MARRIAGE” scams, as it’s so popular now…

    Reply

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