11 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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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.

The country however remains one of the least affluent in Southeast Asia and this brings with it tourist targeted scams as its tourism picks up.

Although most visits to Myanmar are trouble-free and violent crime is rare, visitors still need to keep their wits about them.

Read on learn how to protect yourself!

Contents

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS / ACTIVITIES

1. Shoe guardians

Shwedagon Pagoda

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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.

If the monetary exchange has been decided before hand however, then this is technically not a scam. Just do not go into thinking that this is a “free” service.

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.

As Myanmar is still a developing country, it is quite normal for some restaurants not to have menus. As such, not all restaurants without menus are scams.

However, do be wary of cases where if you ask your server how much something will cost, they tell you a low price. However, when it comes to paying, you find a bill that 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:

Ideally, do some online research or check with your hotel staff on places to eat at.

 

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:

Walk away politely or say that you don’t have any foreign currency.

 

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 insist 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 (e.g. U Bein Bridge) and sometimes they may be children.

They also like to target buses and street fairs.

Just in early 2018, 3 members of a 7 person gang which targets passengers on YBS 20, which runs from Hlaing Tharyar township to Thakin Mya Park, have been arrested.

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 passes it on
  • The last will hide it under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

Rule of thumb:

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.

Only carry small amounts of cash around with you in a cheap spare wallet. Avoid carrying the purse or wallet in the back pocket.

As for your valuables, store them securely in a money belt or hidden pouch or in a sturdy anti-theft bag that is slash resistant with a locking system. Carry it in front of you.

Also, carry a photocopy of your passport with you instead of the original.

If your hotel has a safe then leave your most valuable belongings such as your credit cards and passport there. Also, consider using hotel safety tools such as a hotel safe lock or door jammer to strengthen the security of your hotel room.

 

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:

While walking alongside the road and at traffic junctions, watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).

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. A cross body anti-theft bag will do the trick.

And as mentioned earlier, consider getting a money belt or a hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

Also, try not to carry items in your hand such as a phone or camera.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxis

Yangon taxi

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This is a common scam all over Southeast Asia by non metered taxis to get you to pay more for your taxi journey.

In Myanmar, there are no taxis with meters, hence you might find some drivers who charge a much higher rate.

Rule of thumb:

You simply have to do your research to find out how much a route will cost.

This can be easily checked online with a taxi fare estimator tool or with hotel or shop staff. For instance, a taxi ride from Yangon airport to town will cost 8k-9k Kyatt.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

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.

 

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 your 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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3 Comments

  1. Richard Seinstra

    Make sure that you have an idea how much certain distances will cost. Check in your hotel or with another local, they usually know the regular prices. Negociate with the driver before getting into the taxi.

    Note though that prices vary per region or city. E.g. a taxi in Yangon from the airport to downtown will cost you 8000-9000 kyatt (10 miles), where in Dawei from the airport to town will be 4000-5000 kyatt (3 miles).

    Reply
  2. Paul

    The vast majority of people are good, honest people either trying to make a living or showing an interest in foreigners. Smile, talk to them, be friendly, don’t assume someone is trying to ‘scam’ you because they approached you. It’s rare and pretty obvious when its happening if you have one iota of common sense.

    Reply
  3. Ronny

    Fakemonks are common.

    Reply

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