Welcome to backpacking in Southeast Asia! These are a few of the scams I’ve encountered or heard about while traveling and living in Cambodia for five months.
They’re easily avoidable as long as you know what to look for and how to handle the situation. Don’t get ripped off or get yourself into trouble.
This country is one of my favorites in the world, but of course, it still has its faults. Hearing and reading about these scams is actually quite humorous, especially when you know you’re being scammed (hey, I wasn’t born yesterday!).
Baby Milk Scam
A mother will approach you with her child and ask you to buy her baby some baby milk. The baby will stare at you with big, gushing eyes that will toy at your heart. The mother will stare at you with tears in her eyes and make sure you see her holding the baby. They will stare at you as you eat your huge dinner, which will probably be coupled with a few Cambodian beers. The guilt will bubble out of your stomach and you may cave.
This is the point.
You’ll go to the store and buy baby milk. The clerk will charge you more than it’s worth without you knowing (they’re in on the scam). Once you give the milk to the mother, she will go back into the store and return the milk, making a profit.
A Cambodian will go up to you and ask you where you’re from in perfect English. Once you tell them, they will tell you their relative or friend is visiting that country or city very soon and wants to learn more about it. They will invite you to their house for lunch or dinner the following day.
Once you arrive, they will tell you they need help catching someone in a gambling scam (ironic, right?) and that they want you to go to the casino with them. Once you’re playing at the casino, they will ask you to put more money into the game so they can continue to play and catch the ‘scammer.’ They’ll also tell you that you’ll get the money back. They will take you to the ATM, and, ultimately, rob you blind.
While I was in Phnom Penh, I was approached by a woman who asked where I was from. Once I told her, she told me her niece was going to New York soon. I started laughing because I knew exactly what was coming next.
I told her, “that’s great! I’m leaving for New York tomorrow and have a flight at 5 a.m. Bye!” and walked away. She looked upset.
Police Checkpoint Scam
The police set up random check points in all of the major cities and seem to only pull over westerners. They will pull you over for anything: if your lights are on, if you’re not wearing a helmet, if your shirt isn’t on, etc. They will make up ticket prices on the spot.
I was pulled over with one of my friends. We were told driving with the lights on during the day is a $6 ticket and the driver not wearing a helmet is a $4 ticket. The policeman also gave us a whole speech about getting an international license (neither of us were listening).
Another couple was pulled over right after us. My friend was charged $10 (even though I told him to only give them $3!) and the other couple was only charged $3 for the same exact thing. They make numbers up.
They will ask for anything from $10-20. Don’t give it to them! You have two choices: Keep driving and blow through the checkpoint, or tell them you only have a couple dollars and hand them that and drive away. They’re not going to chase you (unless they’re the military, then stay put).
One of the most popular things to do in Cambodia is to rent a motorbike. Many companies have spare keys to the motorbikes and will find out where you’re staying and take the motorbike in the middle of the night. That way, you will have to pay $500-$1,000 for a ‘new bike.’
Only go with reputable companies. Renting a bike through your hotel or hostel is one of the safest ways to prevent this from happening. You can also pretend you’re going to rent it for a long period of time which may deter them from stealing it (if they steal it and you’re here for a long time, that will give you and the police a longer chance to find the bike).
Border Crossing Scam
The border crossing from Thailand to Poipet in Cambodia is one of the most notorious border crossing scams in Asia.
The tuk-tuk drivers will take you to a building to get your Cambodian visa before going into Cambodia, don’t do it! Don’t get your visa BEFORE you’re stamped out of Thailand, get your visa AFTER you’re stamped out and AFTER crossing the border. The visas at the scam building are real, but they’re a lot more expensive than what you would buy twenty minutes later once you’re stamped out of Thailand.
I knew this when crossing the border. The tuk-tuk driver insisted I had to go to that building. Once they dropped me off, I walked towards the border and was basically chased down and yelled at by multiple Cambodians (it was actually quite funny). I ignored them, went to the border, was stamped out of Thailand quickly and effortlessly, and got my Cambodian visa in Cambodia.
Be wary of pick-pockets and bag snatchers. If you’re driving a motorbike, don’t wear a bag on your shoulder or across your chest. I’ve heard multiple stories of people driving on another motorbike and grabbing the bag and ripping it off of them and driving away. Wear a backpack or store your bag under the seat.
Tuk-tuk drivers will also try to scam you by charging an insane price to get from one place to another. I once tried to get a tuk-tuk from a bus stop in Sihanoukville to Otres Village and was told it would be $15. I laughed, told them I’m not paying more than $4 (how much it should be) and started to walk away. After 10 minutes of back and forth negotiation, they finally accepted my price. One of the best ways not to get ripped off is to tell them you live there and have been there for many months, which indicates you know how much it should cost. If that doesn’t work, start walking away and telling them you’ll find another tuk-tuk driver. This is usually how you get the price you want. They will chase after you and say “okay okay!”
Do you know about any more scams in Cambodia? Share below!