Cambodia: Scams to Avoid & Safety

Emergency lines are: 117 for police, 118 for fire, and 119 for ambulance.

Cambodia is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly locals, spectacular scenery and is home to one of the worlds greatest ancient temples.  It, along with many other developing countries in S E Asia, is becoming increasingly popular with backpackers and holiday makers alike. However as with any location popular with tourists there are always those who are looking to make a quick buck with some clever and sophisticated scams. We’ve listed some of the most common that we and other backpackers have come across so you can try and avoid them.

To report a crime in Phnom Penh, go to the Tourist Police at Number 13,Street 158, near Wat Koh. In Siem Reap, the Tourist Police office is next to the ticketing booth for the Angkor temple ruins.

Land Border/Visa Scam

Immigration officers at land border crossings are notorious for petty extortion. Travellers can be asked to pay an ‘extra’ fee of some sort, usually $1-$5usd, most officials simply explain that visa charges have increased or give a terrible rate when paying in Thai baht. Politely insist that you know the price, they back down soon enough.

Visa prices are listed here.

The ‘Scambodia’ Scam Bus

Private mini buses to Cambodia mainly from Thailand lure travellers in with their crazy low prices. Which is fine as long as you don’t mind lots of comfort stops and can stand up for yourself when told you must buy your Cambodian visa from the bus ‘company’ to hurry things along at the border.

Many tourists blindly hand over their passports and get charged around $50-$80usd, the bus employees can become pretty irritated when travellers insist on sorting visas themselves, warning that if you’re late the bus on the other side of the border will leave. In reality there is rarely a queue for visa applications which are a flat $20usd and it’s very unlikely that you would miss the bus. In fact in many cases, you can be on the other side of the border before those who have paid an extra fee to the bus company. Expensive or cheap, most buses will try this.

The Milk Powder Scam

A disadvantaged looking mother or a lone child won’t beg you not for money but will plead with you to buy powdered milk for nourishment. You’ll be lead to their chosen store to purchase said powder at a scam rate of around $20usd, once you leave the child will simply return the milk and split the profits with the shop keeper who is in on the scam.

Milk Powder Scam

Rental Scam

Renting a moto or bicycle leaves you at risk of it being ‘stolen’ by the owner or being accused of damaging it some way, be aware if a compensation amount is not settled fast, owners can get aggressive. The best way to avoid this is to rent a motorcycle from an agent recommended by fellow travellers.

Fake Tourist Information Offices

Professional looking or just a stall, some will claim to be government approved.  Earning commission selling tourists hotel rooms and attraction tickets. Walk away if told that a place you want to visit is closed (it rarely is). Not all these touts are bad though and they can be competitive with each other, helps to do some research.

Fake Medication Scams

In Cambodia, like most of SE Asia, fake pills are sold. Anti-malarial pills are the most common fakes as they are most in demand. Go to U-Care when in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh they are one of few trusted Cambodian pharmacy chains.

Tuk Tuk/Taxi Drivers

No meters in Cambodia means you have to either arrange a price before setting off for longer trips or just tell the tuk tuk driver where you’re going and hand him $1-$3usd when you arrive. Never listen to drivers restaurant or hotel recommendations/warnings as they just want commission.

Officials

The Cambodian police officers get paid pittance and many will try to squeeze money from tourists when given the opportunity. It could be a bogus traffic infringement when riding a moto or holding travellers’ passports ransom after asking to check visas, every ‘fine’ seems to start at $50usd just be confident and polite when challenging the police, most leave you alone after a few minutes dispute at the very least you’ll reduce the fine.

False NGOs and Orphanages

First these are not tourist attractions! Secondly there are complex issues surrounding ‘orphanages’ in Cambodia and a rise in voluntourism that means many should be avoided. Be sure to research any establishment is 100% real before visiting or donating. Fake orphanages and NGOs only damage the real ones. Find out more about Cambodia’s orphanage problem as well as some great causes to support here.

Local Guides

Some ‘helpful’ locals offering services as guides, lead tourists on a long and draining journey to their friends’ shops and restaurants, gaining commission on everything purchased. Use official guides when possible and never agree to anything you didn’t plan to do.

Internet Cafe Scams

Always use caution when using internet shops/cafés anywhere, they may have software installed on their computers to steal bank details and other valuable information.

Drug Planting

It is rare but a drug planting cop could set you back a hefty amount, be calm and offer money straight away, don’t use the word bribe and the corrupt cop may be satisfied after being paid just $20. Save money and hassle by not arguing your case.