Cambodian Hustles and Scams
By Andrew Kolasinski
“I played a little joke with you because you’re my friend,” said my taxi driver at the Cham Yeam-Hat Lek border crossing from Thailand. He tried every trick in the book of scams, quoting the price of my ride in American dollars, Thai baht, then in Cambodian riel. It was exhausting doing the math in my head. Each conversion cost me a little more. Finally he offered the ride free provided I bought a tank full of gasoline.
Cambodia is a beautiful country with a haunted past. The people are moving ahead and trying to forget the madness of dictatorship and war. The nation has developed rapidly and opened for tourism, but most people are still poor, and some are quickly learning how to separate foreigners from their money. Here’s a round-up of local scams and some innovative rip-offs.
Most common are feigned misunderstanding over the price as my taxi driver friend demonstrated. Not having small bills to make change is a universal ploy. Make sure you always carry small bills to pay the exact amount.
Some frauds are a little more sinister. At the same border crossing other operators were selling marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth within sight and sound of the Cambodian border police.
In Siem Reap, Joe, a German traveler was approached by a nice lady who invited him to meet her daughter. Her daughter had a scholarship to study in Germany but was afraid it was not safe. Joe could reassure the daughter that Germany was a safe place. But, instead of the daughter, Joe met an uncle who worked at the casino.
“My friend comes to the casino and cheats. We’ll play a joke on him. You use my money and I will show you some signals,” said the casino uncle.
Joe refused and left.
Later in Phnom Penh I met a Dutch woman, Ana who had the same experience except she was approached by a charming man rather than a woman. He also had a daughter going to Germany. There was also a casino uncle, however, and Ana stayed and helped cheat the other player. After many hours they needed $1,000 more to ante up. $20,000 cash was on the table. Ana’s ATM card was maxed out so the game was postponed until the next day. But in the morning the apartment was empty and Ana realized she was a victim of her own greed.
In Sihanoukville I encountered an even more expensive scam. Jim, who had spent the past few winters in the coastal resort town, purchased a ten year lease on a beachfront apartment. After one year the building’s new property managers simply told him to get out. They would not recognize his lease agreement unless he paid them an additional sum of thousands of dollars. After lots of stress and hefty legal fees, Jim came up a complete loss and walked away, declaring he would never again buy or lease property in the country.
In the burgeoning economy of this developing nation the laws of ownership are still untested, and not every government official can be relied on to act honestly.
More common are small scams: over-charging, incorrect change, petty thefts, snatch and grabs, and very rarely robberies with force or weapons. Though Cambodia remains a relatively safe place, most people are poor and poverty is a strong motive to commit crimes. You can safeguard yourself with a few measures.
Don’t carry a lot of cash, or all of your credit and bank cards. Carry your goods in a money belt or hidden pocket. Keep you passport securely locked and carry a photocopy of the pages showing identity, entry stamp and visa. Don’t flash expensive items like cameras, smart phones, and jewelry. Use only secure bank machines, inside banks or hotels. Behave and walk as though you know where you’re going. Don’t dangle your pack behind you carelessly. Email a photo of your passport, credit card and number to yourself. Tell your credit card company about your travels and keep carry their international help number.
Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season he travels the world looking for a story. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, experts in adventure tours to Cambodia and all around Southeast Asia.
Leave a Reply