I know that I’m writing quite a fair few posts about dangerous or scam-laden elements of South East Asia, and I’d just like to make it very clear that I loved everywhere I visited (except Sihanoukville) and would return in a heartbeat.
My motivation for writing these posts is that I really, really wish I’d known about these scams when I was travelling. Otherwise incredible experiences were dulled by some of these events, and I want to make sure others know about them. Everyone’s heard of the tuk tuk gem scam, or ‘the Grand Palace is closed’ one, but not many people realise a tuk tuk scam operates in Siem Reap too.
It started as soon as I stepped off the bus at Siem Reap’s bus station. I was exhausted from the earlier visa fiasco at the border, and wanted nothing more than to get into a hostel and sleep for forever. The terminal in Siem Reap is a fair distance away from the town, so you have to catch a tuk tuk. After a month in Thailand I was feeling pretty confident about my tuk tuk bargaining skills, and I quickly chose a driver who agreed to a reasonable price.
I told him I planned to visit Angkor Archaeological Park the next day, and he said he’d happily take me there and act as a guide around the 3 main temples I wanted to see (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm) and bring me back for $15. I happily agreed.
This is where the scam kicked in.
Once we’d bought our tickets to enter the park – which cost $20 for one day’s admission, we went back to the tuk tuk to get started. However, our driver had had a sudden change of heart. Rather than the $15 fee we’d agreed on, he now wanted to charge us $85 – each.
As a budget backpacker I could never have afforded that price – and it was exorbitant – this was just for the three main temples! At this point the sun was starting to come up and I started to panic. Our driver knew could see how desperate we were not to miss it, and played us like idiots. We renegotiated the price, it was now $30 each – double what we’d first been told, and I was fuming, but I had to see what I’d travelled all the way to Cambodia to see – the sun rise over Angkor Wat.
I missed the sunrise.
This is the biggest regret I had during my time in Cambodia. Once we’d agreed on the new price, hostility brewing in the darkness, our driver took as long as he could possibly take to drive us to the temple. He even stopped for a cigarette break – a miracle seeing as it’s a ten minute ride – mumbling that he hated tourists – we were rich white people, why were we so stingy?
As soon as we arrived at the (already light) Angkor Wat, he demanded we pay him. I refused. I gave him $5, much to his fury, and said I’d pay the rest once we’d finished the tour. The other girl paid him the $30 in full.
With that he threw us out of his tuk tuk and zoomed off as quickly as he could, leaving my friend penniless and me close to tears.
I looked at Angkor Wat, it was mind blowingly beautiful, but I was too pissed off to care.
For someone who’d only ever travelled to Europe and the Americas before this, it was completely incredible, exotic and breathtaking.
But I couldn’t appreciate it. All I could think about was how we’d been conned and unceremoniously ditched.
We approached a guard, who I recounted my story to. He told us it’s a common scam. Unscrupulous drivers agree on a low price after befriending tourists, bring them to the park very close to sunrise, wait for them to buy the entry ticket, then try to charge them a huge fee. Many will pay up in order to see the sunrise, knowing that it’ll be extremely difficult to find a spare tuk tuk driver roaming around. If you decline to pay, like we did, they’re more than happy to ditch you (normally after taking some money) and then drive back to Siem Reap, pick up another customer, and make another day’s worth of pay.
After sitting around for half an hour reflecting on how gullible I’d been, a young driver, who introduced himself as Mr Tom, approached us, and offered to take us round two temples of our choice for $10. He didn’t have any tourists with him, and as we had no other choice, we accepted.
After visiting Bayon, we went to find him, only to realise he was gone. We hadn’t paid him yet, so we just assumed another couple of tourists had taken his fancy and he’d ditched us. AGAIN. I couldn’t believe our luck.
By this point I never wanted to see another tuk tuk driver again. But when a young man shouted ‘MR TOM SENT ME!’ I turned round to see yet ANOTHER driver. He told us Mr Tom had gone to collect his son from school, and we were to use him instead. Utterly flabbergasted and beyond confused, we let him take us to the last temple, Ta Prohm, and then back to the hostel. True to his word we were only charged $10, but what should have been an incredible day ended up being panic-stricken, exhausting and had made me very wary about Cambodia. Angkor Wat was stirring, jaw-dropping and a must-see, but I wish I could’ve avoided the scams.
How to not get scammed
- Choose a driver who has been arranged by your guesthouse, they won’t then suddenly up the price, or ditch you.
- Don’t be fooled by low prices, drivers want to get money, one way or another.
- Inside the temples, be wary. Stay away from small, cute children who follow you/approach you in the ruins. They’re often pickpockets, or will beg you endlessly for money. Tell them you have no money, they’ll soon find someone else to hassle.
- Don’t take incense sticks off anyone inside the temples. They’ll hand you a stick, show you how to make a quick prayer, and then try to charge you $5 for the stick. Walk away.
- If you want to see the sunrise, leave with good time. You do not want to miss it.
- Seeing the sunrise or sunset will cost more, around $3.