Scambodia: why I will never go back to Cambodia

There are a few locations in Asia that have been on my bucket list for ages: Myanmar, Luang Prabang (in Laos), Chiang Mai (in Thailand) and Siem Reap/Angkor Wat (in Cambodia). I decided to remedy that this year. In May, I travelled to Myanmar, and in June — because of an “interesting” set of circumstances — had the opportunity to go to both Chiang Mai and Siem Riep in the space of a week.

When things go pear-shaped…

I was booked to go on a five day press trip to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand for the Mekong Tourism Forum At the very last minute, it ended up going pear-shaped. To cut a long story short, I was “partnering” with another blogger* (who I had never met) who ended up being very demanding and difficult, and pulled the plug on the trip the day before I was due to fly out of Hanoi.

The terms and conditions of being on the trip meant that I had to get to and from Thailand from Hanoi, and then the MTF was taking care of my flights and accommodation once I was in Thailand. Not having been to Chiang Mai, I decided to finish the press trip with a few days there at the end, and then fly back to Hanoi from Chiang Mai. I’d booked my accommodation and flights weeks before.

With the press trip cancelled, I had five days to fill before I headed to Chiang Mai because I didn’t want to lose money on flights and accommodation. Aha! I thought. I could go to Siem Reap. Brilliant! So 24 hours before travelling to Thailand, I booked flights and accommodation in Siem Reap.

̣(*This particular blogger couldn’t go on the trip, so she did a call-out on Facebook for someone to replace her. I had met her in another Facebook Group, and was “friends” with her because she was staying in Hoi An and said that I could do the trip on her behalf. She emailed her list of demands (because I was representing “her brand”), which included writing an introductory story for her blog. I submitted one story, and she wasn’t happy. Then another. Still not happy. I refused to submit a third, and that’s when she pulled the plug, saying that I didn’t meet her terms and conditions. She then blocked me on social media. Urgh.)

Let the scamming begin

I spent the first couple of days at Angkor Wat, exploring the ancient ruins, feeling kind of like Lara Croft. The temples were everything I thought they would be: mysterious, magical, peaceful. I imagined life thousands of years ago — very different to life today. I bought a three day pass, but I only visited the area twice. The hotel assigned me a driver to take me around the site, and while he didn’t speak any English, he took good care of me. On the second day, I got up early to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, and after a full day, opted to go for a trip to Tonle Sap Lake instead of back to the temples, mainly based on my Inle Lake, Myanmar experience, which was just delightful.

During my two days wandering around the ruins, I experienced a couple of low level scams but nothing to write home about. On the first day, a young Cambodian man (who told me he was looking after a particular temple) was very chatty while I was climbing high, steep and crumbling temple steps. He was “kind” enough to show me where to walk — going both up and down. He gave me a bit of a commentary while he was leading me, telling me about his life and the work he did in Angkor Wat on the temples. At the end of his “guiding”, he asked for a “contribution”. Of course, I thought. This is probably not a place where anyone does anything for anyone out of the kindness of their hearts. I paid up, though. A couple of US dollars.

The next day, I was wandering through another longish temple, when a security guard started chatting to me. Come with me, he said, noticing my DSLR camera. I can show you great place to take photo. No other tourists. Clearly, I wasn’t going to say no, so I followed him and, true to his word, I took some fabulous pictures where access was not available. When he led me back to the entrance of the temple, he asked for a “guide fee”. Again, I thought, that no one does anything for nothing in this country. And though I was miffed — mainly at myself for falling for it — I paid up and gave him a few US dollars. I did get some great photos though, and vowed to ask “how much?” before anyone was kind to me again.

Tonle Sap Lake: scam central

I asked my hotel to book my trip to Tonle Sap Lake — one of the largest lakes in South East Asia — and they arranged it through Easy Tour/Hello Bird. The tour itself wasn’t the best: a bus ride to Tonle Sap Lake, a short ride on the lake, and a quick break for refreshments on a floating restaurant. My travelling companions were five other women — no men, apart from the driver and guide — who were pleasant.

I sucked it up until we were taken for a walk through a village.

We were taken to a school, and we were introduced to the teacher and students. A woman* approached selling pencils and books “for the students”. Being community-minded and believing in the power of education, I gave her USD$10 (which I knew was too much, but education).

When we left the school, the guide apologised and said the woman wasn’t actually associated with the school. I was gobsmacked. I said to him that he should have warned us and he said, sorry but he forgot. I was immediately suspicious. What sort of guide forgets to warn his guests about what is essentially a scam? I said that he should have said something while she was there and he replied that he couldn’t. Why the hell not?

Well, I put two and two together and worked out he was in on it. I confronted him when he dropped me off at my hotel, telling him that he had a responsibility to look after and take care of his guests and I have never seen anyone turn so quickly. He started yelling at me, grabbed my arm, and menaced and intimidated me, blocking off my entrance to the hotel. I managed to escape, but I have NEVER been so concerned about my personal safety, and I’ve travelled in India. No one came to my rescue. I’m pretty sure if he had a knife or a gun, I’d be dead.

Shaken, I reported this to the hotel, who rang the company and… nothing. Luckily, I had not paid for the tour, so of course, I refused to pay. I was so shaken that I have never been happier to leave a country in my life.

Oh, and my research showed a number of people have been scammed this way. I wish I’d read the reviews. You have been warned.

*I chased this woman down when I found out she was scamming tourists. I followed her through the village and demanded that she put my US$10 in the donation box associated with the school. She argued with me, saying that she had bought the books and pencils and she deserved to be remunerated for her efforts. I told her she was a very bad woman using children to line her pockets. I have no idea whether the school got the donation — I suspect not — but I felt a sense of satisfaction that my money wasn’t in her pocket.

Further reading

I would urge you to think twice about going to Cambodia. It is not safe for tourists. Period.

 

4 Comments

  • Gaz October 8, 2018 at 4:27 am

    I’ve never been to Cambodia and no desire to now.

    Reply
    • Diane Lee October 8, 2018 at 8:34 pm

      It’s a pretty f*cked country, Gary. So I found out after this experience.

      Reply
  • Melinda Nankivell October 8, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Oh my gosh, how incredibly awful, Disey 🙁

    Reply
    • Diane Lee October 8, 2018 at 8:45 pm

      I was flying out the next day, and I did not leave my room, Melsy. I didn’t know if he was part of a gang, so I kept to the safety of my hotel. I didn’t relax until I had my boarding pass.

      Reply

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