The very first local I encountered upon my arrival in Cambodia stole my pen because it had a laser pointer on it and he decided he liked it. It was the only pen I had readily available on me so when he said something was missing on my arrival card, I pulled it out of my camera bag and filled the missing information in. He then took the pen out of my hand and took the card along with my passport to add his notes, signature, a stamp or whatever it is they are supposed to do with those cards on it. He then went to get something else done by standing up from his desk and walking up to the opposite counter and when he came back, the pen was nowhere to be seen. I asked if I could have my pen back yet he insisted he gave it to me previously. Needless to say, this was the last time I have seen my pen.
I had only been in Cambodia for two minutes, and this was the very first Cambodian I had to deal with and I already got my pen stolen and was lied to straight into my face. He was the perfect reflection of what awaits a visitor inside the country. From the moment you’re in until the moment you’re out, there will always be a plentitude of locals looking for the ways to scam you out of your money or possessions.
Because the Cambodian government took measures to prevent scamming by anyone other than their befriended individuals, immigration people at certain points of entry (such as the Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports) can no longer directly request bribes from foreigners who’d just arrived. That doesn’t however mean that they will miss out on other opportunities to enrich themselves at your expense.
Similarly, many overland points of entry are still major bribery hubs so if you fly in to Cambodia and continue on with your travels overland like I did, then you will be subjected to scam from the very first person you encounter to the very last (and virtually everyone in between). Similar open requests for bribes at overland border crossing will await you when entering and exiting Laos (on both Cambodian and Lao sides), but from my experience, this is not practised by Thai or Vietnamese immigration officials.
When I went I went to Thailand, scamming ended with the very last Cambodian I had to deal with. It goes without saying that he DID insist on a bribe but it was a breath of fresh air to come to the Thai side and be processed without any scam attempt. It works similarly when entering Cambodia from Thailand whereas Thai officials would process you without requests for bribes, but as soon as you come over to the Cambodian booth and start dealing with Cambodians, it gets to be a whole new story.
Vietnam doesn’t offer visa on arrival (or visa free entry) when entering overland from Cambodia (October 2009) so you have to apply for it in advance with the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh (at least if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport) but as is the case with Thailand, open requests for bribes will end with the last Cambodian you end up having to deal with.
One of the reasons why Cambodia has grown to become a popular tourist trap is because it’s cheap. At least that’s what most people who visited the country claim. But let’s take a closer look at some undisputed facts before we jump into conclusion and find a more reliable answer to how cheap Cambodia really is (or whether it is cheap at all).
Is Cambodia Cheap?
Let me get ahead of myself and say it right up without beating around the bush – Cambodia is NOT cheap. Just because most visitors are able to spend less money in Cambodia than they would have in, say Canada, the United States or Germany, it doesn’t mean that Cambodia is cheap. As a matter of fact, vast majority of articles for sale in Cambodia are more expensive than in any of the three mentioned countries (or elsewhere in the world). Since no serious manufacturer would open a plant in a country like Cambodia, where quality of workmanship is so low and work ethic nonexistent, very little is manufactured there. As a result, most items of everyday use must be imported from abroad. Personal hygiene products are a good example. Thinking you could buy a tub of Colgate tooth paste for cheap in Cambodia would set you up for a big surprise.
Similarly, good luck trying to buy a Snickers bar for a price similar to that in western countries. Yet don’t even get me started on electronics or motor vehicles. Check out the classified ads for prices of overused, 30 year old beaters. They sell for the price of brand new sedans in Canada. Electronics? Thinking of replacing that broken camera that was stolen while you were visiting Cambodia? Prepare to shell out on average 40% more than you would in your home country.
Genuine Products in Cambodia
But that’s only the beginning. If you buy a camera from a retailer in a western country, you can be pretty sure you are buying a genuine product and you will get a reasonable customer service (sometimes even a time-limited no questions asked money back guarantee) should the product not perform to your expectations. Not only are these unheard of in Cambodia where similar product would cost much more, you would have to consider yourself blessed if you lucked out enough to obtain a genuine product for your money. And if the casing is genuine, than at least some parts of what you buy will be stripped off and replaced with cheap, generic substitutes. That’s real Cambodia so really – it’s not cheap there. The perceived cheapness most people experience is just a skewed reality that camouflages itself as cheapness, but in reality it’s not.
$2 Burger in Cambodia vs $6 Burger in Canada
Since I’m from Canada, the best way for me to compare products available in Cambodia is with those available in Canada. The example below can be used for any other western country, just replace “Canada” with the name of your home country and you’ll get the desired result.
Let’s say (for illustration purposes) a burger in Canada costs $6. Then you come to Cambodia and find them selling burgers for $2. An average person who buys that $2 burger in Cambodia would end up writing a blog post, or telling their friends that Cambodia is cheap. But I’m not your average person. I like to disclose the whole truth to my friends and readers of my blog, not just the convenient part, so let me break the cost of each burger down a little:
Cost of Hygiene
In Canada, even though the burger is perceived as more expensive, you get certain guarantee of hygiene and freshness. If nothing else, at least before a license to handle food is granted, some form of inspection of premises is made (and can be done later on as well). You don’t have anything like that in Cambodia. Burgers can be sold out of a self made push-cart that’s parked with the swine overnight before it’s taken out to carry food. In conclusion:
guarantee of hygiene in Canada – some
guarantee of hygiene in Cambodia – none
Cost of Safe Ingredients
In countries like Canada, internationally recognized standards and principles are followed to ensure that the food safety requirements are met. The body that’s responsible for the enforcement of these rules is called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Before any edibles can be offers for sale, they must first be approved for sale by the CFIA.
It’s important to acknowledge that it is a dog eat dog world out there and everything seems to be about profits nowadays, yet still at least there are some institutions that would remove suspicious lines from shelves of grocery stores if there was a reason to believe they posed a health hazard to the public. This has happened many times and will continue to happen even if it means that the removal of products will push the company that provided them to the retailers to the brink of bankruptcy. Producers know it very well so food safety controls are rather rigorous. In conclusion:
guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Canada – some
guarantee of freshness and safety of food in Cambodia – none
Cost of Decent Service
The burger itself is merely a part of your experience buying it. In order to have it freshly made so you can munch on it, you must first order it with the server. And here’s where the real difference of a burger in Canada vs a burger in Cambodia comes to place.
Ordering a burger in Cambodia (or anything else for that matter), will undoubtedly require you to have to deal with a Cambodian national and that won’t go without a need to put up with their laziness, attitude and rudeness.
Ordering a burger in Canada requires an interaction with a server who – whether genuinely or by pretense – will usually be nice and respectful to you. This is a western way of life where customer is seen as a person important to success of a business so staff know they need to treat them with respect and dignity or the business fails. There are mood swings and other variables that can make the experience questionable, but for the most part, dealing with business attendants usually results in fair and dignified treatment. You pay $$$ for it, but you get it.
In Cambodia, on the other hand, you can get your burger for $2, but you will be served by a rude local who takes you for a pest. You will have to deal with their slowness as they scrape their feet against the floor pissed off that they have to serve you, you will have to deal with them barking at you if anything is unclear and you request clarification, you will have to put up with them laughing at you and not hiding that they are talking about you while they’re having themselves a good time at your expense and you will have nothing on your side to prevent that from happening.
Cambodians are very rude in general and nothing makes them happier than misfortune of another. This is true of all of them, including the monks. Even a monk will laugh his ass off at you if you bought a bus ticket with a dedicated seat and the seat is taken by somebody else even though it should belong to you. But then again, just because someone shaves their head and puts on a saffron robe, it doesn’t mean they become any less of a Cambodian. Afterall, Cambodians don’t get ordained for monks out of sheer interest to become a better person and do good. That’s not why they do it. They become monks when there are benefits for them in doing so – for example if becoming a monk will save them from going to jail or if it provides them with free education. But as soon as it becomes clear than the benefits of being a monk are over and leaving monkhood would be of more benefit, you’ll see them gone and back being their usual selves.
Cost of Customer Service
Shopping in Canada comes with some customer service. If you have any form of post purchase issue or complaint, there usually is a dedicated customer service representative, a manager on site, or if all else fails, at least bodies like the Better Business Bureau. Once money is spent, you still can often get either a replacement or a refund should something be wrong with the product purchased.
In Cambodia, once money is spent, consider it final. There is no accountability whatsoever. You pay for a silver pendant and find out it’s just some cheap metal – tough luck. Not only will there be no one to take care of the issue for you, you will be laughed at, mocked, pointed fingers at and threatened if you try to stand up for yourself.
I learned all about Cambodian customer service after my cell phone was stolen. I called Metfone’s customer service in a bid to cancel the number that went with the stolen cell phone. Since thieves got my phone, I at least wanted to make sure they couldn’t take advantage of the credit I had on the SIM card. But dealing with Metfone’s customer support revealed the true face of Cambodia.
Not only is calling Metfone customer service from Metfone phone numbers a paid call, their representatives are typical Cambodians – rude, self righteous bastards with holier than thou attitudes. Basically, after hours of wasting money being put on hold and passed from one person to another, I was told that everything was my fault for not paying attention, that they’re not there to take care of such requests and was called names for bothering them with this bullsh1t.
Cost of Enjoyable Experience
Let me get back to those burgers. One of the most important differences is that even though you would have spent $6 for your burger in Canada, you could sit in a facility where you could enjoy your bite without someone blowing smoke in your face, chewing with their mouth open so the leaves fall off the trees it’s so loud and disgusting, or being bothered to no end by beggars ready and willing to tell you to “f%$k off” or call you “stingy” if you refuse to give them money while they’re turning your dining experience into a nightmare.
Which Burger Was Cheaper?
Yes, you did need less money to buy a burger in Cambodia than you would in Canada, but it was not cheap. If you look closely at what you’re getting and how much you sacrificed and put at risk (including your health which will catch up with you one day, whether you like it or not), you did in fact overpay by shelling out those two bucks.
Cambodia is NOT Cheap
Cambodia is by no stretch of imagination a cheap country. Considering what you receive for your money, it is in fact ridiculously expensive. If you were to sacrifice all the good things Canada protects you as a consumer with, you could live in Canada for less than in Cambodia. Go sleep in a ditch with rats in a really dangerous part of a ghetto, eat filthy leftovers dumped in the bins by spoiled kids and you’ll see that Canada is really cheaper than Cambodia.
Why Is Cambodia Perceived as Cheap?
It is only because some people lower their standards of acceptance and willingly put their personal safety and health at risk that they are able to stay in Cambodia and spend less money than they would in their home country. And then they go around telling everyone that Cambodia is cheap, while conveniently leaving out the details of why exactly it seemed cheap.
One more time – if you take into account what you get for your money, Cambodia is a bad, bad value for money and an overall expensive country. Unless of course you take personal abuse, health hazards and endangerment of life as acceptable standards. Then it is cheap but that way it can be cheap in any country, including Canada.
The best and the only way to avoid the mistreatment Cambodia greets visitors with is by not going to Cambodia. Khmer temples can be visited in other countries (such as Thailand or Laos) and outside of that, by giving Cambodia a pass, you won’t be missing out on much.
Scamming foreigners by selling them worthless counterfeit products is a very common and widely practised way to profit. While in most cases it would mean the loss of money, Cambodians push this a whole flight of steps further and won’t wink over potentially killing someone if it leads to easy income. For example, Cambodia is a global leader in sales of fake malaria pills, and that’s a serious threat to health that could easily lead to death. Imagine you’d buy the malaria pills in Cambodia and thinking you are protected, you’d go exploring Angkor Temples and get bitten… I can’t stress this strongly enough – stock up on everything you’ll need before coming to Cambodia and never leave purchases of anything that could affect your health or life for Cambodia. Ever!
Cambodians don’t believe in earning a living through hard work. They either want handouts or easy income through scam or theft. I said it many times before and will say it again – you can’t be 100% alert 100% of the time. Sooner or later, after a long tiring day you’ll let your guards down for a second and with dozens of con artists hanging around waiting for that opportune moment, one is bound to notice and take advantage. This will make your stay in an already expensive country even more costly and as it turns out, of all the people with whom I spoke (and who comment on my posts), virtually everybody had something stolen in Cambodia. A lifetime commitment to thievery makes them very skilled thieves. They also work in teams and know how to distract an unsuspecting tourist to make the pull successful. The only safe way to avoid it is by not going to Cambodia at all. By taking a risk and going you stand a very solid chance of becoming a victim. You have been warned!
Angkor area touts have been bastardizing the experience for visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park ever since the beginnings of the mass tourism in Cambodia, but the more visitors the temples attract, the more aggressive they get. Needless to say, regardless of how majestic the temples of Angkor may be, a visit to the park is accompanied with a great deal of frustration and dismay. You can only say “No, thank you” the first two million times before it gets disheartening and demoralizing. Visitors are justifiably resentful and often turn bitter with each additional importunity that befalls upon their every step. You can see the frustration on their faces when after a long struggle to shake off an aggressive tout they get jumped by a fresh load of new half a dozen.
Locals realized that noone can put up with so much pressure and still be willing to listen to them when they want to sell you some more useless junk, so they instructed the kids they use to pester the visitors with to respond to each turn-down with the “Where are you from?” question. Obviously, every foreigner who has been in Cambodia for more than five minutes will have already been subjected to so much pressure from the Tuk Tuk drivers and omnipresent scammers they can no longer take it so by the time they make it all the way to Angkor, they are already in full “ignore” mode and will not consider any offer from a tout, no matter what it is they have. To counter this defiance foreigners are forced into, pestering kids are instructed to engage the foreigner by asking them where they were from.
Touts plain and simple already know that every foreigner will respond with either a polite “No, thank you” or by not responding at all when initially approached by a pest. No matter how hard boiled you are, no matter how much you can take, Cambodians are so aggressive and rude, the threshold will be crossed within hours, if not minutes of your visit. So it is natural you will not be willing to consider any additional offers from any more of those touts and they know it darn well. Their way to get by it is by asking the “Where are you from?” question, because it’s a question everyone who’s traveling likes to be asked and – what’s important for the touts – to answer. By asking where you were from, they will engage you in a conversation despite your initial defiance you were forced into by excessive hostility from touts you have previously been exposed to and that’s what they want.
The “Where are you from?” question is nothing less and nothing more than a sneaky way to trick you into spending more money on useless junk after you have already been tricked into spending more than too much money on useless junk. When a Cambodian asks you where you were from, it’s not because they want to know where you were from. They don’t care one bit about your country of origin or anything else related to you. All they care about, all they want is your money. Remember, to a Cambodian you are not a person, but a wandering ATM machine.
So in order to succeed with their sole goal of getting the money out of you, the kids who are set on foreigners are instructed to counter their defiance with the “Where are you from?” question. They are further taught basic facts about the top ten (or so) countries that send the most visitors to Cambodia to follow it up by impressing you with what would appear as “knowledge of your home country”. In my case, it would go something like this:
Tout: Hello, buy postcard? Only one dollar! Me: No, thank you. I’ve already bought postcards and have more than I need. Tout: Where are you from? Me: Canada. Tout: Capital city Ottawa. Population 32 Million. You speak two languages. Me: That’s right. Very impressive…
And now they have me engaged and in a frame of mind which to a civilized westerner dictates that you should feel obliged to reward them for the time and dedication they had demonstrated. And this is exactly what they are counting on. They play with the psyche, knowing very well that the westerners are brought up being polite so they abuse it for their personal enrichment.
Being me, however, there was no way I could buy any more of their postcards. When you travel around the world, you only have so much room in your backpack and the more you buy, the more you have to carry and that’s really not an option. On top of that, I’m a traveler on a budget so no matter how hard a tout would try, I’m not buying anything that’s not a necessity.
They got me the first time and I played their game when asked where I was from, but then I changed the rules of the game and made myself the leader, not the follower. That gave me instant advantages plus it gave me amusement and saved me from a lot of headache. I had them figured out all throughout so when next time a tout got on me to pester me with useless junk, I already knew how I was going to respond. This is how my next encounter went:
Tout: Hello, buy postcard? Only one dollar! Me: No, thank you. I’ve already bought postcards and have more than I need. Tout: Where are you from? Me: Guyana. Tout: …
Not a word of response. The tout simply turned around and never bothered me again. I really liked this game and kept playing. Next tout jumped me and it went like this:
Tout: Hello, buy postcard? Only one dollar! Me: No, thank you. I’ve already bought postcards and have more than I need. Tout: Where are you from? Me: Why are you asking? Tout: What? Me: Why are you asking? Tout: I don’t know what capital of wiasing is 🙁
I got them by the balls and kept playing my game to ease my way through Angkor. Kids kept pestering me on every step but by playing my own game with them I caught them off guard with responses they did not expect which resulted in fast and easy shake off. Obviously, when they spot a Caucasian guy, they anticipate to be told that he was from one of the countries that make for 95% of all Caucasian people who visit Angkor. Those likely include the USA, Canada, England, Germany, Russia, France, Sweden, Belgium, etc. They memorize the capital cities and a few impressive facts about each of those top countries and recite them as responses matching the answer you provide. Quite a clever way to pester the visitors but it didn’t get them too far with me.
Cambodia is a scam capital of the world. Sure, Nigeria may be the first thing that comes to mind when talking about scam, but Nigeria focuses on on-line scamming, whereas Cambodia is still on top of the game when it comes to face to face scams. Just as is the case with violence, scam is a part of daily lives of all Cambodians. They need scam to feel alive and no walk of life is left out.
Scamming Government Officials
Cambodia is ruled by the most corrupt government in the world which results in all government officials being professional extortionists. Whether it’s the police, Apsara Authority or immigration people appointed to issue visa, they will all want extra money if you end up having any dealings with them.
Poipet Border Scam
Poipet border between Cambodia and Thailand is infamous for endless scam and indeed I have been subjected to it when I tried to cross both to Thailand and back from Thailand to Cambodia. Thais do not scam, but Cambodians make it their profession. Buses will purposefully take you to the wrong place so you have to pay extra to get you to the border or to stay overnight in a guesthouse that pays commission. On the way to Cambodia you will have Cambodian immigration officers and the police insisting on bribes or else you’re left to sweat and roast in the sun until you shell out. This type of scam is not limited to Poipet through. Coming to Cambodia from Laos will expose you to the same scam and so will the Cham Yeam crossing from Thailand (direct access to Sihanoukville).
Planted Drugs Scams
Given that the police are as corrupt as the government itself, their entire purpose is to scam. The police will go through any lengths to get money off of tourists. Planting tourists with drugs is a common practise and could set you back a few hundred dollars unless you shell out right after you’ve been set up. In that case, the scam cops may be happy to let you go after being paid just $20 each.
Fake Pills Scams
I understand that UCare Pharmacy (can find one in both SIem Reap and in Phnom Penh) is supposed to be the one pharmacy in Cambodia which doesn’t sell fake pills, but it’s hard to take any such claim by a Cambodian company seriously. Other than UCare, though, Cambodia specializes in selling fake pills cause that’s an easy money. One type of pills worth particular mention are anti-malarials. When news of fake malaria pills hit the web, I was not surprised at all when I found out that Cambodia was the front runner of the scam. It’s so typical of this country to sell counterfeit pills to people who foolishly believe they will be protected against malaria… Don’t trust anything you buy in Cambodia, but if your life is in question, then multiply this rule tenfold.
This usually happens with motorcycle rentals as there is more money involved than in bicycle rentals for example. The scenario is simple – you come to rent a motorcycle, sign a rental agreement which has a clause that you will have to pay the full amount if you lose, destroy or someone steals the motorcycle. You will be provided with the key from the lock while a copy of the key is provided to a person associated with the rental agency. They will follow you from the distance, patiently waiting until you park the bike before the superstore or some other place where you’re likely to step away from the sight of the motorcycle for a while. They will use the key they have to unlock the motorcycle and will drive away. When you come back, there will be no motorcycle and no chance for you to recover it. The police are often part of this scam and will participate with the rental agency to force you into paying the full amount that equals the value of a brand new bike. Many, many and then some foreigners have been scammed this way in Cambodia. Again, businesses in Cambodia don’t try to make it by offering quality service or product. They just look for easy and quick money, and as much as possible the first time.
Virtually nothing you buy in Cambodia is genuine. Nothing is real. By selling genuine goods the businesses would have to work hard to build up their reputation and customer loyalty and who can be bothered with that? They are simply too lazy to do deal with real business model, so instead they focus on an easy solution – theft. As a result, you will find bootlegs of anything you can imagine sold right on the main streets of every town with store windows displaying all bootlegged items with spotlights on. They have entire stores specializing in selling bootleg software, bootleg movies, bootleg music CDs, bootleg you name it. Cambodians simply like to steal and make money by selling stolen goods.
Pirated Merchandise Scams
Theft of intellectual property and trademarked names is the name of the game in Cambodia. It starts with photocopied Lonely Planet and National Geographics books being sold on the streets by touts, and ends with sales of fake Borderline suitcases, Gappa wear or Nike shoes. I don’t even understand how they go about selling fake iPhones and other electronic devices, but if you think you’re buying a genuine product here in Cambodia, you’re in for a big surprise.
Internet Cafes Scams
Be very careful when using internet cafes in Cambodia. Many have keyloggers installed on their machines to steal your passwords and other valuable information. People have seen money transferred out of their accounts following the use of internet cafes in Cambodia.
If an electronic device breaks down on you in Cambodia, don’t be silly and try to have it repaired there. Wait until you get to a civilized country, otherwise you’re standing a chance of getting your machine ripped off genuine parts and have inferior, generic parts put in instead. Again, this is Cambodia. Any way they can scam you, they will.
Gas Station Scams
If you are new and don’t pay attention, you stop at the gas station to throw some gas in your tank but the attendant will purposefully not zero out the counter so you will end up paying for the balance of the precious customer, on top of the gas that went into your gas tank. Always make sure the counter is reset before the attendant starts fuelling.
Police Check Stop Scams
Cambodian police just love foreigners riding around on motorcycle. They will pull you over and fine you with… something. It could be that you had a headlight on during the day, or that you turned left or whatever else they can pull off. All traffic infractions have set fee schedule which is usually around 2,000 Riel (roughly $.50 US) but the cop, if they see you don’t know this, will throw something totally outrageous at you – such as $50. If you are able to bring it down to $20, you will feel like you got off easy, yet you had just paid 40 times the amount you should have. Fines for common traffic offences are less than a dollar. Always ask for receipt by saying “sombot”, otherwise insist on going to the police station and calling the embassy to have this handled. They will likely not want to sacrifice their time dedicated for ripping people off by false fines with this and may let you go.
Fake Jewellery Scams
Unless you are an expert on precious metals and precious stones, don’t ever buy any jewellery in Cambodia. Remember, nothing you are being offered is real and unless you know your stones and metals really well, you’re gonna end up buying a chemically produced worthless junk. If you know what you’re doing and can take the risk of having your life put in stake, then rejecting the fakes and insisting on getting the real deal could land you with the real deal, but you’ll be looking for trouble with this approach.
The Ratanakiri province is riddled with mines containing precious and semi-precious stones. It is a great place for experts to go get some valued stones for cheap, but unless you know what you are doing, you’re gonna end up buying a fake. Cambodians will do their best to first ensure they’re selling you the fake and unless you show them that you know your stones backwards, you will have little success scoring a good buy.
Pailin area (homeland of Khmer Rouge) is also known for rubies and sapphires but as it is with Ratanakiri, unless you know your stones, don’t buy anything or you’re gonna end up with a chemically-treated copy.
Helpful locals are the most frequent and most potent type of scam in existence. They will offer to negotiate a better price on your behalf because you can’t speak Khmer but will instead negotiate a hefty commission for themselves in exchange for cheating you into paying the price they told you was the best you can get for this item. I got this right away after the Tuk Tuk driver offered to “help” me negotiate the best price for a bicycle. If I followed his help, instead of paying $30, I would have paid $185. Helpful locals are never helpful because they want you to feel good about visiting Cambodia. They only and solely want to help themselves and are only pretending to be helpful because that’s what will get them to scam you.
Local Business Scams
The name for local businesses is “discrimination”. Cambodia is all about us vs them. If you look different, you will be subjected to discrimination. You will be treated like a crack whore by the Tuk Tuk drivers yelling at you and clapping their hands from across the street while market people will make a point of overcharging you just because your color of skin is different. There are a few businesses with clearly posted prices which apply to everyone equally. As someone who doesn’t support discrimination, I stuck with shopping there, instead of with local businesses. Scamming me just because I look different is not my idea of a good business practice.
NGOs and Orphanages Scams
NGOs and orphanages are some of the most profitable business ventures in Cambodia. There is no middle class in Cambodia, only 12 million of extremely poor people and a handful of extremely rich ones. There is a hefty group of those in between, though. They ride Lexus SUVs and honk their horns at everyone to make way. Those are the NGO owners who came to easy riches by establishing NGOs. Through foreign donations none of which made it to the people in need, they were able to secure themselves with above average lifestyles. They often use fake orphanages as storefronts to make foreign donors feel sorry for the impoverished kids and send some money over. This money is used to finance outlandish lifestyles and expensive cars of the NGO owners. This is one extremely successful scam that yields insane and easy revenue.
When it comes to Cambodia, the locals will stop at absolutely nothing to scam you. They will also dress up as Buddhist monks because those usually enjoy a great deal of respect and it is easier to lure money out of unsuspecting victims when your head is shaved and your body wrapped in an orange robe. Fake monks exist all over Cambodia but the more touristy the area, the higher a density of them.
It is not a secret that monkhood (is there such word?) is the shelter for criminals who would otherwise face repercussions. Joining the ranks of Buddhist Monks saves the delinquents from punishment which is abused by the lot of them. That’s why you will see the monks behaving in the ways monks should not behave – you will see them drinking and smoking, browsing porn in internet cafes, rubbing it up with bar girls in karaoke restaurants and stealing valuables from the pagodas so they can sell them for personal profit. You can tell who’s in it for the right reasons and who’s not.
If you get approached by a monk and asked to make a contribution either to the pagoda or towards his studies, you are likely speaking with a fake monk. Real monks don’t approach strangers like this directly. You will see them making their rounds every morning which usually consists of standing silently in front of businesses or homes and waiting for someone to come out and make a food donation into their alms bowl. They will wait silently for a minute or two and if no one comes out, they will move onto another house. This is their standard morning ritual.
Keep in mind that because someone is ordained, it doesn’t mean their natural greed and habit of getting hand-outs goes away. This is Cambodia. Cambodians do not like to work, they like to get stuff for free and draping oneself in a saffron robe doesn’t wipe their natural selves clean.
The saddest part about Cambodian Buddhist Monks is that they are Cambodian. That means that all head monks are as corrupt as the rest of the country. Anyone who’s in a leading position in Cambodia is corrupt, including religious leaders. Money that the temples generate through donations and other contributions usually end up in pockets of those corrupt head monks so even if there is a new monk with the right intentions looking to change the world, they will soon be defeated by the corruption that deeply penetrated all walks of life, including religion.
Considering that Cambodia is a Buddhist nation, the number and omnipresence of scams is unnerving. Shouldn’t they think of Karma, you ask? I was asking the same thing myself and can’t explain it in any way other than by calling them “hypocrites”.
Cambodians don’t believe in building up on the name of their business by offering quality product and/or service. They strictly focus on ripping each customer off as much as possible the first time they attempt to make a purchase to boost the initial score to the max, even if it means that the customer will never come back. There is also an ongoing currency exchange scam but that only results on about 5 cents loss on every dollar and usually doesn’t end up making a significant impact on your budget. It is truly saddening that Cambodians don’t see and don’t treat tourists as people, but as wandering cash cows. Their smiles so many people talk about are fake. They force them upon their faces because that could engage you into an eye contact which for a Cambodian is an invitation to sell you something or entice you into falling for one of the many scam they’d mastered.
Seeing how Cambodia is a major scam operation, I was not surprised when I found out that “Seeing Hands” massage by the blind did not have any blind people doing the massage, but they were good at pretending to be blind. It was nothing more but a marketing gimmick combined with a scam to generate more interest in the business. Foolish foreigners believe they are supporting the blind yet they are simply supporting scammers. This is real Cambodia!
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