Tips on How to Deal With Pestering Cambodian Touts

While playing word games with pestering child touts bastardizing the Angkor Archaeological Park did the trick and saved me from a lot of abuse, there was still a question of how to deal with more the persistent and obdurate ones. I got my answer with the most solid tips on how to deal with pestering Cambodian touts after coming back to Angkor Wat for the afternoon pictures and meeting with my new found friends for one more coconut.

I was definitely a happier camper than most other tourists at Angkor. Their faces ware telling stories of utmost frustration and there was no wondering why. Spending a day exposed to the abuse Angkor touts put foreigners through is enough to drive even the most hard core individual insane. Yet here I was still able to walk through the viper’s nest, into its very core where at the end of it was the shop I wanted to buy a coconut from.

As I saw kids sprinting towards me with various low quality items hanging off of them like shiny balls off a Christmas tree, I countered each of them by reciting their rites before they got a chance to start. I simply said right off the bat that I was from “Canada, capital city Ottawa, population 32 Million, we speak two languages” and concluded my chant by firmly stating that I’m going to the second last shop where my friends work so I can buy everything I need from them. Bam… that shut them off.

It was very hot, I was very tired and was wearing clothes that got drenched many times over with sweat during the day. Sipping energizing fluids out of a cold, freshly opened coconut provided me with an uplifting feeling. Trees provided much needed shade and at times I even caught a little bit of breeze that helped to wash the sweat off my face. Having previously spent over an hour with those girls, we kept chatting about random things and even though many freelance touts still kept trying their tricks on me, I was for the most part left alone. And then I noticed something that was going to completely change my approach towards dealing with touts.

Learn from the Koreans

As I was sitting there blended with the shop, I noticed that if any westerners came into view, all of the touts would jump them in a relentless tactics of pressure but when a group of Korean tourists showed up, none of the touts would make a step towards them, never mind trying to pester them. That instantly boosted my interest and I started asking around:

How come nobody tried to sell anything to any of those Korean people? There was a group of about 30 of them, most of them in their productive years implying that they have their lives well secured and have disposable income to be able to buy anything they want. Yet none of the touts would even try to come to them but if a western backpacker, someone who looks like they’ve been on the road for a while and have to watch what they spend their money on shows up, they get dozens of pestering touts jump them and follow them around not giving them a minute of peace. How is it possible that Koreans are left alone, allowed to enjoy the experience undisturbed, while westerners are pestered on every single step of their way by dozens of relentless touts at any given time?

I asked my new friends why none of them jumped any of the Koreans given that there was such a large group of them. One person trying to sell something to a group of 30 should have a better chance of getting business than 30 people trying to sell something to one person. Yet nobody even moved when the Koreans showed up and I really wanted to know what their secret was – why are Koreans allowed to enjoy the experience undisturbed while westerners are put through hell. It was a million dollar question and I got a million dollar answer:

“Koreans are rude and they ignore us when we talk to them!”

Tip 1 – Ignorance is Bliss

Bingo! I could not have asked for a better pointer. So this is the secret to turning a bastardized Angkor experience into an enjoyable one? Start fighting fire with fire by responding to rudeness with rudeness? Is this really the key to having a peaceful and enjoyable time at Angkor? As it turns out, it really is!

The thing is – Cambodians realized that westerners are brought up being polite and started abusing that fact against them. They knew that us westerners are always told that ignoring is rude and it is not only polite, but downright necessary to at least acknowledge, if not respond to every person who approaches you, even if they are a stranger on a street. As such, you don’t even think about responding when approached by a stranger trying to sell you something – you naturally respond by politely stating that you were OK and didn’t need anything at the moment. Of course, after you have done that the first two million times within a span of one day, it will wear you out and you’ll turn grumpy and look the same all westerners you see at Angkor in the afternoon do.

So the tactics of pestering Cambodian touts is to abuse the fact that westerners are polite by being rude to them, yelling at them, clapping at them from across the street, honking horns at them or otherwise verbally abusing them – because they know it is natural for westerners to respond.

Korean culture and way of life is entirely different so for them – if you approach them with rudeness, you will get rudeness back. Whether by being ignored – which as described here is one of the most powerful tools you can utilize to save yourself from an ongoing headache of being in Cambodia or if that doesn’t do the trick, they’ll deploy the ever so powerful sweeping hand movement.

Tip 2 – Sweeping Hand Movement

Even though vast majority of Cambodian touts won’t bother Koreans, there are still oddballs who go over and beyond the call of duty and wish to take pestering foreigners to a whole new level. After spending a while observing how touts operate, I did on occasion spot a random one trying their luck with a Korean. The response was absolutely priceless:

If a Korean person does get jumped by a tout, they still ignore and say absolutely nothing, but they’d make this hand sweeping movement as if to knock the pestering tout off their coat like bread crumbs. Without any attempt to make an eye contact with a bothering pest, the hand sweeping movement seems to be an extremely powerful way to end the abuse. Following this valuable experience, I’ve tried the hand sweeping movement myself and it worked like a charm. For some reason it looks as though Cambodians found it very offensive when you sweep them off like this so if nothing else works, if you get a super aggressive tout on you that wouldn’t leave you alone no matter what, trying the hand sweeping movement could still do the job. Almost each time I tried it after all else failed, it did free me up from even the most pestering of pests.

This is especially helpful with your pimps who would drive by you on a motorcycle trying to sell you a lady bum bum, cocaine, heroin and whatever other fishy substance you could think off and wouldn’t leave you alone no matter what. Don’t say a word, don’t even turn your head, just do the hand sweeping movement and you’ll see them get right on their way. It’s pure magic.

Photo: Huy Meng Mini Mart in Siem Reap - Many Child Slaves Insist on Buying Them Food from There
Photo: Huy Meng Mini Mart in Siem Reap - Many Child Slaves Insist on Buying Them Food from There

Another good example of use are pimped out kids working for organized cartels. These kids are purposefully dressed up in torn up clothes and made to look dirty. They can cry on command and will grab your hand and won’t let go, insisting that you must buy them food or they die hungry. Of course, if you offer to take them to the restaurant where you would buy them the food so they can eat on the spot, they won’t go. They will only accept food from a nearby convenience store with which they have a “contract”. These are extremely difficult to brush off and they are also the rudest of all. Now don’t get me wrong – being rude is natural to all Cambodians so being told to “F%$k Off” if you don’t give them a hand-out, or if you give them not as much as they think they are worth, or if you give them something they don’t particularly like – is absolutely normal and happens all the time in Cambodia, but the pimped out kids are particularly aggressive and particularly rude and will usually not settle with mere “F%$k You”. There will be a whole slew of swearings if they don’t trick you into buying something from the convenience store they are a part of.

Deploying the sweeping hand movement can be the only way for you to get rid of those kids. They will grab you by the hand or by the piece of clothing and will not let go no matter what. If the hand sweeping movement fails, you will be left with no other option but to board a Tuk Tuk and drive away. In this case it’s still you who loses, only now not a pestering kid, but a different tout (Tuk Tuk driver) will get your money.

Tip 3 – Video Camera

It is recommended to eat in westerner owned restaurants when in Cambodia as most local owned ones will attract and won’t deter pestering kids from bothering you while you eat. There is nothing more irritating than spending 20 minutes waiting for your meal after a whole day of exploring Angkor, when you can’t wait till your sizzling stuff makes it to your table cause you’re starving like a lion, then the moment comes, you get your dish, you dig right in, savoring the flavor to the fullest and then a pestering kid comes, shoves itself one foot away from your face and starts chanting some incoherent shite. Needless to say, you just want to enjoy your meal in peace cause you’re really hungry and need energy but this kid will not leave your side and will spoil your dining experience entirely.

There is very little you can do when this takes place. If you happen to find yourself in a restaurant that won’t send the pest away for you (or worse yet, one which encourages them – like a few I have dined in) you won’t be able to explain to them that you can’t buy them food because you only have enough to pay for yours. They either don’t speak English or pretend they don’t which serves as an excuse to stay in your face.

Sweeping your hand doesn’t work very well with these kids. They don’t care that they are disrupting your dinner as it’s that disruption that may force you to shell out so you can finish your meal in peace. Because of that, you usually only have one choice that could still work – point a video camera at them to make it look like you are vidoetaping them pestering you. This will work in 9 cases out of 10. Camera equipped cell phones and 5th generation iPods work just as well.

The thing is – unless you do something that will safely send these pestering kids on their merry way, you will still have them murmuring crap into your ear 5 minutes later. They are extremely hard to shake off so for the most part, unless you have a backup from a Cambodian speaking person who can yell at them in a language they do understand, the only thing that could help is the camera in their face.

Lesson Learned

Even though Cambodia is a country of extremely aggressive touts, you can make it easier for yourself by following the Korean example. It won’t save you from verbal abuse and rude remarks as even Koreans are subjected to it and there’s nothing they can do about it, however you can still cut down on about 95% of direct pestering by completely ignoring them, sweeping your hand at those who still won’t leave you alone and shoving your video camera in the face of the rest of them who make a point off turning your stay in their country into a miserable experience.