Monday 20 February 2012

Touts and Scams in and around Siem Reap

Put this in its own post... Cambodia (Siem Reap) has really bumped it up a notch with all the scams and various tactics by touts.

Tuk Tuks and Mototaxis

Everywhere else I've been the touts have been annoying but usually you can say no and they'll leave you alone. Here, they are persistent. In Siem Reap there are mototaxi and tuk tuk drivers CONSTANTLY trying to get your attention. It doesn't matter if you've said no to ten in a row, they will still ask. They will call out "HELLO!" or "SIR!", clap, and wave their arms around to try and get you to look at them, or you just have to accidently see one before they launch into their spiel. "Tuk tuk where you go? old market? temples? lake? you need tuk tuk tomorrow?" If you're walking along the street they will honk to get your attention as if you're about to be run over, you turn around and then they ask if you want to go somewhere. And they are everywhere outside. Everywhere. No really. Everywhere. I've become immune to a lot of it, but occasionally I'll get caught with a clap or a hello from across the road, now I hear the sound and try not to turn my head but they'll keep clapping and waving their arms about much to my amusement.

Now the problem for tourists is that only local vehicles are allowed into the Angkor Wat area so you have to pedal in, or hire a tuk tuk for the day. The going rate for the tuk tuks seems to be between $15 and $20 a day following the usual two tours through the park.

Now for my long and detailed experience with this (I have not had to do this much at all in 8 months, I have my own transport!). I tried negotiating with one driver outside the hotel to get him to take me just to Angkor Wat for $5 (generous, one trip, he can go out and make more money then), I said I'd be there for a while so I just need to get to Angkor Wat and I can find my own way back later. But he insisted on trying to get me to do a full tour for $20 a day, and multiple days, I said that was far too much and he dropped it to $15. I again told him no tour, just Angkor Wat, and he wouldn't do it and then I found out that he already had people booked for the day. Another tuk tuk driver turned up and I asked him the same thing, $5 to go to Angkor Wat, that's all, he said OK and we were off. We stopped at the ticket booth and I got my 7 day pass (which the tuk tuk driver saw and his eyes glazed over with all the money he could make from me in 7 days). Then along the road through the forest between the ticket booth and Angkor Wat (nothing but traffic for 1km either way) he pulls over and then gets out the map of the area and then starts asking what tour I want to do... Urgh. Right, he got me to that point where I didn't care anymore, I told him get me to Angkor Wat, wait, then take me back, whatever. Once we get there I made sure to clarify the the price again, he wanted me to pay $15 for him to sit around, I said I could have had a full day tour for that and all he has to do today is wait for one or two hours. He eventually got it down to $12. Fine. Whatever. This is their tactic, wearing you down until they get what they want. $12 is a lot of money for 8km of riding and a bit of waiting. No wonder the touts behave the way they do.

So I make him wait. I'm in Angkor Wat for four and a half hours (most people are out in two). So he's made nothing extra from other fares he could have had in that time because he wanted $12 instead of $5. Of course, trying to get the multi day money, as soon as we get back to the hotel he's asking what time tomorrow do I want to be picked up. I am purposely vague just to keep my options open.

But the next morning he's out there, waiting. So whatever, lets do this again, I explain my plan for today is to see the temples in and around Angkor Thom and he can drive me between them, $12 sounds good for that. Ok, I get in, and set off. We get to the South Gate, and I tell him I just want to look at the temples around here and he gets all strange. I tell him I'm going to be here for a couple of hours, then he can drive me in to the middle of Angkor thom, wait again, and then out to the gates to have a look. This is when I find out he has another fare for today at 10am... He asks if I can walk between the gate and the other temples... I say fine, but lets talk about how much then and I offer $10 for the day and to pick me up at 3pm by the western gate and he agrees. He's then off to earn his other money (he learnt from yesterday).

So I spend far longer than I thought I would looking at these temples. I grab some lunch near the central temples and he manages to find me in there! So whatever, I tell him I haven't seen these temples yet and he will have to wait and I make him wait an extra two hours. We get back to the hotel, again, he asks what the plan is for tomorrow. I tell him nothing tomorrow because I am broken from walking up too many stairs for two days. And then he says OK, he'll be back the day after, what time? Vague answer given. Then I ask how much I owe for today, and he says $13... But we agreed on $10 today, and yesterday was $12 and you had to wait 4 hours, today was $13 and you earned more from another fare? He gives dumb answers but won't budge below $13... So I give up, $13 handed over (hey, like I said, I don't do this often). This is costing more than my room.

I saw a German Transalp and two Australian DRZ's in Angkor Thom yesterday so I'm going to verify that the police won't chase me if I take my bike in. I'll ride past this guy tomorrow morning...

Outside Angkor Wat

As soon as you get out of the Tuk Tuk you are mobbed by people trying to sell you guidebooks, water, and whatever else. Also note in this area the Tuk Tuk drivers are eerily quiet because they have fares for the day, there will still be one or two though.

One girl pushed the guidebook into my hands (I was going to take it anyway) and then started with "half price from what's in shops, $12, see price?" and it said $27 on the back. She kept dropping the price, I kept saying no, eventually she got to $6 and then started saying that she only makes $1 from that and that she wants to open a shop. Please buy it... So I handed her my taped up $5 I got from Vietnam that I've been trying to get rid of (useless to me) and one shiny new dollar note, and I had my guidebook. I later found that inside the temple they only charge $1 for the book and in Siem Reap it's in shops for $6. But I was still OK with the deal because I'd finally ditched that sticky taped $5 note. Hopefully it was worth as much to her as it was to me ($0). So yeah, if you want the book, wait till you get inside, it's $1 (or dispose of your rejected cash here).

Now while this is going on there are about six other people trying to sell me water saying there's no water in the temple (there is), or food because there's none in the temple (there is). I ignored all that.

Also I think while I'm surrounded is where this next event occurred. After I'd got some lunch inside the temple grounds (SEE! LIARS!) I was just looking through my bag and in the zipped pocket is this postcard for some concert in Siem Reap that wasn't there when I got the ticket. So it was when I was mobbed that someone slipped it into my bag, or somewhere around the temple itself. Either way. Not good, my passport was in that pocket. You can open the zip from the side but it's hard to get stuff in and out unless you open the big noisy velcro flap. Nothing was taken though, wallet still had money and was in my pocket, phone was still in my other pocket. Odd. I really don't remember if I got it somewhere else, and I don't take the bits of paper people hand to me so that's the only place I can imagine it happening. I did find it odd that  while the girl was trying to sell the book the six other people trying to sell stuff all dispersed at the same time...

Inside Angkor Wat

I was sitting on a wall just resting for a bit, some kid walked up, stopped nearby, and then stood with his back to me for a while. Just a long enough wait so no one thinks anything is going on, then he turns around and says "give me one dollar". I say no, and ignore him, but he just repeats over and over... I always find it odd that if you are that desperate for money that you only go after tourists in touristy areas. I know it's very Asian to ignore begging but they don't even try to go after anyone but tourists, and in a place like Angkor Wat too! Maybe if you tried asking a few locals then I might consider that you need it. I have seen the begging from locals in small towns in Thailand so it does exist.

On the north side of the main path in the Angkor Wat area is a small group of food stalls and souvenirs (this is where you can buy the guide for $1). but about fifty meters in the popular directions are people holding menus that will shout and run after you trying to get you into their stalls. I was walking past there and one guy asked if I wanted food, I said no (but I secretly did) and then he walked with me all the way up to the food stalls just to make sure I went to his, if I was going. It wasn't till I turned away and went towards the pond that he gave up (a long way). After I was done with the pond I decided to go see what the toilet situation was like, and on the way got shouted at and handed a menu. I said no again. I proceeded to the toilets and then decided nope, don't need to go that badly (it cost money, not cleanliness issues) and headed back out in the opposite direction to where the people with menus were looking. I quickly looked for  a menu near the stalls but then this lady spotted me and RAN towards me shouting "SIR SIR! YOU WANT FOOD COME EAT AT MY STALL NUMBER 8!". I was laughing at her then I decided to eat there anyway because of the stupidity of it all. Horrible and expensive food.

Angkor Thom seemed the same, but toned down very slightly, and with cold coconuts thrown in.

Siem Reap

There is a large concentration of people begging around the Pub Street and old market area which is where all the foreigners gather (I only took a quick look there today, that's enough). Elsewhere it's mostly just tuk tuks and mototaxis just trying to get your attention.

When you walk through the old market it's just a constant stream of "sir you want to buy something please come look in my shop". One lady tried to grab onto me to get me into the stall, but I do have that effect so I'm not sure if she was selling something or just overcome by what she saw here. So I left the market and then outside I got hit with "Tuk tuk?" immediately. And all the way up the street. And round the corner. Down the next street, and all the way back to the hotel.

Also around Pub Street you'll find the Mothers with young child that will try and get you to buy some milk so they can feed their kid. Since I had read about it on wikitravel I was wise to this one. What happens is you buy the milk for her, she thanks you, you depart and then she takes the milk back to the shop to split the money with the shop owner and then the process is started over again. I saw two people doing this scam at the southern end of Pub Street. One followed me all the way down the street until I was blasted with "Tuk tuk?" again and then she finally gave up.

So in summary... In no other place that I've been to yet have I felt this under assault from touts or that I'm being ripped off everywhere. Bring on India.


  1. The best option is to totally ignore them. Don't even reply "no". Just treat them as invisible. If you have a earphone, just wear them - you don't have to play any music - just pretend you don't see/hear those touts. I HATE TOUTS!!! I even got 2 touts to fight over my business and I eend up going to the third tout which offer a better deal than the first two. Haha!

  2. ay, you are so cheap!
    why not take the tuk tuk for the whole day and pay the 15 they are asking?
    avoid hassle, have the convenience
    for you it is 3$ for them it is a food for their family for the whole day. we are still so lucky to be NOT born there.
    J. from Canada

  3. You are right, make things easy for everyone! We go for holiday on the other hand isn't to be scam at every street corner.