Visitors and expats alike have many a tale of being hoodwinked in the Kingdom of Wonder. Whilst the Siem Reap milk scam, the Filipino blackjack shysters and an army of Chinese fake monks fill the forums and travel blogs, it seems like every man and his pig is in the business of relieving white folk of their hard earned dollar bills. In the spirit of public awareness and community well-being, and inspired by some crap that was on the National Geographic channel late at night, your ever intrepid correspondent, Pedro, has bravely put himself out on the front line, learning the tricks of the hucksters trade. He’s getting scammed so YOU don’t have to be. Many months of careful planning have seen Pedro touring Cambodia – choosing the locations where Khmer con artists congregate, and relaying this information back to the unwary readers of khmer440.
1. The School Scam
The value of education is realized more in Cambodia than almost anywhere on earth. Fresh faced youths and aging professors alike come flooding in to the country, proud of their internet TEFL certificate (120 hours + extra grammar), and no longer required to sign the sexual offenders register. Mostly they are welcomed with open arms by school directors, keen to enhance the knowledge of Cambodian students (thought of, almost, as their own children).
However, not all of these bastions of enlightenment are as ethically charged as most – some are outright dodgy. Here’s a typical school scammer’s modus operand . .
Recruits will meet the director and/or head of HR. These serpent-like fellows will smile and tell you how important it is to uphold the school’s core principles, something like ‘Discipline, Morality, Excellence’. Impressed with this ethos, the unwary TEFLer will sign a contract agreeing $10-12 per hour and agree to start Monday.
Once entering the classroom, the victim will find 30 students aged between 5 to 26 years old, ripped to the tits on taurine laden energy drinks and high on iPhones, with all the discipline, morality and excellence of a bonobo chimp’s family get together orgy.
When it’s time for the pay-check, the accounts lady will explain that there were 16 unpaid holidays that month and the salary has been docked money for contract deposit, books, work-permit and 10% government tax, and because the director needs to fill his new Toyota Tacoma with gasoline. Pay slips to show these are against school policy.
Top tip: Teachers should do their homework
2. The Marketplace
The hustle and bustle of local markets is a dreamy delight of unforgettable aromas and colours. Although it’s every backpackers dream to see a chicken get its throat slit and giant catfish having their heads staved in with a wooden mallet, some of the unscrupulous vendors have tricks dirtier than the puddles of blood, guts and rotting waste which flow ankle deep into the gutters.
A) The pineapple scam. Also called the SCC, after the discoverer, this is a nasty scam which seems to target all foreigners. Don’t be fooled by the idea of price fluctuations on your favourite fruit and veggies: there are only 2 prices in Cambodia, local and pale face, with the difference being as much as 500 Riel! Don’t allow this blatant racism to continue. Either give your bar-girl-friend-prostitute $50 to do the shopping and get the ‘local’ price, or visit Lucky Supermarket, where all the prices are clearly displayed and your cash will go into coffers of a multi-chain store and not into the pocket of a greedy peasant who sees all white skinned folk as an ATM in flip-flops and a stupid hat.
B) The wrong change. If Stephen Hawking didn’t have a built in calculator, even the greatest scientific mind of our generation would find it difficult multiplying and dividing numbers by 4000 to get the USD/KHR price. The charlatans purveying market goods know this, and as sure as they overcharge unwary customers, they are guaranteed to hand over a fist full of Riels in change for your large denomination US bill, always shy of a few bob.
Top tip: To remedy this buyers should count their notes thrice, do the maths and get a different number each time, before waving hands about manically and shouting the few random numbers they know in Khmer. Often keen not to make a fuss the wily tradesperson will do some sort of gypsy trickery involving sleight of hand so, on the 4th count and with the help of a calculator, the missing money will have reappeared and everything totaled up correctly andas if by magic, making it appear that the victim was in the wrong the whole time.
3. The Locals Drinking Scam.
This trick uses the mark’s good nature and willingness to fit in with the locals to the shyster’s advantage. A group of shirtless men will offer a place to sit and knock back some warm beer with ice. They’ll invite the hapless barang to help themselves to a bit of dried fish, and clink glasses with a hearty ‘Chol moi!’ every 5 seconds. But, as soon as the 24 case of Klang has been imbibed by the drinking buddies, things turn nasty as they badger you to ‘Tin kay moi tiet?’, which is the local parlance for ‘White devil. You buy us more beer, or we’ll kick your fucking head in’, costing the target anything from $10 upwards.
Quality beer is readily available in expat bars for as little as $1.50 a glass, and with this small surcharge it’s guaranteed that no poverty stricken locals will be able to afford more than a peek through the window.
4. Bill padding.
Sadly many Cambodian drinking holes are not staffed with friendly Ted Danson/Kirstie Alley types like in Cheers. Instead, when the bill comes the unsuspecting customer is hit with a bill for 18 triple vodka Red Bulls and 6 Angkor drafts, when they clearly remember only ordering and drinking 13 triple vodka Red Bulls and 4 Angkor drafts. Sadly the only way out of this situation is to pay up and warn others later, or flay your arms around like a madman, shout obscenities and threaten to set fire to motorbikes until the police come.
Top tip: Principles will cost hundreds of dollars.
5. The marriage scam.
It’s a common enough situation. Boy meets beautiful dusky skinned maiden and falls head over heels in lust. After a week or so she suggests that you should take a trip to her village to meet her family. She will ask for a few hundred dollars to make the visit a success. After a 6 hour bus journey to Kompong somewhere, the hapless beau will be greeted by a peasant army, forced into pink pantaloons and have his photo taken several thousand times. After a reasonably lavish feast the sweetheart will announce in broken English that this was the engagement party, the wedding will be in 4 months (because her fortune telling uncle foresees this date as auspicious) and you’d better come up with 10 grand pronto.
Top tip: Lie. Feign terminal cancer, a family emergency in Cuba, explain you’ve suddenly come to terms with your true sexuality, anything. Then run. Run as fast and as far as possible.
6. The Khmer card con.
Whilst the Filipinos have the baddest rep for swindling with a rigged deck, countryside Cambodians can be equally as shady. Normally someone with half decent English proficiency will invite you to play and show you the rules. With stakes as high as 1000r a time, they will ‘help’ you by muttering some unintelligible words, seizing your hand and throw down random cards with aplomb. You’ll win each time and be several thousand Riel the richer, until your new buddy thinks it’s time for him to be dealt back into the game. Then, the rules seem to change and every card you play is wrong, everyone laughs at you as they slam down the queens and you lose all the winnings and a few thousand more on top.
Top tip: Take the money won with the help, say thank you and leave the gamblers to their game.
7. The Massage scam.
As fellow sufferers of lumbago and rheumatoid arthritis know, there’s nothing like a good professional rub down by a registered masseuse to get one feeling good and limber. Luckily, in Cambodia every third building after a phone shop is a massage parlour, offering a quality massage for as little as 10,000KHR. However, like many other so-called businesses in Scambodia, such places can be nefarious enterprises, hell-bent on getting money for nothing.
After a particularly painful bout of back pain, I visited one such place on Hanoi Road, which was luckily still open at midnight. After being shown to a squalid room and told to lie down on a filthy mattress, the girl proceeded to ignore the area giving me jip and gave a half-hearted attempt to massage my back and shoulders. 10 minutes later she flipped me over and began to stroke my Tommy Todger, releasing her hands off it long enough to show 10 fingers and whisper ‘Dop dollar’.
Keen to see if this place was just a one off bad egg, I spent the next 12 days going to other establishments to find out whether this scam was common. Sadly it is, and although the lower spine flair ups are still crippling me, my nuts are as empty as Boueng Kak Lake and I later required a shot of penicillin to my buttocks.
Top tip: Take extra caution in Siem Reap, as up there these tricky minxes often work in pairs. And don’t tell your spouse.
All in all Cambodia is a safe place to visit and live, but it’s best to use due diligence in any situation, listen to advice from those who have seen the tricks and scams firsthand and always use common sense in any strange or potentially dangerous situation. Safety first, people and try not to venture out of BBK1 after sundown.