When I first landed in Cambodia, I got the immediate feeling I was being scammed. Now that I’ve been there, left, and finished my trip, I thought it would be worthwhile to come back to whether or not Cambodia should really be called Scambodia.
So is Cambodia really Scambodia?
1. There really are many scammers looking for susceptible tourists.
This is very true, especially in Siem Reap. This is also true in almost every tourist-centric city in the world. Within an hour of arriving, I had the airport tuk tuk station attempt to give me a counterfeit $2 US bill as change… which made my inner “scam-radar” go crazy for a while!
I will say that on the whole, I felt like there were fewer true scams in Cambodia than Paris, for instance. Paris is overrun with “friendship bracelet” and “petition” people, and frankly it’s worse than Cambodia. Taxi scams that are common everywhere can happen in Cambodia too, but as long as you negotiate prices before getting into a tuk-tuk, the tuk-tuk drivers are true to the negotiation.
2. Cambodia is extremely poor, and people will be very aggressive in wanting your money.
If you are not used to visiting countries where vendors are incredibly aggressive, Cambodia will feel very oppressive (again, especially in Siem Reap). The level of poverty in the country is incredibly high, and tourist dollars are some of the best ways for people to try to claw their way out of poverty.
Like tuk-tuk drivers. Many tuk-tuk drivers actually sleep in their tuk-tuks rather than have a real place to stay – because they’re trying to maximize the amount of money they can send home to their family. So yes, they’re aggressive (and far more aggressive than anything you’d find in developed countries). But to be honest, they’re certainly not more aggressive than people in India or Egypt.
However, you can say no (or simply ignore them), and you’re pretty safe. They’re not going to follow you.
2. The prices are a lot higher than you’d imagine.
To be honest, I was incredibly surprised by how expensive things were in Siem Reap. Based on that, I’d advise spending as little time there as you can, and then perhaps exploring more of the “real” side of Cambodia. When I was in Siem Reap, it was pretty common to see restaurants serving Western food and wanting $9+ per plate. While that’s pretty comparable to what I’d pay in the US, the margins in Cambodia have got to be incredible considering what owners are likely paying for raw materials and for labor.
3. The authenticity of the experience has perhaps been diluted.
Again, this is specific to Siem Reap, but so many of the “discoveries” by people who visited Cambodia just as it became a hot spot have become over-touristed. The Night Market is absolutely a place for Instagram-worthy bugs to eat and the only true Cambodians you’ll find there are the ones selling you something.
4. It is far harder to find real goods than counterfeit goods.
This made me laugh a bit. I needed a backpack while I was there because the first one I brought was breaking, so I looked around for a new one. Crazy as it sounds, I actually don’t like buying counterfeit items. Yes, as pretentious as that sounds, I do believe you get what you pay for, and I don’t like supporting the dilution of brands by selling counterfeits.
Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right spots, but I could not find a backpack that was not counterfeit (and was a sporty-type model – I wasn’t looking for a knit or colorful fabric backpack. I wanted something along the lines of a North Face or Jansport). So alas, I bought a fake North Face backpack – because it was the only thing I could find. Does that count as a scam? Maybe not to the person buying it (it is after all quite cheap). But my guess is that The North Face would agree it’s a scam!
5. Angkor Wat is $37US for one day and $62 for three days.
This is a fairly steep price for a world wonder – the Pyramids, the Colosseum, Chichen Itza, the Great Wall, and Christ the Redeemer were all far cheaper. When I went, Machu Picchu was cheaper than Angkor Wat, but alas, prices have risen in Peru.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth it – but for all of the stories online about doing Cambodia for $30 US/day, it’s not going to happen if Angkor Wat is involved. Angkor Wat is also free for Cambodians, and that’s something I feel somewhat conflicted about. While I love that they’re making it accessible for Cambodians to appreciate their culture, I can only wonder what the international outcry would be if the US instituted a similar policy for many of our national treasures.
If you want to get away from “Scambodia,” stay away from the main tourist spots. Venturing into the lesser-visited places like Sihanoukville or even Phnom Penh will let you experience the “truer” side of Cambodia and have it feel a bit less like people are just looking at you as an ATM to be scammed. And if you’re dead-set on going to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, just be prepared. If you’re prepared and aware, you’ll have an amazing time discovering the ancient treasures to be found!