Saturday, July 04, 2009

Siem Reap Tonle Sap boat tour scams

I'll have to find the old photos to show how the place has changed. Before, it was a menagerie. When you arrive, boat men will come up to you to tout their services and you hop on a boat. There was no jetty like today.

The boatman told me why. A Korean company now operates the Tonle Sap boat tours in Siem Reap.

To get to the Tonle Sap, you need to take a tuk-tuk from Siem Reap town. We paid Phern USD15 for the whole day but a return trip by an independent tuktuk is just USD6 or 7. If you book with a travel agent it is USD10.

The boat ticket itself is another matter. Of course, they tried to scam us Singaporeans. My aunt and her friend were charged USD15 per person. I refused because it was ridiculously expensive. I argued and tried to bargain but the corrupt, arrogant man running the ticketing sales said it was "fixed price". Just as the boat was about to leave, (and while I was relaxing with a coconut (2000 riels) at one of the little stalls) the man decided to let me on free, partly because Phern asked on my behalf, but mainly because he had profited enough from my friends and it would have cost him nothing to let me go on.

Later, I found out from a travel agent that the REAL PRICE is USD12 PER BOAT if there is one or two persons on that boat. If there are three of you, it becomes USD5 per pax, which makes it USD15 PER BOAT. That means he made a profit of USD18 out of the boat trip we took. Imagine if I too, had paid the USD15. And you can bet the boatman who does the actual work gets zero of that. [Note to the Korean company Sou Ching Investment Company: Get your act together. At least the entrance fee at other tourist spots in Cambodia are genuinely "fixed price".)

[Update 28 July 2009: I just found out this blog post was quoted in I should have made clear you will not get the prices I mentioned if you book through a travel agent since you have to compensate the travel agent for his/her service. You will be charged USD10 per person if there are 1 or 2 of you. This INCLUDES tuktuk, which is very fair, because as mentioned, the tuktuk transfer itself is USD6. This means effectively you are paying USD7 per person for the boat trip (USD10-USD6/2). If there are 3 of you, you will be charged USD8 per person, which means you will be paying USD6 per person for the boat trip (USD8- USD6/3). I just verified this with the travel agent next door to my shop so you can book through them if you like. It is called CMT travel agency. Also, please note that the prices may go up with the high season (Nov-Feb). Also interesting is how the boat fee differs with skin colour- white people get charged USD20, Asians between USD12 - USD15 per person].

My advice for travellers planning to go visit the floating villages in Siem Reap is to BOOK THE TOUR WITH A TRAVEL AGENT AHEAD OF TIME, paying the prices I mentioned. This is because once you have made the long trip out, the boat ticketing people know they have got you. There is absolutely nothing else to do there, so they know you will pay whatever they charge to go on the ride.

The other scam happens halfway on the boat, when the boatman will try to get you to visit a school so you can buy supplies for the children. Fine - except what they charge for the supplies. Here is one traveller's experience, as posted on

I agree that the floating village is not worth to see. We got there with a Tuk-Tuk, payed the entrance fee ($ 20 pp!!!), got a small boat (we were the only 2 tourists), we shiped around the village for half an hour, but there was nothing special to see. After introducing a little of their lifestyle we were asked if we want to visit a school. We agreed because there was nothing else to see. But they nearly forced us to buy some pencils, pens and books for the school (they insisted to bring something for all 40 pupils). We would love to do it, but the "shop" in the floating village asked $1 for 1 pencil! Here you really get ripped off! So we bought only 4 pencils and the crew (2 young boys) got really angry and the didn't speak to us anymore! I would not recommand to go there!
I had already known about this school scam so I told the boatman, since I speak Khmer. He kept saying, "mian p'new klah chet la-or, chong jouy k'meng k'meng" or "some tourists heart good, want to help the children."

I despise this Cambodian tactic. The tour guides, the local NGO staff and the boatmen use it. They imply your heart is not good if you don't help, or rather, fall for the scam. I know exactly how my heart is, and what I do everyday for a group of Cambodians working at Bloom, and then some--thank you very much. I don't need your pathetic, transparent attempts at blackmail.

Still, some tourists find it hard to say no. See this one on
A bit further along our driver asked us if we were interested in buying some stationery and books for one of the local very poor schools. Well, what can you say to that without sounding like a total jerk? Of course we agreed and before we could say "Boat House" we were moored alongside the local General Store - floating variety. Now this is where the fun began. The shop proprietor was obviously well versed in this scenario as she met us with a package of books and pencils - asking price US$25!!! "You must be joking", I said. "Do I look like a fool?" After a bit of haggling, during which time I was feeling like we'd been totally scammed we finally settled on $10 and not a penny more! What a con - and for some reason, I felt like I should have known it was going to go down like this. Anyway, we were then dropped off at the local school comprising of one floating classroom complete with basketball court on the top to present our "gift" to the eagerly awaiting principal. I only hope the kids actually get to use the books, which by the way would have cost little more than a $1 in Siem Reap."
Anyway like the travelfish poster, our boatman became sullen after repeated attempts to get me to buy the stationery. Well, I give as good as I get and I stopped chatting with him. Despite the unpleasantness, I tipped him USD3! (10% of his monthly wage!) See how crazy I am. Heart of marshmallow. I pity him because I know USD30 is too little to live on.

Other things I can share is: wear sensible shoes when going on this trip. The metal ramp leading from the jetty to the boats have hardly any grip. It is very slippery and dangerous. Thank goodness there are bars you can hold onto when making your way down. If you wear high heels you will regret it. I wore flip flops and struggled. You not only have to make the walk down the ramp, but also up, when you get back.

Along the way on the river trip, a small child will suddenly appear on the boat. Our young girl was rowed by her brother. Their boat comes really close so she can hop on with a bucket filled with cold drinks. You can buy if you like, I think for USD1 a drink. We didn't so she hopped onto the other boat. We were just amazed at how quickly it all happened.

In two days I have heard two scams that happened to two groups of backpackers in Scambodia. I'm sure many Khmers are just as angry at their countrymen for being so short-sighted. As the tourists told me, they will return to their home countries and tell people of their troubles in this country. Do you think people will be encouraged to come?

Some Cambodian friends tell me these people "kert klai, ot kert vwairng" (think short-term, not long term). Other Cambodians tell me it is the government's fault. Because it corrupt and takes what it can, the ordinary Khmer also wants his/her own share.


Anonymous said...

I chanced across your post and I felt exactly the same way about the feeling of 'scam', although not only in tonle sap, but my siem reap trip as a whole. I was at tonle sap on the 2nd of Jul and hey, we paid usd 10 per pax and we were in a party of 5. Now I know why the guys manning the ticketing counter were laughing so happily - we were paying 50usd for a 15usd thingy.

Hopefully, life gets better for the poor there. The feeling i get in siem reap is the majority of them look at you (tourist) as flashy dollar notes, and otherwise you are a good riddance. Sad isnt it.

Diana Saw said...

So sad. I totally agree, but it is not just Cambodia. Anywhere tourists go, crooks will be out to fleece them, as I write here:

Hope you'll not be deterred from returning to Cambodia, anon!


Anonymous said...

Can you advise which travel agent in Siem Reap to go to for the USD12 per boat trip at Tonle Sap? Does this include all the fees (entrance, boat, etc...)? We are 2 women traveller and are afraid of getting ripped off by them after reading abou the many scams in Siem Reap.

Diana Saw said...

I've never used a travel agent for the tonle sap boat tour so am reluctant to recommend any. But any travel agent will be able to help you since you know the prices. Even if they charge a couple of bucks more for their service, it's better than being charged double at the boat terminal.

Malaysia Asia said...

Hello Amy, that is an excellent write up on Tonle Sap and glad you have a great time there! I am also in the planning for another visit back to Siem Reap in he coming months as I kind of miss that place.


Unknown said...

Sou Ching is not Korean. It is a very well- connected Cambodian company.
They've just opened a 'travel centre' in Banteay Meanchey. Another big scam.

Diana Saw said...

"According to Korean-language media reports, Sou Ching Port Investment is part of a large investment fund established by two major Korean companies - SK Securities and Golden Bridge Asset Management."

The Phnom Penh Post (Issue 16 / 25, December 14 - 28, 2007) full text posted here:

I read the article you pointed to - it only says the MD is Khmer, but nothing about the company. I think it's Korean, but well-connected for sure.

camarc79 said...

Hi there, I chanced on your post and I just would like to share a few things that might help a few tourists in the future. I just got back from my trip to Siem Reap 2 days ago. I have to say that we had a perfect, seamless trip to Cambodia, thanks to our hotel concierge who was very friendly and gracious. As long as we followed his recommendations, we were good. Unfortunately, our group made the spontaneous decision to go to Tonle Sap. We (a group of 6) found a driver who took us all in his van for $20. He was a good guy who warned us not to buy anything, just watch. Unfortunately, we didn't quite understand him and we thought he meant the market by the pier. We bought our tickets for only $10 each because our driver was the one who bought it for us. He also said that if it had been us who bought the tickets, it would have been $15 dollars each! So we got to the floating market and was forced by the ferry driver and the guys over at the floating market to buy the rice for $35. Later, our van driver said a bag that small would only cost at most $7. And so that was what he meant earlier when he said do not buy, just watch. Our fault for not listening closer.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin