5 Common Travel Scams in Southeast Asia and How to Avoid Them

by Ana

**Note: spring finally arrived in Istanbul and since then I have been incredibly busy about keeping up with my blog. So, when Jess from Tripelio.com contacted me and offered to write a guest post for my website, I was thrilled! I loved her proposal about 5 common travel scams in Southeast Asia and think her post will be valuable for you and my blog. Jess has her own travel blog where she writes about her adventures, make sure to check it out! But before you do, please read the post about the most common travel scams in Southeast Asia that she kindly wrote for me. Thanks, Jess!**


So many amazing places in Southeast Asia. Dont let a scam ruin your trip!

So many amazing places in Southeast Asia. Dont let a scam ruin your trip!


Backpacking around Southeast Asia should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Having so many beautiful sights, rich cultures and untouched nature makes it a destination of a lifetime. Not surprisingly, travelers from all over the world are heading there in flocks.

However, with so many foreigners on the ground of what are extremely poor countries, it’s not surprising that a number of travel scams have become common practice. Luckily for visitors, these travel scams seem to take a very similar nature no matter where you are; with a bit of knowledge, they can be easily avoided. Here is a list of 5 of the most common travel scams in Southeast Asia and some tips on how to avoid them. Have a wonderful and safe trip!



01 | The powdered milk scam


Sadly Cambodian children are hired by local mafias in order to scam tourists.

Sadly Cambodian children are hired by local mafias in order to scam tourists. Photo credit: Jess.

This scam is extremely common in Cambodia, particularly in the Siem Reap region, around large attractions such as Angkor Wat. Usually, an incredibly adorable small child will come up to you and ask if you would buy some powdered milk from the local shop for him to feed his baby sibling. 

Obviously, anyone with a heart will immediately buy the powdered milk but, as soon as the charitable tourist has left, the milk is returned to the local shop and the proceeds split. Although this might not seem very harmful, the sad truth is that these children are being used by local mafias who treat them extremely badly. Supporting this scam is only encouraging this terrible form of child exploitation. 

Always remember that buying anything from children only encourages their parents to keep those children begging in the streets, while preventing them from going to the school. Unfortunately, buying postcards, milk or any other items from children on the streets does not help them but it does quite the opposite.

Be aware of the most common scam in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Beware of the most common scam in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.



02 | The rogue hotspot


Most travelers have a reliance on public WiFi networks, which make them the perfect target for online scams. Because of the insecure nature of the connection, all your data is left to fly around unprotected, so malicious prying eyes can easily intercept passwords and credit card details. Many criminals have become aware of this and there is an ever-increasing number of rogue hotspots popping up.

These WiFi points may have names similar to trusted networks but, in reality, are simply there to collect your data from the moment you connect. This can be easily avoided by running a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your device. The VPN encrypts all of your information meaning that, even if you do stumble across a rogue hotspot, no damage can be done.




03 | The “I know a place” trick


This is one to watch with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers and I experienced it myself when I spent two weeks in Thailand. Often you’ll climb into the vehicle and ask to go to a well-known attraction and the driver will tell you that it just happens to be shut down that day. Instead, he’ll suggest some great and unheard of places that he could take you too.

Usually, you end up getting dropped off at a number of souvenir shops before getting ditched at the side of the road. This happens because the driver gets paid a commission to attract business to the shops. Fortunately, this travel scam can be easily avoided by sticking to public transport or ignoring any surprise suggestions you might get from drivers.


Some tuk tuk drivers might want to bring you to their friends souvernir shops.

Some tuk-tuk drivers might want to bring you to their friends’ souvenir shops.




04 | The distraction pickpocket


Pickpocketing is common all over the world, but this specific type is extremely prolific in Southeast Asia. Thieves will work in groups whereby a few will cause a distraction. This could include coming up to you and frantically shouting things in another language, sending cute kids to dance with you or even a live street performance that encourages you to stop and watch. While your attention is diverted, the other member of the group comes behind and slips into your bag.

These types of pickpockets are extremely skilled and avoiding them can be difficult. The best tactic is to keep all valuables zipped up in safe pockets and, if you feel like a distraction is happening, don’t be scared to turn around and check for the guilty party!


Your trip to SEA will be memorable if you keep these small precautions.

Your trip to SEA will be memorable if you keep these small precautions.




05 | The unexpected charge


It often happens that locals will try to squeeze money out of you for any little thing. While this is bearable when it’s done up front, often you find yourself submitting to, what you believe is, a favor, only to find a hefty price tag being added on at the end.

This is something you have to be particularly wary about when asking for directions. If someone actively tries to lead you somewhere, ensure they won’t be expecting money before following them. Similarly, try to establish all taxi fares before you set off to avoid them going up significantly before the end of the journey. 

Many people worry about falling victim to travel scams in Southeast Asia, but once you’re aware of these five basic setups, then it’ll be easy to survive your trip. If you have any other advice to help travelers stay safe, be sure to leave a comment below.



Thanks to Ana for publishing this article. Ani Anywhere is an inspirational travel site that will make you want to pack your bags and jet off straight away. It always has loads of stories for vicarious travelers to enjoy. After reading this post, be sure to check out her packing list for SEA, so you’ll be completely ready for your own trip!

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Matt April 28, 2016 - 13:34

We nearly fell for the ‘It’s not open at the moment’ trick at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. We got dropped off outside one guarded entrance and a tuk tuk driver told us the monks were having lunch so it is closed, I will take you to another one. Foolishly we got in the tuk tuk and suddenly my brain switched on and I remembered reading about a scam like this so we swiftly got out, turned a corner and found the proper entrance which was open! Articles like this are really helpful for anyone visiting these areas. It can easily happen to anyone when you’re in such an unusual place where all your senses are being continuously bombarded!

Ana May 10, 2016 - 08:38

Hello Matt, thanks a lot for your comment! I am glad that you realized the Grand Palace was actually open. I also experience tuk tuk drivers proposals when I visited Bangkok but they couldnt fool me as well 🙂 I was very lucky and didnt really experience many scams attempts in my SEA travels. Cant wait to be back! Regards 🙂

Stephanie Lee May 18, 2018 - 15:41

Another popular trick they do here in south east asia is the the Motorbike Scam. The bike owners will spoil your bike after you have paid for rental so that they can make you pay for it. Not many seems to be aware of this kind of scam so just a reminder!


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