5 Common travel scams in Southeast Asia and how to avoid them

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Article by: Ani

Backpacking around Southeast Asia should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Having so many beautiful sights, rich cultures and untouched nature, it’s a destination for a lifetime and not surprisingly travellers 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 so, 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 great and safe trip!

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The powdered milk scam

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 can 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 splits. Although this might not seem very harmful, the sad truth is that these children are being used by local mafias that treat them extremely bad, so supporting this scam is only encouraging this terrible way of child exploitation. 

Always remember that buying anything  children only gives their parents reasons 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.

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The rogue hotspot

Most travelers have a reliance on public WiFi networks that make them the perfect target for online scams. Because of the unsecure 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’s 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.


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The “I know a place” trick

Usually, what happens is that you get dropped off at a number of souvenir shops before getting ditched on the side of the road. This happens because the driver gets paid 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!


The distraction pickpocket

Pickpocketing is common all over the world, but this specific type is extremely prolific in SEA. 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 be 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!


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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 upfront, 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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5 thoughts on “5 Common travel scams in Southeast Asia and how to avoid them

    • We have suppliers we work with in India. Would like me to get some information and quote, with Air and accommodations for two? For how long are you going?

      • No thanks as we going for 10 days with Gate 1 Travel. I was interested in the scams you might have heard about from travelers there.

  1. I’ve just begun my travellers around Southeast Asia, I’m currently in Bali. I’ve found this post so helpful as I’ve got a bit more of an idea of what to look out for now! Great read!