The Siem Reap floating villages are amazing and for most a trip highlight. But some tourists traveling on their own have been scammed.
Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be you! Learn about the floating village scams, where they occur, how they work, and how to easily avoid them, ensuring you have a fun and meaningful Tonle Sap experience.
An (Unfortunate) Backstory
While visiting Luang Prabang, I met two people who were staying at my hostel. We struck up a conversation, and I mentioned I worked in Siem Reap with a floating village tour company. One of the travelers immediately interjected, “Oh, I hated the floating villages. We got scammed 100 USD. It was one of the worst experiences of my trip! A total ripoff.” I felt terrible when I heard this. No one should be treated that way when traveling. I knew it left a sour taste in their mouths, and all I could do was apologize about the floating village scams and change the subject.
While I felt lousy about the situation, I also knew they could have prevented that situation in the first place. Unfortunately, scams happen at tourist destinations all over the world (see here, here and here). Experienced travelers know this and stay informed when on the road. Simple research ahead of time will prevent you from being scammed.
Below we have put together a list of possible floating village scams you could experience in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We have also shared how to avoid them or respond if you find yourself in a similar situation as my friends in Luang Prabang.
Floating School & Market Trip
This is without a doubt the most popular and notorious of the floating village scams. It is also the reason why we don’t visit most floating village schools on our tour. It starts after you get on the boat. Your gregarious driver will ask if you want to visit a floating school to meet orphaned students and learn about education on the Tonle Sap. It seems innocent enough, and curious tourists will most likely oblige. You will then visit a small, impoverished school where students do a rehearsed scene. An emotional connection then forms between students and well-meaning tourists.
After you leave the school, the driver will continue to talk about how life is difficult for children on the lake. Many of them don’t have money for food or school supplies. Their dream is to study and find a good job, but they need help if they are going to do it.
After this speech, either a boat will appear and dock next to you or the driver will take you to a floating market. Locals sell essential items like notebooks, pencils, water, soda, and rice at the front of the store. He will ask if you can help the school children by purchasing some of these items. Well-meaning guests will oblige, buying supplies at exorbitant prices, which are then “dropped-off” at the school. After you leave, however, the items will be returned to the store, and your boat driver will receive a hefty commission for his work. Unfortunately, the students receive none of the products donated.
Commission Souvenir Shops & Restaurants
While not a scam per se commission souvenir shops and restaurants exist in some of the floating villages, especially Chong Kneas. Here you will find different products which are very expensive. While the sellers will vouch for their quality most of them are knock-offs, and there is no way to get a refund (without purchasing another boat ticket to go all the way back). It is typically much better to buy souvenirs on your own in Siem Reap city.
Restaurants catering to tourist are common as well. Many of the restaurants are very good and an excellent way to spend sunset on the Tonle Sap. Nevertheless, the restaurants are expensive due to logistical issues as well as commissions paid to your driver. Fried rice, for example, usually costs about 5 – 7 USD at a floating restaurant. While that might seem like a decent price, a similar meal can be found in the city for 1.50 USD. Keep this in mind before sitting down at the restaurant.
While floating village scams exist, there are easy ways to avoid them. Here are some ideas based on our own experiences.
Avoid Chong Kneas Floating Village
First – and this is my most important word of advice – never visit Chong Kneas Floating Village. It is rated 2 Stars on Tripadvisor for a reason. The scams are out of control, and it has gotten to the point where drivers expect to rip you off (and can be verbally aggressive when you resist). Furthermore, it is a rather small floating village. The boat ride is quick and there are no stilted homes. So, even when you avoid the scams, you won’t get the full experience you would receive at Kompong Phluk or Kompong Khleang.
Decline the School Visit (& Anything Else Suspicious)
If a driver proposes visiting the school, politely tell them you are not interested in seeing it. You will drive by it anyways and can still take an interesting photo but avoid the possibility of a scam. This is the same case for the market. If he is insistent on visiting tell him you are in a rush and want to see the lake, the last stop of the tour. He will then proceed through the entire village and onwards to the lake. It is important to be polite when declining. Don’t raise your voice or aggravate the situation by implying he is trying to scam you. Just ask to see the lake.
We Can’t Emphasize Enough – Go with a Tour Company
The easiest way to avoid floating village scams is to travel with a respected tour company like The Tonle Sap Experience. Thanks to the power of the internet tour providers have very high standards. Reviews hold us accountable and ensure you will have a fun and memorable time. This is not the case with tuk-tuk drivers, for example, who can be shortsighted. Besides, you will save money by joining a floating village tour with us and have the benefit of an English speaking guide, so there is no financial reason to avoid joining a tour company.
We hope you found this blog post helpful and reassuring about trips to the floating villages. If you have any question, please email us. You can also share your experience in the comments section to help other travelers.