How to not get scammed when entering Cambodia by land

It seems like everywhere I travel to, I manage to get scammed in some way. Let it be overpriced tours, taxis that won’t turn the metre on or currency scams, like in the latest case. Be aware of the Cambodia currency scam!

I am writing this post, hoping that the same will not happen to you when traveling South East Asia and that you will not encounter any currency scams in Cambodia.

Currency in Cambodia

First of all, Cambodia is using two currencies: the US dollar as well as the Cambodian Riel. The conversion rate is 4000 Riel are equal to 1 USD. You can usually pay with both currencies and also mix them up. Both currencies only come in bills, so yo will not be able to use US dollar coins, but instead get your change back in Riels.

If you want to get cash out at the ATM, you will only be able to get USD.

cambodia currency scam

How I got scammed

It was my first time in Cambodia and I honestly admit that I didn’t really do my research about it at all. If I would have done so, this probably wouldn’t have happened at all. Beforehand, I didn’t look up any conversion rates or standard prices, I even forgot to download the offline map, so I had no idea where I was when I arrived.

When I was taking the bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap it started with the fact that we got dropped off at some restaurant close to the Cambodian border where we would get our Visa. I ended up paying 1700 Baht (= 54 USD) for the Visa which was a lot more expensive than what I got told by the travel agency where I booked the trip. The official price is 30 USD. But then again, I usually calculate that in my budget.

The real scam came up when we were about to cross the border. Our tour guide told us that it happens a lot of time that cards get stuck at the ATM in Cambodia and also that there are not a lot of ATM’s around (not true). He also said that it is less expensive to pay with the local currency instead of the US dollar.

He therefore told us to get all our money out in Baht in Thailand and then exchange it into Riels’s when crossing the border. And that’s what I did and I got out a bunch of money and exchanged it at the border. SCAM. Do not do that!

If you want to exchange some currency that you have left to have some money on hand that’s okay but do not end up with a large amount of Riels like I did.

monkeys in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Why this was a scam?

What the tour guide left out was the fact, that CAMBODIA’S LOCAL CURRENCY IS WORTHLESS OUTSIDE OF CAMBODIA. Meaning that you can not exchange Riels when leaving the country, and the best thing you can do with them is to use them as wallpaper.

It would have been a lot easier to just take out dollars in the country and it would have all been fine. But since I had enough Riels for the entire trip in Cambodia, there was no need for that. I’m sure they took out a pretty high commission as well when exchanging my money but since the currency itself has such large numbers, I couldn’t even check it.

And last but not least, paying with the local currency was not cheaper, but in fact, more expensive! In different places, such as Angkor Wat or the museums in Phnom Penh the conversion rate was different, and I actually ended up paying more in the end than I would have if I had dollars.

Temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The end of the story

And then the worst part was that my trip to Cambodia was actually shorter than I planned so I had about 50 USD in Cambodian Riels  left and they would have been worthless. The tour guide also said that I would be able to exchange them at a border when leaving Cambodia by land, but I didn’t wanted to take the risk. (Good choice, because when I crossed over to Vietnam there wasn’t even a currency exchange)

Luckily my hostel in Phnom Penh was nice enough to exchange my Riels into USD for me, which is a far more useful currency to have then Cambodia’s local currency.

At least I learned from that mistake, and next time I will do my proper research about the currency used in a country before entering.

koh rong island, cambodia

Has anything similar happen to you before? Where did they try to scam you last?

 

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17 Comments

  1. I was in Cambodia last December and I am so glad that I have friends who’ve been there. They advised me to just use USD as currency to pay my way around the country. I’m so sorry you had to experience this!

  2. So good you’ve raised this so people don’t end up in the same boat. I crossed by land too but from Vietnam and it wasn’t a popular crossing so I think scams were yet to catch on!

    1. Yes maybe, I’ve never seen a border this empty than Vietnam/Cambodia, crossing it was super fast 😀

  3. Wow. That is really good advice. I know usually when there is an exchange involved someone gets screwed. Cambodia is one of my bucket list places, so I am grateful for your post and I will for sure keep it in my mind.

  4. Oh gosh! That could have been real bad if you had taken out more money. I dont get why a tour guide would tell you that. Do you think he was getting anything out of it? Like a cut from the exchange? Or was he just unaware?
    Either way, good to know for future travels!

    1. Maybe to make sure that we leave a lot of money in Cambodia instead of changing it into another currency. I don’t think he personally got anything out of that though.

  5. Oh! Thanks for letting us know! I was conned in Egypt once and I have been ever so careful since then. But you know these things just help us plan better upcoming trips :)..

  6. Oh, yeah, currency exchange is always a tricky one! And it is even more confusing when the country has two official currencies. That is also the case in Cuba where they have something similar to what you explained here about Cambodia, just with the “minor” different that the currency equal to USD isn’t USD…. Damn, it took me a long time to get comfortable with that one! Actually, I only began being good at currency rates after living in Argentina where currency rates change so often that they are the topic of the afternoon coffee break 😉

    1. Agreed, having two currencies always makes it a lot more difficult, especially if you don’t know in advance which currency is better to have on hand 😀 Oh wow that sounds even more complicated, glad you figured it all out, Becci 🙂

  7. Wow, what a valuable experience! Reading this, I was taking a mental note for myself: always check the prices and exchange rates. Thanks for sharing!

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