It was one of those moments when your body detaches from your mind. When you suddenly transform from a rational human into an instinctual animal, descending into your most extreme version of survival mode.
Surrounded by strangers, at night, alone, in a sketchy neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, I had just realized I was in the midst of an elaborate scam.
It all began on the river at sunset.
Like a watering hole in the Sahara, animals with all spots and stripes congregate along the Tonle Sap River at sunset in sweltering Phnom Penh.
I dodged flying soccer balls passed between teenagers and watched curiously while older men used a playground of exercise equipment and women flung half-heartedly to orchestrated dance aerobics.
Vendors pushed carts toting cotton candy, peanuts, and beach balls while families dined on boiled eggs and grilled meat on the palace lawn. Tourists, aid workers, children and their parents, monks, and prostitutes, gazed pensively at the water.
“Hello!” a woman called with a smile.
“Hello!” I returned.
Adjusted to the friendly, inclusive Khmer demeanor, I thought nothing of sitting with this woman and her niece for a chat.
“You’re so friendly!” she exclaimed with a smile.
Liwayway explained that she originally came from the Philippines. She and her niece, Riza, who looked about my age, lived in Bangkok and worked as sales reps for a textile design firm. They were in town visiting Liwayway’s brother who married a Khmer woman and lived in Phnom Penh with his wife and children.
“How can you possibly love Cambodia?!” Liwayway demanded when I spoke affectionately about Siem Reap and Koh Rong.
A week ago, immediately after arriving in Phnom Penh, she was mugged getting off the bus, and consequently had a deep disdain for the country and its people. The tender skin around her eye and cheekbone still held a blue and yellow tint.
“They didn’t take that much,” she continued “only my purse and a thousand dollars.”
I smiled and nodded, despite the fact that $1000 now sounded like a small fortune to me in a country where many people live on less than that in an entire year.
We spoke about her family in the Philippines, my family in the states, my nomadic lifestyle, and the clubs they liked to frequent in Bangkok. They insisted I come and stay with them on my next visit to Thailand.
“Tomorrow night is my brother’s birthday. You must come! Or join us for dinner tonight!”
“Where does he live?” I asked.
“Oh very near, in the center.”
I considered the evening I originally set out for: street food and blogging back at the hostel. This deviation sounded more adventurous and presented an opportunity to visit a local home.
“Well, there’s one problem,” I said with hesitation.
They both gazed at me with concern.
They laughed hysterically and assured me it would not be a problem.
Our interaction felt sincere and I had been invited to so many celebrations and beach BBQs in Southeast Asia before. I never questioned their intentions as I followed them to their motorbike.
I sat behind Liwayway who drove like a lunatic against oncoming traffic as we eased into rush hour in Phnom Penh. Riza blocked me in from behind. Helmetless I immediately reconsidered my spontaneity.
Riza laughed as I questioned Liwayway’s driving and expressed her same insecurity. Liwayway scoffed at our concern, confident in her driving abilities. We wove disorderly through traffic while she shouted to me about her love life and asked about mine. I filmed our ridiculous banter.
“What?! You don’t have a boyfriend??” she shouted. “You a need boyfriend! I will find you one. What color you like?”
“All colors,” I laughed.
The food stalls waned, traffic thinned, and eventually even the skyscrapers all but disappeared. I questioned our coordinates as we turned down neighborhood streets without English written on the signs.
Liwayway expressed that she was lost, ringing her brother and navigating her way on the bike simultaneously. I kept asking for the address, hoping to help; she never replied. When she got off the phone, she declared that dinner wasn’t ready and we should stop and get a drink.
I was starving at this point, and wondered when I’d get back to the hostel to finish my blog post. An hour had passed since we left the river and the city lights glowed in the darkness.
We pulled into the parking lot of a brewery across from a busy road with an adjacent food court catering to suit clad Khmers. I eyed the photographs of stirfry and salads above steaming vats.
“I feel so bad, he’s very upset with me,” she said anxiously.
Between the language barrier and her nonsensical explanation I struggled to understand what followed, but apparently it was not ok that they had invited me to dinner last minute. I told her not to worry, that we would do it another time.
She appeared internally conflicted.
Liwayway waved over a server and ordered a pitcher of Tiger beer. I witnessed the entitled, agitated tone she used in her interaction and smiled apologetically at our humble and polite server in an attempt to make up for it. Liwayway voiced her frustration over the fact that Khmer people did not seem to understand her English.
Riza and I sipped our beers slowly while Liwayway chugged. She oscillated between maniacal sass and anxious defeat. I was ready to go home and could have hailed a taxi in a moment, but I stayed to be polite. I encouraged her to take a deep breath and exhale her anxiety.
“Are you drunk?” she asked with a smirk. “I’m drunk!!”
“No, I’m not drunk,” I laughed, with most of my beer still in my glass.
The phone rang and Liwayway stepped away to take the call. When she returned she said it was time for dinner. Apparently I was still invited after all. She asked, rudely, for our check, and I mentally tabulated the bill. I felt compelled to cover the beers, they invited me to dinner after all, but wizened up from traveling in Latin America for years I never carried much cash. All I had on me was a lip-gloss and a five dollar bill.
Before I could consider it, Liwayway threw cash on the table and went to fetch the motorbike.
Riza and I chatted about her boyfriend, an American she met in Bangkok who was enlisted and currently deployed in Afghanistan. Liwayway pulled up on the motorbike and yelled at us impatiently to hop on.
This time we found the apartment effortlessly and climbed four flights of stairs to reach the unit. I entered an open kitchen with a small table and chairs. To my surprise there was no food in sight.
A beautiful young woman greeted me, who spoke no English and simply smiled, her five-year-old daughter by her side.
I followed Liwayway down the long hallway that ran the length of the apartment, a wall of doors to the left, windows to the right, ending at a small sitting room with a television, a velour sofa with carved cherry wood, and a low coffee table covered in a lace runner. The lighting was florescent and the floors were covered in white speckled linoleum.
“Meet my brother Rodel.”
A rotund Filipino man stood up from the sofa, with a smile as wide as a Cheshire cat, and offered me his hand.
“What a pleasure to have such a beautiful lady in my home,” he said slowly, his eyes transfixed on mine.
I hid my assessment that he was a sleaze behind my gracious smile.
Rodel and I sat in the living room while the women prepared dinner in the kitchen. He spoke about current events and politics in the USA, of which I knew nothing, being so far removed for so long from my homeland. He asked about my profession, my family, my travels, but seemed less interested in listening than in talking.
He spoke longwindedly about working as a card dealer in VIP rooms in casinos in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and now in Phnom Penh. In this position he had met billionaires from all over the world. Bill Gates, Donald Trump, big wigs from Brunei. These people gambled millions to earn bragging rights and inflate their egos. Meanwhile Rodel generously donated his extra earnings to the Cambodia Children’s Fund.
I took the namedropping and embellishments with a heaping spoonful of salt.
The more he spoke about card games and casinos, the less interested I became and the more my mind wandered. Gambling was hardly one of my interests. Even when I spent a week in Las Vegas I gambled only once, with a friend’s money, and lost it all in one roll.
Finally dinner was ready and Liwayway called me into the kitchen.
The woman and child I met earlier had disappeared, and no one else seemed interested in eating. Instead Liwayway and Riza stared at me while I consumed a mountain of greasy fried instant noodles, despite the fact that I almost never eat gluten. I replaced my mental image of oil and wheat clogging my intestines with one of gratitude. So far this family dinner was hardly what I had anticipated.
“She’s vegetarin,” Liwayway told Rodel as he walked by.
“Of course, that’s why she’s so beautiful,” he replied.
Liwayway, who appeared increasingly less stable, whispered to me about how heartbroken she was over a man in Bangkok. He was married to another woman but she continually went back to him. I advised her as best I could.
“Well last night, I met a black man who I want to be my new boyfriend,” she said seductively before asking if I wanted to go clubbing with her that night.
“Tonight I need to work,” I explained “but maybe tomorrow we can go dancing somewhere.”
I chewed slowly until Rodel came and snatched my plate.
“I really want to show you something!” he said excitedly. “I want to teach you how to play a special kind of Black Jack.”
He led me into the first room on the left, which had a TV tray table like the ones my grandmother used to serve me dinner on, flanked by a double bed and a dining chair. Riza followed behind me and said she wanted to learn as well.
Rodel began explaining the basic rules of Black Jack, a game my Dad taught me as a kid over hot fudge sundaes. I remember years later, in High School, being invited to “boy’s night” by some platonic male friends and trying to smoke a cigar while stacking my poker chips. I never gambled, but Black Jack was a game I knew.
Still, Rodel outlined the rules on a piece of paper with a pen.
He dealt me hands, each time able to predict the card that lay face down. Admittedly I was impressed. I laughed and asked him how he did it. He told me my job was to just watch his cues.
“For now we can practice, then once you’re good enough I can take you into the VIP room and make sure you win. Then we can split our million dollars fifty-fifty.” He winked.
I smiled, considering him an insecure man who felt the need to namedrop and schmooze.
“Now, do you want me to show you how you can win in the VIP room?”
He proceeded by showing me discreet hand gestures that revealed my downturned card. As this unfolded I began to realize he wasn’t just having fun with me, he actually wanted me to cheat. I grew uncomfortable with the shadiness of the entire operation.
Then the phone rang.
“Oh, you want to come here now? Are you sure? Ok, if you want.”
The woman on the other end was a billionaire from Brunei who he dealt into a game the night before. She had stiffed him on his tip, the income he lived on, but considered him her good luck charm and wanted to come visit him at his house.
“So, if I’m going to get you ready for the VIP room, you need to practice. All you need to get started is $250,” he explained.
“Oh, no thank you, this was interesting to see, but I don’t gamble,” I said.
Cheating, no matter the circumstance, was simply not my style. Never mind that I had no bankcard and only five dollars in my pocket.
Riza glanced at me awkwardly and remained silent.
“It’s not gambling if you know you will win.” He raised an eyebrow and shuffled the deck.
With those words it finally registered. THIS WAS A SCAM!
That first hello, Liwayway’s story about the mugging, getting lost, stopping for drinks, the dinner that wasn’t ready, the compliments on my looks, the stories about self-indulgent billionaires, and now this Black Jack lesson, were all part of one big set up. Every word was rehearsed and orchestrated and delivered with the full intention of somehow taking money that they didn’t know I didn’t have.
Suddenly aware that every person around me in this enclosed, isolated space had a cruel intention I began to panic. Seriously panic. Worse than I ever had in my life. But no matter how terrified I was I knew that I needed to save my face by letting them save theirs.
So I politely replied…
“You know, maybe next time, but tonight I really need to work. It’s morning in the US right now, so I have to check in online and finish some things. But, I’m coming back tomorrow for your birthday party so we can talk more then, right?”
“Yes, ok, you want to go, sure.”
That moment a woman walked into the room. Rodel introduced her as the gambler from Brunei. She looked less like an heiress and more like an actress in a community play with excessive rouge and an ill-fitting polyester suit.
“Why hello, would you like to play some cards?” she asked theatrically.
“Oh, no, sorry I’m actually on my way home, I have to work,” I said trying to maintain composure.
Quickly, too quickly, Rodel ushered me into the hallway without argument. There I saw an attractive man around my age.
“This is my son, Danilo,” Rodel said.
Liwayway leaned close to me and mumbled, “He’s cute, huh?”
I walked with Riza and Liwayway to the stairwell and called to Rodel thanking him profusely for the lovely dinner and repeatedly wishing him a happy birthday. I struggled to conceal that my hands were shaking. Danilo followed behind.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and when I glanced down at the motorbike diagonally parked on the maroon checkered tiles, that image conjured only what I can describe as intense déjà vu. A voice inside me said, “You’ve been here before and something very bad happens.”
Liwayway turned to me, “So, Riza will ride with me, and you ride with him,” pointing to Danilo.
There was no way in hell I was getting on a bike with him. Without a motorbike or a tuk tuk in sight I knew I would have to trust Riza and Liwayway to get me home. Despite my awareness that they lured me into the scam, I still trusted that they wouldn’t hurt me. Part of me believed that they genuinely liked me.
“Um, actually, I prefer to ride with you,” I said to Liwayway softly.
“Why? It’s the same! She rides with me, you ride with him.”
“Oh, really, you know I’m a lady alone, and um, I just prefer to ride with you.”
“It’s ok, come on, just ride with him.”
The more she insisted the more I knew that bike would lead me somewhere bad. After I persisted nearly seven times with a look of distress, Liwayway gave in.
“Ok, ok, hop on.”
Rodel came downstairs, got on the back of Danilo’s bike, and the two sped off. Likely to find someone else to scam.
Liwayway looked over, “why were you so shy about riding with him?”
“Well, you know, I’m a lady and I don’t ride with men I don’t know,” I said demurely.
She pulled out, me in the middle, Riza on the back, and immediately took a wrong turn. I had no idea where I was, but I’ve always known how to retrace my steps.
“No, no, it’s right, not left,” I shouted over the engine.
“Are you sure??” she asked.
“Yes, yes, trust me, take a right.”
To my relief she did. But three more wrong turns later and we were lost.
“What did he show you in that room?” Liwayway asked. “Something interesting?”
“Oh you know just some card games. Can we stop somewhere for directions?”
We pulled over at a hotel and asked the parking attendant how to get back to the city. He shook his head and smiled, he didn’t speak any English.
“Ugh, that’s the problem with these people!” Liwayway shouted.
“Maybe I should just get a tuk tuk,” I said, wary that I would ever get home.
“Oh my goodness you cannot take a tuk tuk at night here that is so dangerous! I met a lady from America like you and a tuk tuk robbed her. She was so sad and crying. I could never live with myself if something bad happened to you!”
We approached a busy road and a tuk tuk passed by. I frantically hailed it. Liwayway asked how to reach the center. He pointed left and gestured for me to get inside. Liwayway laughed and turned left.
“He thought we wanted a tuk tuk ride!” she laughed wildly.
I spotted a sign and told her to continue ahead.
“Are you sure? I’m pretty sure it’s right!” she said.
“No, no, go straight, I’m positive, really, go straight!”
The Independence Monument appeared and I almost cried with relief.
“Oh, you were right!” she laughed.
We arrived outside my hostel, regrettably I already told them my street earlier, and Riza let me off.
“You don’t want to be our friend?” Liwayway asked.
“Of course I do! We’re celebrating your brother’s birthday tomorrow aren’t we? Tonight I’ll finish all of my work and tomorrow we can go out!”
“But how will we reach you?”
“Find me on my website, this American girl dot com.”
I hugged them goodbye and Liwayway squeezed me and kissed my cheek.
“I’ll see you tomorrow!” I said with a big smile.
I walked into the hostel lobby. The clock said 8:30pm. Four hours passed since I stood there last but the twilight zone I returned from invalidated any concept of time.
That night I flopped in bed like a fish in the bottom of a bucket in a wet market. I felt rattled and bewildered. Heartbroken over the unkindness I received. I fixated on the idea that someone could have the conscience to look me in the eye and lie and that I couldn’t have the sense to see through it. How could I ever trust another person when I couldn’t trust my own intuition?
I felt myself falling back to the time in Puerto Viejo when I discovered that someone close to me had deceived me and I never had a clue. It had taken serious emotional work to break down the walls I built as a response. As disillusioned as I was laying in bed that night, I knew that I didn’t want to live behind those walls again.
So instead I told myself, “You are safe.”
And truly, I was.
Because what was so dramatic or awful about what I had endured? Had anything bad happened to me? Could I just as easily have told a story about meeting some friendly women, having an adventurous ride through the city, drinking in an open air venue, eating in a local home, and learning something new about cards?
These people had chauffeured me around the city, bought me beer, and even cooked me dinner.
So who got scammed in Phnom Penh after all?
Have you found yourself being scammed or swindled at home or abroad? How did you get your way out of it?
What an adventure! Kudos to you for listening to your intuition and acting on it.
I hope you are okay. Those experiences can leave one rattled.
Thank you! It happened months ago and all is well 🙂
Oh WOW I am so glad you are okay! And I’m so glad you trusted your gut, being kind and respectful can sometimes be so hard when there are some evil people out there…
Thanks so much! You know, I realized from this experience that it’s important to have some hard boundaries that you follow no matter who you encounter, so that you can still stay friendly but not be in danger. For instance, with strangers, agree to grab drinks or dinner, but somewhere in the city, in public, that you’re oriented in.
Yikes! I would have been so afraid. I’m glad you followed your instincts. I am assuming you saw them no more. Booooo on bad people!
Yes, a shame. The first day I was really scared I would run into them again, but I’ve even been back to Phnom Penh and no troubles. Now when I’m approached on the street I will still engage and be friendly but never leave with someone.
Happened to me also, “same same but different”……I ended up at a house with a TALL fence and a lovely woman to greet me telling me the person I was to talk about the USA had to suddenly leave. She was sweet to me, touched me on the leg (I’m a senior guy and single” wanting to know “who will take care of you when you are old”…
Spent an hour being taught the game and his card tricks were amazing and the young woman sitting beside me on the bed touched her bare leg to mind every time the uncle did an amazing card trick. I wasn’t sure what the scam was but I KNEW I was in trouble. I got out , in the “flow” with no previous idea of how to get away….. when he pulled out the chips, I told him I was feeling ill to my stomach…..I played a perfect “act” with him then assured him I would be fine, then a short time later said I must get fresh air. Waiting for me was a young man on a moto to take me somewhere (Western Union or ATM?) …fearful the gate was locked, it wasn’t….I got on the moto of the man who took me there and then quickly INSISTED he stop and I got a tuk-tuk…….eventually to get me to my hotel….. Something I will NEVER forget and I was LUCKY
Wow thank you for sharing I’m so glad you’re safe <3 It sounds like you did a great job taking care of yourself.
great post lady- and good to keep in mind. i am SO glad that all turned out fine and that things were not worse. i admire your courage and ability to put this behind you and refuse to close off altogether to new travel experiences/acquaintances. i would be SUPER rattled by this scenario for SURE!
Thanks my love 🙂
Hi Camille, just discovered your blog, very candid and real, I love it.
A similar scam was also pulled on me in Phnom Penh a few weeks ago. I must admit, they’re very polished! Glad to hear you got out OK 🙂
You were quite lucky to have gotten out of a potentially dangerous situation unscathed, but I wonder if those people had bad intentions? Certainly the black eye would’ve been some kind of dead giveaway that perhaps the woman you befriended was being abused by her husband. In any case, I think they might’ve just wanted to find a suitable American girl for their relative.
I find that in Southeast Asia, where so much of the population is suffering from poverty, that their primary motive is money, not necessarily to hurt people. If you go through life thinking everyone is out to scam you, you will let this taint your journey, instead of finding similar minded people.
Hi Logan this particular scam is a popular one throughout Southeast Asia. Many other have had the same experience. I absolutely agree that it’s about finding the balance between self protection and leading with your heart. Next time I will just suggest we have dinner or a drink somewhere I can walk to nearby so that I’m not so vulnerable.
I just stumbled across this page and I LOVE the story… because I got stuck into the exact same scam in Kuala Lumpur, November 2002. I had been in Asia for less than 4 weeks and took a few days away from Singapore to see Malaysia.
Slight variations in my adventure: I met my ‘buddy’ at 7:00am, the ‘dealer’ only had 7 fingers (5+2), the ‘big shot’ also claimed to be from Brunei but her huge stack of cash was obviously a $100 note on top of $1.00 bills… oh yeah, I played the card game!
The exit was a bit more dramatic for a number of reasons, including being dropped off on a highway thinking I could get a taxi, a bus connection I needed to make, actually hitch-hiking in KL to make the bus and a desperate need for a toilet the whole time.
But the part that never fails to shock the people I’ve told… I knew it was a scam after about talking to the ‘buddy’ the first 10 minutes! I’m listing to his line of bull and inviting me to meet his sister and all I can think is : Oh I just HAVE TO know how this thing is gonna play out… yeah, I’ve made better decisions in my day.
At any rate, it’s your blog not mine and I am a new fan… I left the US for a 6-month trip to Asia about 12 years ago and it has been amazing. Drop a line if you’re planning on being in Singapore anytime.
Dan, woah! Awesome story! But please tell me more, how in the end did they get your money when you agreed to play the card game? What is the scam, I’m soooooo curious!!
I will most definitely let you know when I’m in Singapore and it sounds like we have quite a few stories to swap 😉
A philipino lady in her 40s approached me at the riverside saying she lived in Bangkok and was there visiting family . Did this lady have a Silver tooth at the front .
Crazy, nope that sounds like a different lady. Unfortunately I’ve heard it’s quite common…
Matt: I think I came across the same woman today. The story was very smooth. I got pulled in for awhile as well.
Perhaps varying from these other accounts, I believe I was drugged.
WHAT??? Can you please share your story with us? Are you alright?
This. Is. Awesome.
I felt so tense the entire time I was reading this!! I’m glad you are safe and sound. It’s so frustrating to try to read between the lines of what is a genuinely friendly interaction and invitation and what has something more sinister behind it. That’s why the good scammers are so darn good – it’s far from obvious.
Thanks so much Vanessa!
read all the way to the bottom, can’t imagine myself being on the same situation without freaking out. I admire your presence of mind and glad you were safe, though with your title, somehow I knew nothing bad happened to you.
it’s a shame though, that those who attempted to scam you are fellow Filipinos. but i hope this experience won’t prevent you from visiting our country (the Philippines) in the future.
keep safe on your future travels 🙂
Thank you so much Kryss! Yes, it was quite scary but an important lesson!
So relieved to read this! Wandering around Phnom Penh this morning I got approached by a very bubbly Thai lady who after a short conversation invited me to have lunch with her. It seemed a bit unusual but saw it as a great opportunity to talk to someone from a different culture so I said I would meet her back in the same place in a couple of hours. But then only 20 minutes later another lady approached me with a similar spiel only this time she was from Malaysia. She asked me if I had time that afternoon to have coffee with her and meet her sister. Both interactions seemed genuine but I was left with a sinking feeling that it was just too out of the blue so in the end I listened to my gut and didn’t meet up with my first encounter. I really hope I made the right call. I know what you mean about not feeling like you can trust people. It’s a shame but I’m still glad I didn’t take the risk.
Wow, thanks for sharing your experience with us. It’s sad that this happens so often. I’m glad to hear that you were safe and that you listened to your instincts.
I had the exact experience in Phnom Pehn recently, except it was a man claiming to be from Malaysia. The same as you i ended up back at his “Uncles ” house for lunch – i was the only one that ate. They proceeded to ask many questions about my job etc – presumably to see determine if i was wealth. They knew a lot about New Zealand where I live. Once it was obvious they wanted me to cheat and told them i didnt want in they all ignored me and told me their motobike was broken and couldnt take me back to the city. Luckily there were tuk tuks down the road that i caught back to my hostel. Was a crazy experience.
That does sound crazy. It would definitely be helpful if hotels and hostels put up signs in the lobby warning people of this scam on the river. Glad you got out safely!
What an experience – thanks for sharing it!
I’m off to visit Cambodia in a few months, so reading about what happened to you and kind of knowing what to expect if approached is great.
So glad to hear that everything turned out okay for you in the end.
Thank you so much! Listen to your instincts and you will be fine 🙂
This ‘we are going to cheat with the dealer and you are going to make money ‘ when in fact you are the one who is being scammed has been going on by filipinos since at least 1982. First met them in Thailand then several times in Manila and Angeles in Philippines.
Interesting, mind sharing your specific experiences?
Love your posts especially how you highlight the positive side of things. 🙂 As a Filipino, I honestly feel embarrassed. As a woman, I admire your courage and how you politely circumvented the situation. 🙂
Thank you so much! It’s funny, I was JUST telling this story to two of my Filipino friends yesterday lol!
Yikes! What a crazy story! Looks like this scam is pretty big in Phnom Penh at the moment. Over a week, I was asked on 6 times by over friendly people claiming to be from Malaysia, Vietnam or the Philippines to come back to their home as well. They wanted me to speak to their “sister” who happened to be getting a job as a nurse coincidentally in my home city. Luckily I had just read a post about this scam before anyone asked me… It worries me how many genuinely nice people must fall for this and think, “Sure! I’d love to answer your sisters questions about my country!”
Crazy!! Yes they added this part too, saying that they had family who lived in Seattle (where I said I’m from). Crazy how convincing and elaborate it is. Keep spreading the word and this post so that we can educate other travelers 🙂
My heart was racing the entire time I read this…..Glad you are safe and found a positive spin on the event.
Thank you Denise! It was scary, but there was certainly a lesson to be learned there 🙂
This story is fascinating! Especially the part where you experienced a deja vu and a voice in your head told you you had been there before. It sounds like you were experiencing a memory from a past life where something bad really did happen! Spontaneous past life memories endlessly fascinate me. If would be interested in looking into it more, I am a past life reader and would love to offer you a reading (for free, of course) as a thank you for all the great content you put on here. 🙂
Yes it totally fascinates me too and I would LOVE that. Tell me what you need to do the reading. xx
Hey this exact thing happened to me today!!!!!!! i wonder if it was the same people? i didnt realise as soon as you and even made it as far at the ATM!
Really?? Alexandra, can you tell us more about your experience? What ended up happening??
I want to personally thank you for writing this post. I’ve been in Phnom Penh for only four days now and this exact scam just happened to me–different names and stories but same gambling trick. It started on the riverfront just like yours, and I have to say that had I not read this post prior to arrival I would have been in much worse situation than I was. Cheers to staying safe, keeping an open heart and mind, and finding peace.
Wow!! Thanks Tyler, I am SO happy to hear that this post saved you from the scam! Keep sharing the story and warn other travelers, I wish the hostels would put the warning up in the lobby, but so far they have not…
hello and thanks for the info, im going to cambodia soon and i learned so much by reading this.
Great! So happy to hear that!
Yeah the same thing happened to me a couple years ago. it was way more messed up. Thought it was just a gal hitting on me. I went with her to her “parents” place so she could get ready for going out … and when I arrived I knew I was in a scam. This family had a sister who was moving to my city. A sick aunt, a mom and dad were visiting an uncle who is a dealer who has dealt black jack to some of the biggest high rollers.
They made me sit by the uncle while she went to “get ready” and her sister cooked food….Lets eat before we go out… ok whatever…The uncle talks to me like we are going to make millions on poker black jack. I humor him to a fault. The thought does enter my mind that it could be legit as what better way to scam a casino or players by getting some random white dude who has money to come in and blow up the casinos… What the hell am I doing here. I’m going to end up in jail. This gal whose name I couldn’t pronounce so I called her lynn wasn’t getting ready and hadn’t changed or done anything….this is a set up this dude is going to ask me to play black jack and is going to pretend to scam someone else…I figured that or they would drug me and I made up my mind don’t eat don’t drink. I repeated it to myself Don’t eat don’t drink anything. I had settled in my mind that I just needed to get out of there. They could sense it too. I might be naive and I was a bit scared but I was also a bit mad. I just kept the fake laughs and shaking my head as I sat there listening to the BS coming out of this stupid scammers mouth…It relaxed me a little bit when lynn came and sat down and held my hand and started talking about going out…. food is ready…I sat down looked at the crap on the table and pretended to get really sick. I really don’t think I can eat right now. I’m really not hungry…we made this food for you… Ah we have to eat before we go out …I ate a small bite and drank a small sip…I apologized a hundred times…..Uncle scammer was smooth hey seriously before you go I want you to look at this we went into a room up some stairs and around a corner, and in there he explained to me how to play. It was just very comical as I sat there practicing black jack and this guy showing me all his signals 2 fingers was a 4 one thumb was an ace other thumb was minus. Then the uncle got a call and its from a customer of his who loves underground games. blah blah blah Hey lets try the scam on this guy as a test for the casino. I don’t want to scam anyone..
This guy owes me money…blah blah blah…Just front 100 and I will front the other 100.
The uncle pulls out 100 dollars and puts it in front of me.
Just then this little scrawny dude enters with a bag. apparently he has enough money to use it as toilet paper but just has to get in some underground games with his favorite dealer before he hits up the casinos.
Uncle looks at me and introduces me to his buddy. We exchange pleasantries and after a couple min. uncle scammer starts dealing. I win the first 10 hands and am up like 20k. I am kind of laughing at how obvious this whole thing is but I have had enough. I’m done. I gotta get back my friends are going to be worried about me. I push all the chips to the side and The dealer looked so mad at me. The whale looked mad too. Oh wtf aren’t you the prince of persia who can afford this i was thinking…Sorry guys I hold my hands up Im done. One more hand says the uncle… I shake my head and uncle smiles at his friend…. give me a second in the other room with him.. It was all smiles and laughs up until this point…you have to give him a chance to win his money back or he won’t let you out of here.
And that was the dumbest thing that dude could have said… I don’t say anything I remain calm inside and grind my teeth and strain my neck on the outside…and think if anyone touches me they will wish they hadn’t. I’ve never been in a fight but I’m built like a brick house. A friend hit me in the arm one time and broke his wrist. he walks me into a bathroom. come on man we are going to make millions. But all I hear is you can’t leave…..Just one more hand and I can get you in the big games at the casino….Again I think you can’t leave…..I think of my friends, my mom, my family…. I don’t want to scam anyone this was fun and all but I want to leave now…… He tried to strong arm me and grabbed my arm. Then most of the rest was a blur I blew up and it took this dude way back. I always envisioned if I was backed into a corner what I would do and I really can’t remember much but I know I brawled. Adrenaline was flowing I grabbed the guy with both hands… IF YOU WANT TO PULL THESE SCAMS ON YOUR FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES THEN YOUR A PIECE OF TRASH, BLAH BLAH BLAH I’M THE MAN YOU ARE TRYING TO SCAM!!! I pushed him out of my way and threw him into the opposite direction as I went and I went the wrong way because I ended up back in the scam room. I seriously couldn’t see anything outside a quarter. Narrow tunnel vision and super slow motion. The guy was reaching into the bag I tackled him onto the bed and don’t remember how I got out of the room but the uncle was trying to get in and the door was shut. I had a piece of wood or a chair and Uncle scammer had a knife….I do remember pinning him against the wall and elbowing him in the face we fell to the floor. The girls were yelling in a language I didn’t understand from on the stairs or I don’t know maybe they were speaking English. I had so much adrenaline flowing through my body. It was just a flurry of insanity. Uncle scammer turned into a noodle and I looked back in the room and the bag was open on the ground. I can’t remember what happened to the Whale…I took off. Lyn was in my way and I am super sorry to say but I punched her right in the face and she crumpled. I ran outside and there was another larger but not as big as me dude coming at me and when he saw me he kind of backed away and tried to grab me at the same time and I just ran right past him. I jumped a fence it was a feeling I never felt. I don’t know how long I ran but it felt like a long time. I didn’t know where I was I just kept running. I wasn’t breathing hard it felt like the devil was chasing me and next thing I really remember is breathing very heavy and frantically talking with my friends. I’ve always felt very safe in other countries as an american. Not any more. I have never been in a fight before or after and I don’t want to be. I look over my shoulder a lot.
Wow thanks for sharing your story. I hope ou can find some peace and learn to trust yourself enough to feel secure. Sending you looovvveee!
Hair stands up on my neck just thinking about it, but I am in such a peaceful place now. Thanks for the love and sending it right back at you!
Is there anything that the victim can do to them (those criminal) ? a lot of people actually had same experience being scammed like this but keep silent. its been happen very long time already.
I’m not sure since the government is so corrupt. I think the best thing we can do for now is spread awareness so it stops working. Also for people to know never to engage in illegal activity with strangers in foreign countries.
This is crazy! Thank goodness you are safe.
Thank you 🙂
Having read more about this scam both of us got off lightly. I guess our Guardian Angel’s are really looking out for us! In my instance I can only assume they let me go because I had a night bus to catch and I’d mentioned consulting for an Israeli Tech company where the CEO was a former Major in the Israeli Army!
Like you I will chalk this up to experience. Plus I didn’t lose a cent, I saw the Independence Monument twice, I got a free dinner and got dropped off right by my night bus stop saving me the trouble of walking there.
I think I scammed them! 🙂
Hahaha oh my goodness so happy to hear that you got out alright!! I think the key is, the MOMENT you start to feel like you don’t want to be there anymore (which for me happened before I even got to their house), it’s time to exit.
so glad you realized! I got scammed in Siem Riep and didn’t realize it till the end. Never again.
OH! What happened?
Scammers in Phnom Penh got me good. I am not sure if I have to blame the little sleep due to night bus or if they’ve put something in my drink that affected my judgement but before I could even notice I was involved with gambles of big amount of money (I am not a gambler, I have been to a casino maybe twice in my life and each time I’ve put maybe 20$ for the night and not gambled my gains, that’s just how I am with money).
Most of it was their money but they still managed to get me to “secure my credit” towards that supposedly rich guy from Brunei buy buying a cellphone and withdrawing 350$ (thanks to my bank I can only withdraw so much per day). Something I would never have done normally and everything was so easy it’s smelled fishy from miles away. But they are good at what they do, won’t give you time to to think and again….not sure if something was in my drink or just the fatigue but I couldn’t think clearly and was really naive that night.
I have heard that they sometimes put something in your drink… they tried to get me drunk but I’m not much of a drinker so they were unsuccessful with that one…I’m glad to hear that you’re safe and didn’t lose too much.
Wow that was really long but I’ve read every sentence.
Thanks for sharing. I relieved while i was reading and thought I wasn’t alone in this and people are trying to raise awareness.
I also had very similar incident back in 2015 January in Phnom Penh.
An old lady approached me.. she was very friendly etc. Cut the story short, I ended up in their house chatting with his old uncle, I was stupid enough to eat their food but I never felt anything bad about it afterward. So, i think i never poisoned? But i’m not sure though i never felt unconscious whatsoever.
They showed me how to play a card game and how to cheat. Then they asked me to follow their instruction so i can also make lots of money in Sikhanoukville. There are many casinos there and usually rich chinese/arabs go there to gamble. He also said he knows the card dealer so we can cheat and make lots of money. He assured me that i dont have to put any money for this. I would be playing on behalf of them. They will give me the money i would just follow the card dealers hand and play accordingly. Sounds very tempting isn’t it. At that moment started thinking about scams i was sure somehow that this was a scam but i also thought it can be real im not putting any money as they assure. I never felt safe after that moment. i can never cheat anyone i never did in my life also my religion prohibits playing gamble. To thinking that in mind i tried to kindly say that i dont feel OK to cheating others and im muslim and it prohibits gambling. But i will think about it tomorrow but might go with them tomorrow to Sikhanoukville. That moment another old chinese looking guy came to room they gave me 100$ to play with this old man but i rejected again and said if there is any money involved im out of this. I dont feel OK just let me think more we can decide tomorrow i said. Anyhow they ask me to give some charity to an orphanage school i also rejected and said i dont have enough money im student and backpacker. Maybe some another time. Then they ride me to my hostel asked me to pay 3dollars to the motor taxi i said its too much and just paid 1 🙂
I was lucky i think.. huh ?
Thats my story 🙂
Wow, I’m so glad you are ok xx Thank you for sharing your story with us.
I was scammed too, I have been to cambodia 3 times and was scammed by well known Internet Scammer Thavra Pich AK THAVRA Choun, It was a advanced marriage Scam with the whole family involved in this in fact she has multiple facebook accounts on the Facebook with Different names.I had legal engaged with all cultural and legal protocols witnessed by the family and community . During the time we were engaged to be married I found out she was having relations with 3 different men in the time frame . From all the internet activity of scams she does she has had multiple cars during this time frame.
Wow sorry to hear about your experience Steve! I hope you received some gifts and wisdom from the hard lesson <3
Yet another person here with the same experience.
I actually read this article a day or so after my own experience, but decided to just write about it now.
I was in the Aeon Mall, when a guy approached me while I was looking at one of those ‘claw’ machines(to pick up soft toys)
Same old story, he asked where I was from, his sister/niece was going on exchange program there, blah blah. He was friendly, but a bit hard to follow, and mentioned that he was annoyed by a guy who hadnt tipped him at the casino.
I shall now call him ‘chompers’ owing to the fact he had false top front teeth(likely as a result of an unhappy ‘customer’)
Anyway, after quite a while of talking seated in the noisy mall, a call is made to niece or whatever she was meant to be. I attempt to talk briefly on the phone when prompted but it’s pretty pointless.
His niece/sister/whatever turns up(short even for an asian person), and I’m left with her while he goes to check on his sick mother at hospital or some similar story.
I was expecting a car ride, as the car park is full of the ubiquitous Lexus & Toyota SUVs. But nope, outside the mall entrance we pile onto a scooter with a wiry looking 40ish? guy. I sit in the middle as she ‘doesnt want to sit between two men’
Suicidal kamikaze scooter ride through the city ensues, while my hands remain firmly on my buttoned pockets part way down my trousers. Miss Short asks me questions & talks, as if the driving isnt already enough to distract me. Due to the insane driving, I regularly slide far enough to almost push driver off the seat, but no way my hands are leaving the pockets my phone & wallet are in.
After recreating numerous hollywood chase scenes, and the most indirect path possible, we arrive at a house. A reasonably nice one by Cambodian standards I would say. Taken to lounge, where I’m asked surprisingly few questions about my country.
At some point Chompers mentions working on a cruise ship, there just happens to be a photo of one on top of the TV. His place of employment seems rather jumbled.
Finally, meal turns up, like others experienced I’m the only one eating. An eggplant omelette & some other basic things. Have a feeling they bought it from a street vendor.
Feeling pretty hot & stuffy in the lounge, which I think is intentional. I downed a few glasses of water.
Shortly after, Chompers insists that we go to a bedroom to see his card tricks. The air conditioning is a blessed relief, but nothing else is.
I’m wedged on one side of a table with the ‘niece’ blocking me in. Chompers on the bed opposite.
Inevitably he shows how he can place any cards he wants, though when I said ‘your palming them’ when asked how we was doing it(I swear I saw some) he seemed rather aggravated but denied it.
It goes on & on, meanwhile I was feeling off-colour(common for me, don’t think it had anything to do with the food/drink) So I just went along, waiting for it to end so I could leave.
He’s obviously talking bollocks about ‘no cameras in his casino room’ for high-rollers, etc. Like others, it turns to us using his tricks to win money. I have zero interest, but just sit through it not paying too much attention. Likewise he pushes money on to me to hold, which I have briefly until forcing it back as this is dodgy-city. Likewise I’m meant to practice pretending his niece is a girlfriend for some reason – not going to happen. ‘Put your arm around her’ – nuh, uh. After the 3rd refusal, she tells him I don’t have to.
The last straw is when I hear a knock & he says ‘Hello Mr ..whoever’ I spring up, ‘I’m not feeling well’ and head for the door.
I somehow must’ve walked past Mr High Roller without seeing him, and find myself at the caged-in entrance. Chompers doesnt follow as far as I’m aware, and I proceed to tell ‘niece’ that I know exactly what’s going on here, and maybe something like they should be ashamed.
Of course, she ‘had no idea’ he was going to do that, and as she ‘promised to look after’ me, or something like that she offers a ride. I have no idea where I am, and after some hesitation I decide to accept the ride back. I think it might’ve been a different driver this time, but still not a style any driving instructor would recommend.
This time I’m on the back, but her thieving hands are repeatedly on top of mine, acting as being supportive but no doubt checking for my wallet.
After a suspiciously quicker drive than the way out, we have to stop for traffic, I ask if we’re near the mall or something like that. Upon confirmation, I simply stood up off the back of the scooter, as ‘niece’ says something like ‘what are you doing’ while laughing. Within a second, I’m on the footpath checking my wallet, shortly before they disappear into the mad Phnom Penh traffic.
I make a hasty but long walk to my hotel, and in a highly stressed state proceed to put my cards on hold just in case they got into my pockets. I had read about scams involving police, and as they knew my hotel, I very rapidly packed & checked out asap.
Having read about the antics of some local police, I didn’t really consider reporting this attempted scam.
Anyway, after a tuk-tuk ride clutching my bags under my legs, I arrive in a different part of town as requested, but the driver apparently doesn’t think my fare should include delivery to a hotel.
I get out, & ask another driver where the nearest hotels are, to which he says he’ll take me there for a few dollars. This is all too much, and I tell him off, “I’ve just been scammed & you cant even point to a hotel” and so on, nothing too severe. Anyway, my criticism hasn’t been taken to heart as he follows me around continually trying to sell a ride. I ignore him, & finally pay someone else to take me.
I end up in a dive hostel, and just to rub it in they charge me more than is listed online, despite the guys obvious embarrassment when I point this out.
And so ends the day, having a cheap beer at their bar(which is sadly superior to the room), and trying to ignore how grotty my room is.
A highly stressful experience, but by the next day I realize they obviously never got into my pockets, and nothing lost except paying for unused night(s) at the hotel I left.
All I took away was a free meal, free(but insane) ride, and a story.
Looking back, there were numerous signs – the guys stories seemed to contradict themselves, telling me about the guy not tipping enough, any reference to gambling, etc.
Partly I gave in, as I’d had no real local experience on the trip, I was already not really enjoying Phnom Penh.
If you do want to meet locals, I would recommend listing a different country as your own, then if their relative just happens to be moving there – you can say sorry, I actually live in …, and leave.
And suggest meeting in a public place, as this is obviously much safer.
I wish I had taken a photo or 2, and perhaps taken down the address(or GPS location), but I guess I’ll leave that for next time someone tries to scam me 🙂
I forgot to say, this was in December 2016.
Woah wild glad you got out unscathed. I met someone the other day who had the same experience! Only his was really bad they made him go to the ATMS!
I despise these cretins. I felt myself being lured into an elaborate scam in Thailand by a moto driver. He took me to a bar and immediately these women came over, I could recognize the signs and lies I was being fed. I stood up and lost my temper, shouted and ranted at them, I even made the driver pay for the drinks and take me home.
I have been lucky up until now, after 18 months of avoiding this I am being scammed, by a westerner. The manager of this guesthouse is surely inventing things on my bill, the bill has somehow become 1000$ and he has my passport. I can’t do anything about it, If I somehow get my passport and bail, I will get arrested at the border. I did think that maybe I was imagining it, and maybe I have been spending that much (I order soft drinks regularly and they add it on my bill) But having found some reviews of this guesthouse on a old site, and discovering that this guy is a psychopath, for example, threatening violence to a female customer and locking customers inside the building over a dispute with the bill. I now know that I am being played.
I am a freelancer (3D designer), so I just work in my room trying to pay this off, trying to focus while withholding my anger. Once I get out I will do everything in my power to destroy his business, I won’t get my money back from this thief, but I can make him lose.
Anyway, that story sounded scary, especially with them insisting you ride with that man, that wouldn’t have ended well if you had accepted. Those people didn’t genuinely like you, all they like is money, they see a white person and see dollar signs, they think we owe them something, much like a drug addict on welfare, will always blame others and think people owe them. They are absolute trash and there is no excuse for it.
I understand your anger. May we all feel respected and humanized <3
Wowsers! I had that very same scam run on me in PP last December, 2016. To this day, I still have no idea what the potential outcomes may have been, or even if it was a scam or not. As soon as I realized I was brought to the house I was in, under false pretenses, I was out of there… I was there during the day light, and am big & ugly enough to look after myself, in most cases at least.. thanks for sharing your story.. it has made a lot mure sense out of my story, for me….
Actually, I have just read Micheal’s story about “Chomper”, and I think that might well be the same guy that tried to scam me… e was about 6″3-4, languid and skinny, wouldn’t look a bit out of place as an undertaker / pall bearer , serious set of gnashers on him, probably false too. My scammers were in a nice enough apartment in an unknown part of the city to me too. We went into a bedroom off the seating area in the living room too… I’d swear its the same crew….
Hi Maurice, that doesn’t sound like the same guy, but they all use the same routine I guess.
The ‘chompers’ I dealt with was reasonably large for an asian man from memory, but shorter than me (I’m 5’11”) and quite solid.
From what I read elsewhere, apparently this is a common scam by Filipinos(supposedly the Filipino mafia) in Phnom Penh.
Boring convoluted and bloated self indulgence, only an American would do.
You, and anyone that falls for that crap traveling in SEA (or any third world country) deserves to get scammed. Bunch of naive idiots.
LOL, thanks for making me smile <3
Wow, I almost had the same story back in 2015. Although I didn’t think it was a scam I thought it was real and they want me to do some illegal stuff for them to win money in a Casio in Sihanoukville. We played games together and they thought me some cheating tricks. Suddenly a man appeared in the room and they asked me to play with him with their money which I refused saying I’m a Muslim and I don’t gamble. Their story was that if we go to a casino where Chinese rich men play, nobody would notice that I am cheating because I am a foreigner. Ahahah. I also had a free meal and a free ride.