It was inevitable that Angelo and I would be the center of a tourist scam during our trip. After arriving to Siem Reap, Cambodia from Thailand we were excited to go out and tour the Ankor Wat temples. We arrived to Cambodia late at night (9 pm), so the next day we got a bit of a late start. When we heard that the cost per day to visit the temples is $20, we decided to visit other sights in Siem Reap and save the next day for temples to get a an early start. We had already hired our tuk tuk driver for a whole day, so we asked him where to sightsee. He suggested the floating village, Chong Kneas. I didn’t even know that Siem Reap had any floating villages (there are 3), but Angelo had briefly heard of it. So, off we went.
Chong Kneas is a floating village about 12 km outside of the center of Siem Reap. it is located on the Tonle Sap Lake. Of course, I knew nothing about this when we were heading out there. When we arrived to the reception where the boats are docked I couldn’t help notice the absence of tourists and the amount of school children asking for money. When we get to the ticket counter they tell us that each ticket is $20. We don’t have much cash with us and the money we do have is to buy temple passes for later. I tell Angelo it’s a rip off, meanwhile huge red flags are going off in my head. So Angelo stays behind to tell the tuk tuk driver that it’s too expensive. I immediately walk to the dock where some of the tour guides and ticket sellers shout to me to come back. I just ignore them.
All the boats are very run down and unoccupied. I was thinking to myself, are we the only ding dongs going out in this polluted river for a tour? I couldn’t see any floating village in sight. Angelo walks up to me and says that the tuk tuk driver was able to get us tickets for $15 each. What a deal!! (Do you already sense my sarcasm?) Angelo says we have time to kill, so lets just go – also they are giving us our own boat. Yay!
When we get into the boat, suddenly two more people hop on besides our boat driver. A boy around 12-15 years and our tour guide named John. Our self-appointed tour guide John speaks great English. As soon as we pull a couple of meters away from the dock John begins to talk about the river and the lake and how poor the people are and how the government is not helping them. I could go on, but I won’t. I think that you can imagine how the rest of the tour went.
When we finally arrived to the floating village area you see how the people live. John our leader within minutes of arriving to the center of Chong Kneas asks us if we want to buy rice for some schoolchildren who are orphans. I kind of ignored him, I didn’t want to do anything involving kids as I like to always research when donating. John asks us again, then Angelo asks me. We pull up to a boat market and step inside where they ask us to buy a bag of rice for $60 for the orphaned kids in the school. We don’t want to and we don’t have enough cash anyway. So we end up buying a box of dry noodles for 20 bucks to take to the school. We set off in the boat for the classroom. The kids in the classroom are very quiet studying and look miserable but not anyway malnourished or unkempt. We are urged to go in front of the class and “present” the food to the class. The kids respond with a very rehearsed and cheery “thank you”. As uncomfortable as that was, we said quietly to each other that maybe it will help the kids.
As we are leaving John says we can take pictures with the kids or go to the floating church nearby. I just ran onto the tour boat and said no. We headed off to what I can best describe as a floating restaurant and souvenir area. Our tour guide shows us where there are catfish in a really small enclosed area in dirty water. And the other attraction where there are about 3o crocodiles in a small space in very polluted water and it is very hot and no shade. We walk back to buy some water when a young girl appears and shouts “snake!” Angelo asks to take a photo of her, she poses with the reptile. Then quickly says, “1 dollar”. Angelo laughs and gives her $2.
We leave the restaurant area and head back to the dock. John tells us how the tour company who owns the boats does not pay the drivers and tour guides anything and that tips are appreciated. We gave John $5 then exited the boat as quickly as possible.
I did my research later that night and of course got more angered when I read tripadvisor reviews. Because we were not educated, we got scammed. The part that really angered me was that the kids were used inappropriately in this scam. I guess after you donate the food to the school they just resale it back to the market, the children do not benefit at all from the food. I could go on, there is so much more to this story. If you have any questions or comments, please write below. On a happier note, there is a great floating village that has a tour that gives directly back to its community. It is called Kompong Khleang and we hear it’s a wonderful village to see. If you visit Siem Reap, visit there instead.