Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tonle Sap scam...

It is widely known that Cambodia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Scams are all over the place, from kids begging for food and bringing it back to the shop you bought it from in the first place, to buses dropping you at ridiculous places out of town, just so you have to use tuk-tuks...

I guess it's a part of Cambodia you just have to learn how to deal with.

You will probably just spend an extra dollar here and there, if you're not good at dodging this crap.

But then there's today's story;

Yesterday we talked to the guesthouse owner about Angkor Wat (did I mention I'm in Siem Reap? I guess not. SR it is...). We weren't quite sure if one day would be enough to see the complex, so we figured we'd ask him. Friendly as always, he gave us a lot of information. Nothing new about the temples, but well... He said that one day is usually enough for the people that want to see Angkor. Good! That would save us 40 bucks...

He then told us that it would be nice to go to Tonle Sap lake on another day. Tonle Sap is a huge lake where people still fish in traditional ways. Apart from that, there's quite a lot of birds and other animals you should be able to see there...

He told us a boat trip would be 20$ per person. In southeast Asia, that's quite a lot of money. We never spent that amount on a simple day tour before, since we usually dodge tours.

On this trip, we would see the traditional Khmer fisherman's life. The floating village and the lake, well part of it at least.

Sounds nice. The money would be well-spent as it would be used to build the community. Even better. Right?

So we got there, a short boat trip through a man-made canal brought us to the actual lake. The driver told us something about the villages and poverty, nothing new. He strictly told us not to give money to the women and kids that float around in small boats (and cling on to every boat that moves). They used the money to buy booze, so he said.

If we wanted to contribute to building the community, we could visit a market to buy some food and donate this to the orphanage school in the village. Well okay, we thought. Spending a few dollars to feed a few mouths today doesn't seem bad... 5$ we can miss, I mean... Until that point, no-one told us anything about prices, amounts or anything.

Without further question we suddenly arrived at the market, which was conveniently located on our side of the village... We were led to a pile of rice bags. There was no doubt in any of the people here. We were going to buy stuff, like it or not!

"One bag can feed the school for a week", one of the guys said (which sounds good, righy?). "Maybe you can buy a bag of rice and drinking water?" We were still convinced we would help people here. So we asked for a price. "65 dollars." Ehh, wow! We weren't planning on spending that much. We gotta feed ourselves too, you know. I'm not exactly rich...

We asked if we could maybe buy something cheaper. Something in our budget (which I had stretched to 20$ by then). "Less food will not feed all the children", he said. 65 dollar's worth would be okay.

I refused, I'm still living on a student budget. When we asked for smaller bags, he said they were 35$ for 30kgs. Still too much, so I asked an older couple who were clearly 'forced to do good' here as well. They would love to share the price of a bag and maybe some water (5$ for 6 liters).

The guy didn't seem to like this idea and told us it was better to buy noodles instead. One box for 20$. Together with water, that would be fine. It really felt like we didn't have a choice at this point. We stretched our budget to 25$.

From the market we went to the orphanage school. Not much teaching seemed to be done here. An abundance of kids, though, though not as much as they told us. Our donations were taken and brought behind the scenes. I'm not even sure anyone said thanks, but heck, that's not the reason I bought it.

Minutes later we were at another floating thing. On this raft there was a crocodile enclosure of which I'm not sure what the purpose was. Ok, 5 minutes here were enough, maybe 10?

You should realize that up to this point we had spent 15 minutes in the village. Market, school, croc thing. The boat returned to the port...!

On the way back I thought about what we had done. I started to calculate a little.

How much would a big bag of rice cost? In the Netherlands you would pay 50 euro cent per kg. Over here in Cambodia, probably less than a dollar for 5kgs, especially when bought in bulk, nextdoor to the place they grow the crop. Right?

How did a bag of rice of maybe 50kgs end up costing 65 $?

Why are 12 small water bottles 5$ when you can get 10 big ones for that price?

Irrational thoughts crossed my mind here, too. The food would probably be brought back to the market to be resold.

In the time I was on the school boat, enough food arrived to feed the school for 2 weeks (or over 150$ worth). In 5 minutes! There was no stack of food here. Where did they leave the stuff?

I am 100% ripped off by this scam. The trip was worth less than 5$ pp, and boring too. Without us knowing about it we were led to this make belief donation scam. There was never a tour! 65$ out of our pocket into theirs. You wouldn't believe how many Koreans and Japanese we saw on their way to the market. Dozens! One big cashcow!

I don't feel bad for spending 65$, but for spending it here. 65$ could have made a real cause really happy.

If you ever find yourself in Siem Reap, don't go to Tonle Sap for a tour. It sucks and is a scam!

I'm not sure if the school was an orphanage. The kids did look happy and well-fed. No educational resources whatsoever... They definitely don't get money out of this scam.


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