Scams and Tourist Traps in Myanmar and How to Avoid


Myanmar is a fascinating country to visit in SE Asia. For a long time, Myanmar wasn't on the tourist map and a country that was very difficult to enter. But with the borders open, there are many travellers pouring in to witness the beautiful sites such as the impressive temples of Bagan. Other worthwhile attractions in Myanmar include the palaces, pagodas and lakes, as well as the delightful street food scene and lively markets.

However, this country is still far from being the most affluent in SE Asia and this means there is the risk of tourists being targeted with the every increasing foot traffic arriving from the rest of the world. Most tourists will find their Myanmar Holiday to be entirely trouble-free and crime of a violent nature to visitors is very rare, although it is always wise for travellers to be mindful of their surroundings to minimise the risk of falling victim to scams or tourist traps.

Here are the most common scams and tourist traps in Myanmar:

Shoe Guardian
A typical scam in Myanmar is seen to take place outside religious buildings such as pagodas and temples. Most of the temples ask tourists to remove their shoes before entering the building to show a sign of respect.

In high tourist areas like Mandalay and Bagan, there is the risk of locals offering to help by saying they will take care of your footwear until you return. But, once you arrive back to pick up your shoes, the helpful local will request that you buy something from a nearby kiosk or shop or simply pay a small fee to repay them for their troubles.

How to avoid: while it is true that most pagodas and temples ask for shoes to be removed before entering, there is low risk of shoes being stolen from a religious site. So, there is no need to have a local take care of them. To avoid the scam, tourists can either remove their shoes and carry them in a bag while inside the temple, or make it clear to anyone offering that assistance isn't required.

scams and tourist traps in myanmar

Friendship tour
The friendship tour is common in areas that tourists regularly visit such as cafes and guest houses. A local will attempt to get friendly and start talking to you. After a short period of talking they will offer to take you on a friendship tour of the city for free.

However, once the tour starts they will attempt to steer you in the direction of certain shops or eateries where you are put under pressure to buy something. The shop choices are those that your friendly guide gets a commission from. Also, at the end of the tour they may ask for gasoline money that is well beyond the actual cost.

How to avoid: If you are approached on your Myanmar holiday by a local to give you a tour of the area you really want to make sure it is actually free. In most cases, the tour isn't free and there will be a cost to pay at some point. In most situations like this it is practical to simply decline the offer of a tour to avoid issues at the end of the day.

Fake entrance tickets
A scam popular in the high tourist area of Bagan relates to the fake entrance tickets. The fake tickets are issued with the intention of giving tourists access to the different temples. The local scammer will set up shop outside one of the temples and advise tourists that an entrance fee is due to venture inside the actual temples.

But, this is in fact a scam because it is only necessary to pay a single fee to enter the Bagan Archaeological Zone to see all the temples, and not to buy tickets per temple. Once you have entered the archaeological zone you are entirely free to explore the individual temples at your leisure.

How to avoid: If you do encounter one of the locals attempting to sell entrance tickets, you should simply show your Bagan Archaeological Zone pass and say that you have already made the payment. If you continue to get pestered at a particular temple, it is best to simply move on the next one to avoid the interference.

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Restaurants with no listed prices
There are plenty of quite basic restaurants in Myanmar that do not have a menu on display with listed prices. Also, even if there is a menu they don't always have the prices listed for the individual dishes. If you do ask in the restaurant the cost of the dishes, your server will likely give low prices, but when it comes to paying the bill will be significantly higher. They will try to justify the high price by saying any additional items where not part of the meal price.

How to avoid: A simple solution to avoid this problem is to only eat in restaurants that display a sign board or a menu with the stated price for each dish. If there is any discrepancy with the prices, this is easier to resolve with a printed menu to refer to. In situations where you have no other choice but to eat in a restaurant with no publicly displayed prices, you may want to stick to a simple rice dish to minimize the risk of overcharging.

Also, there is always the option of asking your hotel staff or doing online research to find eateries with a reliable reputation.

Pick pocketing
Pick pocketing is common problem in any region with a high number of tourists and SE Asia is no different. They are mostly seen in tourist spots like Mandalay and Bagan, and can vary from adults to children. Most operate in groups with one or two engaging in a conversation to distract you, while a third with take the valuables from your bag or pockets.

How to avoid: the best course of action is only to travel with the essentials and leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Take along a spare wallet that can be used for carrying a small amount of money. Also, it is useful to leave the original passport in the safe and take a photocopy if needed when you are out.