There are a lot of scams in Kathmandu and after years of travelling it can still find its sneaky way to you…
I got scammed. By kids. Twice.
I’m not one of those travellers / bloggers who will give you the impression that I know everything; I don’t always find the cheapest way around a place, I still overpay, I still get scammed. I’m still human. Every new country turns me into a toddler going to kindergarten for the first time. I’m constantly learning. Self-proclaimed “seasoned” and “budget” travellers overpay too; they’re clueless in a new country as well and they also get scammed…they just choose not to tell you.
I choose to tell. It can happen to anyone.
Kids and Scams in Kathmandu
Scammed on the way to the Monkey Temple
The first time one of the scams in Kathmandu got to me was on the way to Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple). On one fine afternoon a friend and I chose to visit the Monkey Temple and started the journey on foot. Everything was fine until we got to Bishnumati River and two little boys – not older than 10 – approached us. They started with the usual “where are you from” and “where are you going” questions and told us that they’re walking the same road to their uncle’s house, they can walk with us. And so they did.
We had a pleasant conversation about their school, hobbies and the area.
I used the bathroom facilities at a restaurant very close to the temple and when I came out I could see the look of dismay on my friend’s face. They told her, “we’re going to leave now, so give us money”. We were shocked. Two innocent-looking boys just scammed us while we thought they were just being friendly.
Nope. They were not just being friendly. Behind those smiles were something else…
Scammed in Bhaktapur
I spent a few nights in Bhaktapur and on my last day I wanted to catch an early morning glimpse of the old city. I was just a minute away from my guesthouse when a young boy – again, not older than 10 – asked me “where are you from?”. When I told him he made the clever reference to the 2010 World Cup and said “waka waka”. I laughed and kept on walking. All of the sudden this boy was next to me with big puppy eyes asking me to buy him a book for school and that the shop is just a minute away. Just the day before I saw a shop selling notebooks and I honestly thought that’s what the little scammer needed. I mean it’s for school, for educational purposes…
He caught me off guard; it was 07h20 and pre-coffee.
When we passed the shop I realised that he was not talking about a notebook. I told him “you didn’t tell me that!” and he replied “yes I did, I said English-Nepali book”. We got to the shop and the shopkeeper handed me two dictionaries. One big, one small. One expensive, one cheaper. It was $5 for the small one. I haggled the price down to $3.50…or rather, I got fooled down to A$3.50. The boy told me I could write in the book (probably trying to give me the idea that he won’t sell it) and handed me a pencil. I took out a pen. He opened the dictionary on the page just before the back cover…a page one can easily cut out if you want to sell it again. So on the back of the front cover I wrote: “Sunjay, 27 March 2015. Good luck with school. You’re not allowed to sell this book. All the best.”.
Just before I closed the book traces of a message, written in pencil and run over by an eraser, caught my eye on the back cover. The message said “Good luck and study hard”.
Even while writing in the dictionary I knew that I was being scammed. But a little tiny voice – or maybe those big puppy eyes he gave me earlier – thought: what if this kid really wants to study? I’m pro-education. But he was a pro-scammer.
Later I thought about this scam. It can have one of the following outcomes:
- He’ll sell the book to the same or a different shop and get $5 back at the most. With that money he will buy some snacks or maybe a big pot of glue to sniff.
- He’ll be stuck with that damn dictionary for the rest of his life because of the message I wrote in big, bold, black letters on the front cover.
The last outcome makes me extremely happy.
You get scams in Kathmandu and then you get “scams”…
I turned to Google to read a bit more about the most commons scams in Kathmandu and some “scams” are not scams (in my eyes):
- I don’t see vendors selling products to tourists at inflated prices as scams. I see it as their way of life. Haggling is their bread and butter, even locals haggle when they buy their fresh produce at a street market.
- I don’t see people approaching you at temples trying to be your guide for 500 Rupees as a scam – they are making an honest living (as long as they tell you the price from the beginning), and most of them really know what they’re talking about!
- I don’t see people begging for money as scammers. They’re begging. They make it quite obvious.
- I don’t see locals marrying Westerners as a scam. It can be either real love or real stupidity.
- I don’t see it as a scam when hotel personnel take commission from organising a trip or a taxi ride for you. It’s good business sense. If you don’t like it or if you want to avoid it, arrange the taxi or trip yourself.
Truth is: Anyone can get scammed.
After travelling in Nepal for almost four weeks and not making eye contact with the obvious scammers or giving money to beggars…I still got scammed. By a kid. It can happen to anyone. You can give a loaf of bread to a beggar and they can sell it to the next person… you’ll never know.
Even though there are a bunch of scams in Kathmandu there are not enough scams to not enjoy the people around you. There will never be enough scams in this world to not smile at strangers, greet people and have a chat with someone.
So go out; walk, talk, greet and eat. Trust your instincts. If it sounds ridiculous, take a step back. If it looks fake, walk away. And if you get scammed out of a dollar; so be it. Trust your instincts and never ever stop trusting the beautiful souls you meet in a new country.
There is more good than bad in this world.
*Disclaimer before anyone gets angry: Not all the people in the photos of this blog post were scammers. The two boys in the second photo are the actual boys who scammed us on the way to the monkey temple.
I didn’t make up the scams mentioned under You get scams in Kathmandu and then you get “scams” – these “scams” are listed in articles.