The temples of Bagan are undoubtedly Myanmar’s most popular tourist attraction with thousands of foreign visitors arriving every year. Whilst the majority of Myanmar people are friendly, honest and helpful, some unscrupulous locals will attempt to take advantage of you since tourism = money. Sometimes even following you on their scooters until you are away from the tourist police! Below is our list of the most common scams we saw in Bagan, and how to avoid them.
Foreign Currency Collectors
This scam will usually begin with some friendly conversation about which country you are from. The scammer will then claim that they are collecting notes and coins from around the world and ask if you have any foreign currency they can have. Seems reasonable enough. However, there is no collection. If you happen to be from a country they already have a note from they will try to pressure you into exchanging this for Kyat since it is useless to them. We saw lots of people fall for this one, and were quite aggressively pestered to buy back Australian currency that kind people had handed over. To help stop this scam, please don’t give out money!
Unwanted Guided Tours
Even at some of the most off the beaten path temples there will be locals sitting about. In some instances they may live nearby and be a kind of caretaker who can give you access to the locked gates, restoration workers, or just friendly people who want to chat. In other instances they may be running a ‘guided tour’ scam. These are easy to spot, usually because as soon as you arrive they will immediately start reeling off historical information about the temple whilst invading your personal space. They will then grab you and try to lead you in a certain direction. We also saw some who had broken locks and gates to restricted areas and were taking tourists into them. Once their little tour is complete they will ask for payment and imply that you have ripped them off if you don’t comply. To avoid being a victim of this, simply walk away from the scammer as soon as you see what they are doing, politely say no, then ignore them. Also, do not enter any forbidden areas even if you are encouraged. These are forbidden to prevent damage to the temples, and so you don’t injure yourself!
Another fairly common occurrence is having somebody open a small paper ball in front of you revealing what appears to be rubies or sapphires. They claim these are from Mogok and they can offer you a great price. In most instances these are worthless fakes. I probably don’t need to tell you not to buy precious stones off shady characters in the middle of a field, but obviously some people do, as otherwise these scammers wouldn’t exist.
Paintings, Rock Carvings Etc.
These items themselves are no problem. Many of them are very beautiful and make great souvenirs. The scam here lies in the fact that sellers will tell you that what you are getting is unique or rare in order to get more money from you. Either that or they will tell you an elaborate story about their hardships in order to pressure you into buying from them. Some of them are incredibly manipulative! My tip here is to simply not buy from people who pressure you too much or try to guilt you. If you like a painting, but the seller is scamming you, just walk away. You are guaranteed to see the exact same design at least a hundred times over the day. Almost nothing on sale is unique in Bagan, and you will see it again. Even though the man claimed the painting was his own design and took him the weeks to complete, you’re likely to see a child making perfect copies of the very same image outside the next temple.
Although some of these scams seem to be on the rise in Bagan, don’t be suspicious of everyone after your first bad experience. Be vigilant, and use common sense and remember that many people are actually just friendly and looking to help you.