Scams: Women and baby begging for formula in Siem Reap's Pub Street

Literally my first day in Cambodia, land at Siem Reap airport, check into hotel, get something to eat, pick up local sim card and check out Pub Street. As I'm waiting to cross the street to the nearest convenience store I'm approached by a dishevelled women holding a baby, what I assume is a local begger looking for money. As I try to ignore her she says something along the lines of "No want money, want food for baby" as she gestures at baby with empty baby milk bottle.

She certainly had my attention at this point, I'm fairly well travelled and have spent time in a number of large cities and I can't say I've experienced anything like this before. Thankfully my gut instinct told me this was a scam and after her persistent begging when I said "No" I abandoned my plan to go to that local shop and walked away as quick as I could.

I felt horrible but a quick google search revealled the full horror of this scam. It is well known on blogs, forums and amongst the expat community in general. It basically goes like this.

  • Woman begs for powered milk for her baby. Baby tends to be unusally docile, looking drugged or as if they've been smelling petrol fumes. (In my case the baby was quite large and active; rare but has also been seen many time before).
  • Good samaritan agrees to go with women to Mini Mart, Huy Meng Minimart at the end of Pub Street is a common request for these women. (The very place I was crossing the road for when she approached me).

  • Inside the shop she selects a $30 container of formula. (Some people at this point quite rightly bulk at the expense and select a smaller cheaper version but most pay the $30).
  • Victim and scammer part company.
  • Shop splits profit 50/50 with scammer when formula is returned.

Word among the expat community here, as told to them by Tuk Tuk drivers, is the babies are rented for the day. No one is absolutely certain they are drugged or how, it's just a strong suspicion. The same baby will be seen all day with their various "Mothers" looking for unsuspecting tourist to rip off. Many babies appear to be docile all day and some have been seen with their eyes rolled back in their head.

What can you do to stop this?

Sorry to say not much, there are mentions of this scam going back to 2014, thankfully because of this incident I never went into Huy Meng Minimart and never will. The local expats actively boycott this shop too. Still the shop doesn't seem to think this is bad for business and continue to cooperate with the scammers.

You could warn people when you see they're about to be scammed. People have of course done this before but be warned you will be on the recieving end of abuse and threats of violence everytime they see you. You have my utmost respect if you have the moral stamina to do this.

I genuinely don't know what I'll do when I see them trying to fleece someone else but it's certain I will see it sooner or later.

Milk Powder Scam


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