The Story of how I rescued a stolen Scooty Bike
I wasn’t really looking for any travel companions, but when I found myself sharing an 8 hour boat ride from Battambang, Cambodia to Siem Reap with several locals and a few die hard backpackers, as soon as the reality of just HOW LONG an 8 hour boat ride down the Mekong actually was kicked in, conversation was inevitable. I hadn’t actually planned where I would stay upon reaching Siem Reap and after 8 hours befriending the other travelers on board, I agreed to share a rickshaw with them to their pre-booked hostel, and be the sixth and final occupant of their dorm room.
I shared with them my plan—apart from the trivial matter of where to sleep at night—once reaching Siem Reap, that I would rent a Scooty Bike and explore Angkor Wat on my own. One of the fellow backpackers, a macho man from Manchester, chimed in on his newfound plan to join in on my adventurous idea. Since he was obviously the head honcho of the group, the others chimed in their love for his new plan of renting scooty bikes—of course the lady would ride on the back of his no doubt—and exploring the temples together.
Though we agreed that I would maintain my independence and explore the temples on my own, my protective nature and skill for haggling—I had lived in India for two years need I remind you—led me to volunteer my services at finding everyone suitable bikes to rent. I was already very aware of the local Cambodian Scam of renting out motorbikes and scooty’s to tourists and then having their friends “steal the bikes” conveniently long enough for the tourist to never find the bikes again and causing them to pay the—unusually—large “replacing of the bike” fee, which ALWAYS was far more than the cost of the bike. I had heard from others that their deposits or replacing of bike fees cost upwards of $750-$1000, an obscene amount of money for a beat up Scooty that had hit its peak twenty years ago.
Something told me my new friends didn’t know how to spot a scam like this nor prevent it so I figured I should tag along for their protection and benefit and do my best to ensure fair play was ensuing. Not to mention the fact that I had been successfully traveling all of South East Asia predominately on rental Scooty’s and this was to be their first time to attempt such an act.
The next morning I set off on my mission and rounded up a few different prices and quotes from a few different shops. (For more travel hacks and tips on how to Haggle check out my Haggling 101 Online Course.) I returned to the hostel but the guy from Manchester, not to be outdone by the likes of me, decided HE would find us the bikes. I rolled my eyes, it wasn’t my first time to encounter a man with an ego to uphold, and followed the “pack leader” as he took us on a wild goose chase. He found a shop which looked, in my opinion, very sketchy compared to the ones I had found and my red flags started to wave internally. After negotiating with the shop keeper he got the prices down to the same bloody price I had already sorted at a more legitimate shop but for some reason I went along and agreed to renting the bike at this shop. (It was a long walk back to the other shop…I rationalized with myself against my better judgement.)
I selected the most beat up banger bike I could find and proceeded to take photos of it from every conceivable angle while the bloke from Manchester, let’s call him “Manny,” sorted out the details with the shop keeper.
“Krystal,” he called me over finally, “he needs you to give your passport and sign on the agreement.” I had been so engrossed with my photo shoot of the bike that I looked at the agreement, signed it and handed over my passport without further thought. After all, this had been the standard procedure I had encountered all over Cambodia thus far and I knew what I was getting into by renting a bike in this country.
What I didn’t know, I found out at the hostel an hour later.
“Wait, what do you mean none of you gave your passports?” I shrieked at Manny as he casually let this “nugget” slip.
“What’s the deal? We didn’t have our passports so the shopkeeper let you sign the agreement for all of us.”
I nearly punched him right then and there. Who was he to use MY Passport as HIS deposit? A man I had literally known for less than 24 hours. Not to mention the four other “friends” he had also let use MY PASSPORT as THEIR BARGAINING CHIP. I was LIVID. Furious. Shocked.
“It’s not a big deal, Krystal, we only plan to have the bikes for two days, you’ll get your passport back then.”
I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid. I was so focused on not getting scammed by the locals that I had just been duped by “one of my own.” A bloody backpacker…
I spent the day exploring the temples away from Manny and his gang. I had a lovely day and met other fellow travelers that I clicked with immediately and temporarily forgot my predicament. Maybe he was right, maybe it would all be over tomorrow and I would have my passport in hand again and they would be on their way to the next stop on their list and I would be free to do as I always did and roam on my own with no attachments to anyone or any schedule other than my own.
One of the girls in Manny’s gang—the one happily riding on the back of his scooty bike—invited me for drinks later that night so after my adventures I pulled my bike in the space beside theirs and found my way to the pub. Not much of a drinker, I shared a few awkward laughs with the group, realized I was completely out of my element and left after a good half hour commitment at attempting to be “normal” and hang with the group. I waved goodnight and left, grabbing my scooty from where I left it and zipping back to the hostel where I locked my bike safely and securely inside the safety of the hostel. I had made friends with the security guard and small talked with him briefly before heading into my room. Sure it was only 9pm, but I was planning to wake early for a sunrise visit to the temple and I wanted my sleep.
My zzz’s were interrupted when at 2am an angry man from Manchester nearly kicked the door to my dorm down. Manny was drunk and his already heavy accent has somehow grown even more impossible to understand in his state, and mine.
“What’s going on?” I rubbed my eyes as the light switched on abruptly.
“They fucking stole my bike!” He shouted, nearly punching the wall as his anger errupted. “They stole my bike, they stole my fucking bike! I’m gonna kill those bastards!” He roared.
My heart stopped as realization kicked in.
They have my passport. They have MY PASSPORT. NOT HIS. MINE. And I KNEW he wasn’t going to pay the $750 to get it back. I also knew that I had less than $200 to my name (no I didn’t have money saved away in a bank account somewhere. I had everything I owned in CASH either on my person or hidden in my locked away bag in BALI and I wasn’t supposed to return to Bali for another two months.) and I sure as HELL couldn’t pay HIS DEPOSIT MONEY to get MY PASSPORT back.
“I’m gonna kill those bastards. I’m not fucking paying that money, they can go fuck themselves.” He said, voicing what I already knew. “Don’t worry, Krystal. I will get your passport back.”
And then he fell asleep. But I knew that I needed to act fast if I was going to solve this. I didn’t have a plan, but I stayed awake, while the others snored happily, thinking and plotting my next move.
I knew that nothing could be done now, but I also rationalized that the bike couldn’t be far. I knew the exact spot he’d parked it. Maybe I could go there and… and…? I didn’t know exactly, but something inside me told me to wait for first light.
My eyes hadn’t blinked since the horrible news and eventually the sun came up. I threw my feet on the floor and without waking the others, I made my way, solo, to the place where I knew he had parked his bike. I left my bike at the hostel, knowing it would only cause suspicions from the locals if I showed up looking for a scooty having just rode in on a scooty so I walked with pep in my step to the scene of the crime…
To hear the Full Story of how I rescued the stolen scooty bike and got my passport back, please enroll in my Travel Scams Master Class! The course is only $10.99 and could be the difference between a $750 (or more!) Scam or a Happy Ending!!! This money goes to the running of this website and is greatly appreciated.
Tips on How to Avoid Having Your Motorbike Stolen:
- Only park in well lit areas and places with other bikes / vehicles. Do not park your bike in a dark area with not many other bikes directly next to it.
- Hire a lock and chain to secure your bike while your away from it.
- Ask your hostel if you can park it / leave it somewhere that is secure / locked or guarded. I once had a hostel allow me to park my bike each night inside their reception area, which they locked at night.
- Take photos of your bike from every angle the second you rent it. Be sure the person your renting from notices you do this.
- Take photos of any marks, numbers or identifying features that will allow you to find it later on and recognize it.
- Never rent your bike with others if your traveling solo like I was. Putting your passport on their heads is NEVER a good idea even if you think they are your friends!!!
- If you go out drinking or partying and plan to be late, keep your bike at your hostel and WALK to the pub!
- Enroll in my Haggling 101 - Like a Local Online Course to get the best deal, learn how to read people and get treated as “one of them” to prevent getting ripped off. Also how to haggle the price of the contract or deposit in case the worst should happen.
- As a preventative, see if you can rent a bike from a shop that either A) Doesn’t hold your passport as collateral (might be unavoidable) or B) Doesn’t charge an obscene amount of money should the bike get stolen.
- When selecting a bike, choose the crappiest, beat up junky bike. The shiny new pretty bike has a much higher chance of getting stolen!
- Enroll in my Travel Scams Masterclass for more information, tips and tricks on how to spot a scam and con artist to completely AVOID getting yourself in a scenario like this, PERIOD. (And no that doesn’t mean don’t ever rent bikes in Cambodia, it just means you will have the tools to confidently rent one without getting SCAMMED!)
What to Do if You Have Your Bike Stolen:
- Do not approach the police. They are probably “in” on the scam and will not help you. It is not uncommon for the police to accept monthly or weekly bribes from the local motorbike “offices” or other tour companies (think western union or money gram places, tour companies etc.) to scam the tourists. The Police get a commission for staying silent and will only run you around in circles to waste your time.
- Return to the scene of the crime. Use your head. If you stole a bike, and you know you don’t have the keys, where or how far would you have pushed it? Where could it be hiding?
- Do not let the locals know what your up to. They are also probably in on it. Instead, using your photos—playing dumb helps—try to figure out possible scenarios.
- In my case, it was hiding in the shop behind a very locked metal shop door during the night his bike was stolen. My returning first thing the next morning, around 5 or 6 am at first light, I was able to recover the bike! This might not be your exact scenario, but THINK! Keep cool, calm and use your detective reasoning to figure out where they might have put it as a temporary place before moving it to Site B.
- If you let too much time pass or if they were able to move the bike to SITE B, chances are YOU WON’T RECOVER IT. Unfortunately in this case you would need to pay the fees.
- Enlist the help of other travelers if you feel you may know where the bike is located. DO NOT try to recover the bike ALONE as this could be dangerous. If you have found the bike, do as I did and get backup to help you!
- ACT FAST! Don’t wait too long to take action or they will have time to move the bike to Site B.
- Enroll in my Travel Scams Masterclass, take it as a lesson learned and avoid having this or other far worse scams happen to you ever again!!!