Scam Alert in Kathmandu

Last Updated on April 2, 2016 by Natasha Amar


Scams are a reality in many cities and towns that are frequented by tourists. It can be very unnerving for someone who has not experienced these before and can often leave you feeling quite foolish in the end, like I did when I experienced the Milk scam in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The scene is set: A lone (usually) tourist walking around the areas close to Thamel is approached by a woman, usually with a wailing baby strapped to her body, begging for food. She will plead with the tourist, emphasizing that she is not begging for money, but begging him or her to buy a packet for powdered milk for the hungry infant from a nearby store. If the gullible tourist agrees, she will ask the storekeeper for the packet and usually it will be the biggest available packet for a few thousand Nepali rupees paid by the do-gooder.

Once she has bought the packet, she will thank the tourist profusely, and invite him home for tea. While I declined the offer, (yes I was scammed), something did not quite feel right about how quickly everything had happened.

Later, when I described the incident to a fellow traveller, he revealed that he too had been scammed in the same way. In reality, the beggar and the storekeeper worked together. The milk packet that was ‘bought’ by the tourist was usually returned by the beggar to the storekeeper and in return, the beggar received a small percentage of the price paid by the tourist. I felt foolish when I learnt of the reality and also saw the same beggar on the street corner trying to scam other tourists, most of whom seemed smarter than me.

This was the first time I experienced being scammed on my travels and learnt an important lesson- to be very cautious and carefully assess a situation before reacting impulsively. Of course, this is a lesson to be applied to all situations in life, but this can be particularly hard to do when you’re visiting a  poor country and want to do your tiny little bit to help someone. The best way to help in poor countries is through a trustworthy organization. Sometimes the intention to do good can actually do more harm than good if your act benefits the begging mafia that exists in many poverty stricken countries.

Have you ever been scammed on your travels? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

For more posts from Nepal, visit the Nepal Travel Blog.

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  1. says: Bill

    Yep, just happened to me in Thamel. Beware the grocery store at Saat Ghumti Marh – inr 2250 $AU 28 for baby milk powder. I got sucked in. Silly me.

  2. says: Elen Turner

    I’ve seen this scam used all over South and Southeast Asia. Not that that really helps you, but just wanted to point out (as an ex-resident of Kathmandu!) that it’s not unique to Nepal 🙂

  3. says: Sara

    Yes! Travelling from Costa Rica back into Panama- a group of us experienced an attempt by locals at the border to pay ‘gringo tax’ to re-enter.. I can only think of the hundreds of people that have paid this $3 fee not knowing it is completely unnecessary.. thank god for speaking Spanish and being able to argue with the locals! 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing, and don’t feel stupid about being scammed. I really sounds innocent if somebody ask for a carton of milk, and to be honest I rather give somebody food/drinks than money so I probably would have fallen for it too.

  5. says: Paras Shah

    Almost scammed in Bali, as a habit before visiting a country being a Bombaywalla i read up on the scams of the country, One of the popular ones in Bali is slight of hand while changing money, anything too good to be true isn’t. As we walked from the hotel towards the nightlife the shops doubling up as money changers with boards displaying the rate kept on offering better rates, I got curious and entered one which was offering 9999 for 1usd, ongoing rate was 9600. I enter and a hand over a 100$ bill, guy tells me if i change 300$ he’ll give be 10,000 for a dollar. I refuse and then the magic show begins, he counts 9 X 100,000 notes and small change. When he hands it to me it is only 7 X 100,000 notes, I put it back on the counter and spread them out and he picks them up and counts 9 again, My wife is looking at bags in the shop and realizes something fishy and comes next to me again I spread it on the counter to find 7 notes only , The guy finally gets mad and hands me my 100$ and says I don’t want to exchange your money and I walked out unscammed 🙂

    1. says: TheBohoChica

      Paras, I think it helped that you
      were smart enough to realize. If these places are close to the nightlife I reckon a lot of people who have been drinking or even are slightly happy, will probably not realize they are being scammed.