They have been around for years and they’re a pest: fake monks. WHAAATTT??? There are fake monks in Cambodia? Unfortunately, yes.
They are easily distinguished from real Buddhist monks, because real Cambodian monks don’t approach strangers directly. Real monks make their rounds every morning standing silently in front of businesses or homes and waiting for someone to come out and make a food donation into their alms bowl.
So, a monk actively begging for money is always a fake.
However, many tourists are not aware of this and are impressed just by the ‘monk like’ appearance. Many unsuspecting tourists fall for their trap. Hence this article to warn you. Do not ever give anything to these fakers. Rather say loud and clear: “You are a FAKE monk, please go away” (at the same time alerting others around you).
The problem here is not only that tourists are scammed, the troubling tactics by these fake monks are ruining the reputation of real Buddhist monks. Imagine a tourist coming home after a holiday in Cambodia and telling his family and friends: “Khmer people are really friendly, but man those monks over there, they can get really aggressive!”
It seems the fake monks are a spreading phenomenon and growing worldwide. It must be a very lucrative business and as they are all dressed similarly, I suppose there’s some kind of gangster-like clan behind it. To be honest I’m a bit surprised no-one – as far as I know – has dived deeper into the ‘syndicate’ behind the fake Chinese monks. Apparently, they are from Hubei province in China. But where exactly and by whom are they trained? How are they send to places all over the world? How is the money stream organized?
How to spot a fake monk
The first giveaway: he approaches you directly. A real (Buddhist) monk would never do that.
He targets tourist areas, i.e. targets foreigners only, because they are more likely to believe he’s a monk.
He offers you something (gold colored ‘peace’ tickets, a tarot like card, a beaded bracelet which he quickly slips around your wrist) and expects money in return. Plus, more often than not, he gets impatient (to put it mildly) if you refuse to give him something.
The ‘donation’ you give (DON’T of course!) should be a considerable amount. In Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, a fake monk was arrested who got angry at getting ‘only’ 10,000 riels ($2.50). The link goes to a Khmer language news website, but you can clearly see the guy has a Chinese passport.
He even might touch you, which is a big NO NO for real monks.
Spot what he wears under his ‘robe’: shoes, socks and pants, sometimes even jeans.
He doesn’t speak a word of Khmer, has very limited English, but his Chinese is excellent (although he’s probably unwilling to prove his native language skills).
When photographed or filmed, they get aggressive. A sure sign they have something to hide.
And here is a real good video made by John Weeks, who captured a fake monk inside Brown Cafe in Phnom Penh. Notice how the security guard approaches the monk, let him finish his business with a victim and only then asks him to leave the premises. I suppose it’s the Cambodian politeness combined with unwillingness to cause a row. Also notice how angry the ‘monk’ gets when he realizes he has been filmed.