The Smiling Buddha Scam
In Southeast Asia, some people resort to imitating Buddhists monks to scam unsuspecting tourists. Here’s what you need to know to avoid being duped by a fake monk.
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Southeast Asia has its share of travel scams, but there’s one in particular that seems to pop up in almost all the countries in the region: the fake monk.
Dressed in the same richly saffron-coloured robes as their legitimate counterparts, these fake monks hit up tourist hot spots looking to collect alms. Collecting alms is customary for practicing monks, who usually go out daily to collect food. But these fake monks aren’t interested in edible alms; they’re looking for money, either directly or through a “donation” in exchange for a bracelet, prayer beads or a Buddha image.
I came across this informative poster while visiting a temple in Melaka, Malaysia, titled, “Don’t Be Conned: Eliminate the Bogus Monk.” Here are five ways to help you avoid getting hit up by a fake monk:
- No selling items, including Buddha images, prayer beads and relics
- Alms bowls are not for collecting money
- Mahayana monks do not go for alms round
- No alms round after 12 p.m. for Theravada monks
- A monk will only use his alms bowl to receive food and medicine
It’s a shame that there are those willing to exploit the practices of a religion and prey on tourists who don’t fully understand them. As travellers, it’s important to be respectful toward other cultures and religions and to be aware of some of the practices and traditions—so that your kindness and generosity aren’t exploited.