Kathmandu is a hotbed for tourist scams. Especially the Thamel area, where most of the city’s hotels and foreign tourists are.
You’ll be approached all day long in this area by touts, drug dealers, and seedy dance bar promoters while the Police just stand there.
The basic rule is, don’t talk to anyone approaching you in Thamel. Keep walking.
The following are the scams I captured in Nepal.
The risks of seedy dance bars
Thamel is littered with “massage parlours” and “dance bars”, which are just covers for brothels.
The risk here is being robbed.
When you get to the girl’s room, instead of chiggy-wiggy, you’re robbed. Sometimes the scammers have even organised a fake police officer to “bust” you, and you have to pay to get out of the situation.
If you’re just going for the dancing, you can’t actually dance there. The stage is just for the working girls to promote themselves. You’ll also be charged exuberant rates for food and drink there.
It’s best to avoid dance bars at all costs.
Fake friendly locals
In Thamel and near Kathmandu tourist attractions like Durbar Square, you’ll be approached by “friendly locals.” But don’t be fooled; these aren’t just friendly Nepalis looking to show some old-fashioned hospitality to a foreign guest.
Traditional Nepali thanka painting is very beautiful, so nearly every street hustler will tell you they’re a thanka painter!
These “thanka painters” will then offer to take you to their painting studios, where you can see their work. The reality is it’s not their work, and you’ll be sold a poor-quality painting for the same price as a thanka master’s painting.
There are plenty thanka studios around Nepal. Find one where you can see the painter in action and deal with them directly.
Drug dealers, dance bars, massage parlours, and shady “tour guides”
In the following video, you’ll see precisely how these dishonest people approach you on the street and how to avoid them.
Rip-off travel agencies
There are many travel agencies in Kathmandu which will overcharge you massively for treks and not give you your money’s worth.
Be sure to only book travel with reputable travel agencies in Nepal. Always compare prices with multiple travel agencies. And never ever follow a street tout to “his friend’s” travel agency.
How to avoid tourist trap restaurants
Avoid any restaurant with touts outside trying to get you inside – good restaurants don’t need to do this.
Counterfeit fast food
Gems export scam
Gem dealers offer deals involving buying stones to sell for a “vast profit” at home.
The dealers say that they cannot export the stones without paying heavy taxes, so you take them and meet another dealer when you get home, who will sell them to a local contact, and you both share the profit.
You get home with these expensive gems you’ve bought, but there is no local contact to resell them to!
Beggar milk scam
Beggars sometimes ask you for milk, rice, or any other product they can resell.
You buy the product at a store at an inflated price and the child then returns the milk and pockets some of the mark up.
Be wary of kids who seem to know the capital of any country you can think of; they are cute, but it’ll always end in them asking you for money.
Religious blessing scams
Holy men roam the streets and, without you asking, put tika (a red paste denoting a blessing) on your forehead, only to then demand payment or a “donation.”
Are you travelling to India too?
I’ve written a full and free safety guide for India you should read before going.
If you’ve encountered any other scams, leave them in the comments.