Vietnam is generally a fairly safe country to visit with relatively low violent crime and sexual offences. There are however a considerable amount of petty crimes and thefts, especially against tourists. Don’t let this put you off, just bear in mind that Vietnam is an exceptionally poor, developing country and tourists are considered rich and therefore fair targets.
Even the humblest of backpackers usually have clothing or gadgets that amount to several years’ salary for a local Vietnamese person. The majority of thefts from tourists are simply done out of desperation and shouldn’t be taken personally – even if it feels pretty personal at the time!
Treat Vietnam as you would any other country, be sensible and take reasonable precautions against all crimes. Just because you are abroad doesn’t mean you can forget all the sensible pieces of advice that your mother taught you. Take reasonable precautions against anything that could affect your safety. Just in case you need a reminder of those pieces of parental advice then here they are again:
- Don’t flash valuables and cash or leave them hang around.
- Be careful going out alone after dark in areas that you don’t know. As in any country there is an added risk when you are alone, especially when it is obvious that you are a tourist.
- Don’t leave your drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers.
- If you are intending on getting incredibly drunk then make sure you are with people you trust who can get you home safely. Drunken tourists are exceptionally vulnerable.
- DO NOT BUY OR TAKE DRUGS. Not only because they affect your judgment but also because there is a high chance that the people you buy the drugs off will immediately tip off the police and get a reward for doing so. Needless to say, you don’t want a spell in a Vietnamese prison.
- Trust your instincts, if something feels wrong then leave the situation as quickly and calmly as you can.
- Practice safe sex (regardless of whether your partner is a fellow tourist or a local Vietnamese person). Prostitution is illegal and considered a very serious crime in Vietnam.
Vietnam generally has nothing more serious than most other Eastern Asian countries as far as ‘seams’ go and they can generally be avoided if you are careful. Below are some of the more common swindles that tourists tend to come across whilst traveling in Vietnam.
Motorbikes are a fantastic way to see Vietnam and travel around but they can also be very dangerous if you aren’t used to riding on very busy roads.
Unbeknown to many travelers it is actually illegal to ride a moped in Vietnam without a Vietnamese driving license. If the police catch you then not only will you face a hefty7 fine but the bike will be impounded. You will of course have to pay the hire charges for the entire time that the bike is impounded. Try a “xe om”, a ride on the back of moped with a Vietnamese driver, if you really want to ride a motorbike but with less risk.
If you are still planning to hire a motorbike then be cautious. Make sure that you check the condition of the bike before use and make it clear if there is any existing damage to the bike (ideally take photos). Don’t even consider getting on the bike without a helmet and make sure that you do have insurance in case there is an accident.
There have been incidences where unscrupulous bike hire companies actually follow7 the tourist, steal the bike back and the tourist is left to foot the bill of the ‘stolen’ bike. These incidents are thankfully very rare but be cautious, especially if you feel there is something suspicious about the place you are hiring from.
Taxis are generally cheap and easy to catch but stay cautious of unlicensed taxis where you are more likely to get ripped off. See the chapter “Getting around’ for more information about reliable taxi companies and never agree to fixed price. If a taxi claims that the meter is broken then get out immediately and find another taxi. It’s a good idea to ask locally how much a journey should cost – then you know if you are being taken for a ride…literally.
This is especially common in Hanoi and Hochiminh City. Be aware of carrying a bag with a strap across your body because these can easily be snatched and ripped off (or have the strap cut) by people riding past on motorbikes. The same can also happen if you are riding on the back of a Xe Om, so be cautious.
In reality it happens so quickly that it is impossible to do anything to stop it so if you must carry a bag try to avoid walking close to the road.
Pickpockets are especially common in crowded areas and marketplaces. Ensure that your bag has zips and you keep it close to your body. A money belt is great for essentials as it is impossible to access without you noticing.
Police stations and embassy
If you are unfortunate enough to get robbed while in Vietnam then make your way to the tourist police station as soon as possible. You will be asked to fill in a report and often have to return the following day to collect the stamped report (which you will need if you make an insurance claim).
It is disheartening but there will be plenty of other tourists there who have experienced exactly the same thing as you. Who knowTs you might even make friends on your trip to the police station!
If there is not a tourist police station nearby then you can go to the local police station although it is best if you take someone who can translate Vietnamese for you.
Ultimately the chances of getting your goods back are slim and you wTould be forgiven for thinking that the police don’t care. In reality they are probably sick to death of dealing with the same tourist crimes day in and day out.
There are instances where the police may tell you that they can get your goods back Tor a price’. It’s unethical and morally wrong but at that point you need to decide just how much you are willing to pay to get your things back.
If you have your passport stolen then contact your embassy as soon as possible. You may need to physically attend the embassy to get a replacement passport or temporary travel documents. The majority of international embassies and consulates, including the UK and US ones, are located in Hanoi and Hochiminh.
Keep Calm and Carry on!
It’s horrible having your belongings taken, especially if you have taken precautions to avoid any incidents. Don’t let it ruin your trip though, all personal belongings can be replaced and at worst you will end up a few dollars out of pocket at the end of the day.
Good insurance usually means that you can have everything replaced and apart from shock and bruised pride life goes on as normal. Stay upbeat and optimistic and don’t let one bad experience taint your whole trip.
One day the story of getting scammed in Vietnam will be something that you can laugh about!