Top dangers and how to stay safe in Ho Chi Minh City

Petty crime

It is usually more dangerous in the bigger cities than the smaller towns. In smaller cities and smaller towns the community is much smaller and everyone seems to know everyone….

The most common mishap in bigger cities like Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is being snatched of your belongings by motorbike thief. Tourists, expats, and even the locals are of no exception to this most common form of crime. Almost all my friends in Vietnam have been a victim or witness at least one such incident.

Anything, beside your clothes, that is not part of your body and is worth more than $100 or looks like it is worth a lot will be gone the moment you step onto the street. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but you get the picture. There are eyes observing your every move the moment you stepped out of the hotel.

Snatch crime is very common around busy street junctions. Some notorious areas are Benh Thanh Market area along Truong Dinh street. And Hai Ba Trung street and Le Thanh Ton Junction.

The peak period is near Tet New Year, during World Cup, during any major football tournaments.

If in trouble call 113 for police.

Using phone of the streets

Don’t use your phone on ANY street. A lot of tourist are relying their phone as their camera but it will be gone the moment you use it along any street. Period.

An iPhone is the most sort after symbol or status of wealth. An iPhone used to cost a typical Vietnamese 6 months of their salary. Or enough money for them to have drugs for a month.

I have known people who pawned their motorbikes to borrow money to buy the latest iPhone to impress girls.

The high demand for expensive smartphones, couple with a high price makes handphone snatching the highest crime committed in big cities.

If you really insist on using your phone as our camera, then at least use a lanyard or wrist strap.

A simple point and shoot digital camera like the Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 HS has built-in WiFi and you can post your photo directly to Facebook. You can have your Phone share its 3G data with the camera and thus achieving your objective of photo shooting and photo sharing.

Bag Snatching

This is another big time hobby of drug junkies and what have you in HCMC. They do this 24-seven, day or night, on any street, to tourists and to the locals.

They do it alone or some times in a gang.

Don’t carry a sling bag. Use backpacks and slung over both shoulders. Sling bags slung across your body is no use at all.

There is also no use walking in opposite direction of traffic as it is very common to ride motorbikes in opposite of traffic direction.

If you have to use a sling bag, and are unfortunate to become a victim, there is a method to defeat the snatch thief.

Upon sensing someone pulls at your bag, the first and immediate reaction you should have is to squat down immediately. When you squat down, you have a lower CG and it forces the thief to level his arm and shoulder down to your level. At this awkward position he is likely to lose his balance on the bike.

Best Practice

It is not our instinct to squat down, but I suggest you practice this several times in your hotel room before going out everyday.

  • Don’t carry credit card. Most shops that you will visit do not accept credit card anyway.
  • Don’t carry your wallet. The chances of losing your wallet or losing money in your wallet is very high.
  • Don’t leave your belongings on the table. Tourist like to leave camera, ipad, etc on coffee table. They will be gone too.
  • Don’t even carry your wallet. Just use a rubber band to bind your dong together. Wallets are easy pick.
  • Keep your money out of sight

If in trouble call 113 for police.

Watch the guy on the lower right of the screen. The guy dashing across the road was actually a decoy.

Walking at Night

In Saigon, nobody walks, day or night. Only foreigners walk on their streets. Saigonese travel only on their motorcycles, Xe Om, or via taxi. Therefore it is very easy to spot a foreigner walking. It can be dangerous because you stick out like a sore thumb, or a walking treasure chest.

During my early days in Saigon I was once almost robbed of of my belongings while taking a short walk from my regular pub back to my rented room, drunk. A lady on a scooter came up beside me and followed me for a short distance before deciding to stop and tried reaching for my money in my pockets. This is apparently a very popular crime at night, and the ladies who committed these crime are quite stunning looking or a lady boy.

If in trouble call 113 for police.

Pub Brawl

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in any form of fight, apologise, offer to buy a drink, and offer to leave the pub/club immediately. DO NOT, I repeat, do not engage in any fight.

Vietnamese build can be small in comparison to other nationalities but Vietnamese pub brawls are often serious, or even deadly. Vietnamese fight with the intend to cause lethal injuries to their opponents, and often in an unglory many to one fight. I personally witnessed a fight between seven Vietnamese girls and two western men. One men got away with a bleeding head while the other got a stab wound to the stomach.

Vietnamese engage in fights even for the most trivial of matters. It is common to engage in a fight during a traffic incident. Every few months or so someone will make it to the news by being fatally stabbed after a traffic incident.

Motorcycle Hazards

Everyday in Saigon, there are about 1,000 new motorcycles put into the streets! Motorcycles are the most popular means of transport for the Saigonese. And that makes crossing the streets of Saigon one of the most terrifying experience for any tourist.

Do not trust the traffic signal. Motorcycles beat red light all the time! And they ride against the flow of traffic too! Always look both ways. Motorcycles making left turn can ignore the traffic lights!

When crossing the streets, take a step forward first which will signal your intention of crossing. Do not stand blankly on the walkways. After that, inch your way slowly forward. NEVER STEP BACKWARDS! This is because the traffic will try to pass you from behind. They are expecting you to go forward. So if you step backwards you will get knock down.

At popular tourist attraction, there are tourist guides in brown uniforms. You can approach them to get assistance to cross the streets. 

Personal Health

Water

It is not safe to drink the water from the tap even in the city. Ice in restaurants and coffee shops are made from tap water. Even boiled water is not safe for consumption. Any drinks that are not canned are not safe to drink, especially Tra da (melon ice tea) that is served everywhere.

Soup can still be a major concern as the water used to make the soup can be from the tap.

Besides being unclean or lack proper water treatment being the main reason why the tap water is unsafe for drinking, the other reason is that almost all households and shops need to have a water tank installed on the roof. This is because the water pressure is very low and they need the water tank to be on the roof top to achieve good water pressure. And these water tanks on the roof are often not sealed. There is a complete eco-system presence in these water tank!

De-worm

Before leaving the country, remember to buy two tablets of de-worm drug. Take one upon leaving, and the other one in 2 months time. Intestinal parasites, ring worm, etc are common problems caused by consuming uncooked vegetables, seafood, etc in Vietnam.

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