Thieves & Beggers, Ho Chi Minh City
TIP: Personally, I have nothing against cyclos even though I was harassed to death by them. But it just pays to be careful, especially if you are a solo female traveller or even a 100kg American male!Yup, I think after reading these 2 real life-accounts, you just just might be a tad bit more careful.
A new Aussie friend told me how she was nearly conned of USD20 when she took a joy ride on one of those quaint cyclos. The driver took her to a God-forsaken district and threatened not to cycle her back until she paid him! Well, the good news is that she outwitted him back and said.....
a) She wasn't American so she only had dong;
b) She didn't have that much dong with her with her in the first place!
Thumbs up to her. She paid him half the amount and got back safe and sound to tell me this tale. *
Recent Update: Never ever hop unto a cyclo for sight-seeing unless you are God-Dammed sure about the asking price! My husband's American colleague recently got harassed by an unusually aggressive cyclo when he did just that. Yeah, what was supposed to be a quaint, Vietnamese cyclo-sightseeing experience turned to something more reminiscent from "The Fugitive" after the cyclo demanded 1 million dong for half a day's efforts.
Why the fugitive?
Well, after my husband's colleague refused to pay 1 million dong ( He gave him a lower fee ) , he was chased around Vietnam until he took refuge in his hotel. Hotel security was called and the cyclo disappeared . But after that, the colleague had a serious case of paranoia each time he left the hotel. At the back of this mind, there was a cyclo lurking around with homicidal tendencies so he stuck to my poor hubby like a remora (sucker fish) after that *
Wanna avoid being mugged by children? click on b'packer's hcmc page to find out more
Watch out for your valuables!!! Leave them at home if you value them. As for the ladies carrying monies. Use one of those cross-shoulder small backpack and walk with your hands over the zipper. Or better yet, I used one of those small fabric purse that you put jewelries in. They have a zipper and a snap flap on them. Pin it to the inside waistband of your pants/shorts. All the beggars have sixth sense, as soon as they hear a zipper, they are all over you. If you want to give them something, put a few dollars in your pocket before leaving your hotel.
Vietnam is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Most of its population live in the country on the edge of poverty. With the injection of foreign investment, things are gradually changing.
There are numerous beggars especially children in Saigon, be very discrete about giving anything to them. If anyone is seen giving handouts to a beggar, he or she may end up being pursued by a mob of other beggars. This does not help create a good image for foreigners; it gives them instead the reputation of being easy to hit up for money.
While Vietnam is generally a safe country for travel, street crime is a serious problem in Ho Chi Minh City and to a lesser extent, throughout Vietnam. There is a general warning out for travellers to exercise caution. Generally, crime is mainly by pickpocketing or snatch-and-grab incidents. Motorcyclists, mostly carrying passengers, frequently grab bags, cameras, and other valuables from pedestrians or passengers riding in pedicabs. A friend of mine living and working there was almost a victim of a pickpocketer - he grabbed the guy just as he was lifting his wallet. Generally, just be careful.
I was wearing a gold chain around my neck along with my wedding band was the only jewellry I was wearing. While waiting to cross the road a young man on a motor bike motioned to me that I should remove my chain. I assumed he was giving me a warning as he didn't speak English we couldn't converse. I took his advice and took it off unti I got home. The Lonely Planet does warn against jewellry wearing as there are thieves on motor bikes who snatch your stuff while they drive off. We had none of these problems but took the precautions just in case.
Many people will be trying to sell lottery tickets to you (and the Vietnamese) or plainly beg for money. When you visit the War Remnants Museum, you're sure to meet this mutilated guy selling books. Kids will sell postcards at the main post office. Saigon is a good place to learn saying 'no' to beggars... But one's heart will always bleed when a little kid is begging for money cos he/she is hungry. Be sensitive yet sensible: you can't give something to every beggar in HCMC. Giving too often will encourage even more beggars, and thus more annoyance for other tourists. Yet, it's a good thing to give 5000 dong (30 cents € or $) from time to time
When driving or walking around Saigon, there's a risk (as in any major city but Singapore) your stuff gets stolen. Some people drive around on motorbikes and snatch your belongings away, after which they disappear in the traffic. I never ever had safety problems in HCMC (nor the rest of VN), but the risk exists.
We were told to beware of pickpockets. I kept my valuables hanging around my neck, inside my shirt, where they were totally invisible.
Only once did I feel a hand in my pocket and that was when surrounded by kids.
Do not get too drunk with the bar girls. Most of them only want to take you home and do their business but many are happy to pick your pocket while at the bar. My brother had is wallet lifted but he bumped her and she dropped it...that's when we jumped on her grabbed the wallet and bolted.
These girls may act very innocent and tell you they just came to Saigon from the family farm in the last week or so, but its all a line and some of them will use it to get your wallet.
Crime is supposed to be limited to motorcycle hoodlums grabbing things from unaware tourists: cameras, handbags, glasses, watches etc. Your guide should warn you not to make it easy for them to do so. Handbags should be clutched securely away from traffic etc. It is also important to remember that when you ride in the open-air cyclo-taxis, you are very vulnerable to the motorcyclists.
I've heard of people (mostly women) having bags, sunglasses and other items stolen from them while riding in a cyclo (Vietnamese rickshaw). Normally, the perpetrators ride by on a motorcycle, and grab the item that is laying loosely on the tourists lap. Make sure when riding in a cyclo, you secure your valuables.
The biggest problem our group (of 4) had was with snatch thieves. While crossing the street, a motorcyclist tried to snatch a camera bag, and we also encountered little kids who would crowd around us trying to sell us postcards while also trying to unzip our backpacks.