How to…not get robbed in Ho Chi Minh

Want to know the best ways not to get robbed in foreign countries?

Let me start with an anecdote…

Picture this:

It is a bright sunny day, your first one in a brand new country. Let’s say for arguments sake the city named is Ho Chi Minh.

You eagerly arrive at your guesthouse, put down your bags and head out the door. Forgetting to grab a map and failing to take much notice of where you are situated in this very big city.

You begin walking the streets with your partner, taking in all the atmosphere – the millions of motorbikes, mixed with pedestrians, all going wherever they like with no apparent road rules or regimented road system.

Two cyclo drivers approach you.

They ask you if you would like a cyclo ride.

At first you politely decline.

Then they begin to follow you, wherever you walk, continuing to ask you if you would like a ride. A few more polite no’s and they start to notice you actually have no idea where you are going. They begin to play on your emotions until you finally acquiesce to their request. You ask for their rate. They say “whatever you think we deserve”. You get in the cyclo, knowing that it is wrong but you accept it anyway.

You travel around in the cyclo.

They take you somewhere “local” for lunch.

You offer for them to sit with you. They order you the “special” and you notice the meat tastes very odd and, to be honest, disgusting.

You later find out it’s dog.

They tell you there is a “must see” temple – tourists and locals alike love it. You agree to go there. They peddle along the streets until you arrive at the destination. You look around at the temple and after a while you decide it’s time to go.

The cyclo drivers have now changed their mood.

They are not as happy as they were.

They tell you that you must pay them now.

And you must pay them a ridiculous amount. You know you are new in the country but you also know you weren’t born yesterday and that the amount they are asking for is more than you make for 2 days work.

You decline.
You barter them down.
You feel like you’ve won.

They agree to take you back to your guesthouse. They drop you off at a park and say get out. You are upset and frustrated as you walk along the footpath, not taking much notice of what’s around you.

You are annoyed at being ripped off.
You are frustrated you are not at your guesthouse.
You are distracted as you bitch about the silly cyclo drivers.

You are robbed.

Your life literally flashes before your eyes as your bag is being ripped from your neck and you are jerked forward. Your first instinct is to kick off your shoes and start screaming and chasing after them.

But they are fast.
And gone.
The police laugh at you.

Day one of Ho Chi Minh.

Now, this is all well and good in hindsight but I think it is important to note where we want wrong and what to avoid if you are a first time traveller yourself…

Lesson Number One – Forgetting a Map

Very. Silly. Mistake.

Everywhere you go, whether it’s on your iPhone or android or whatever. You may even prefer the old school actual, hold-it-in-your-hand-and-look map. Whatever your choice is – bring one, have one, use one.

If you have a map it eliminates the worry as to where you are going because you have the choice and you stay in control. People who are out to scam you are smart. They do this daily and they make a living off of it. They can tell straight away when you are a fish out of water. Even though you will look like a total tourist while reading the map – who cares! At least that way you can avoid the worry of not knowing where you are or where you are going.

Lesson Number Two – Always Negotiate a Price

Don’t ever assume that when someone says “you choose the price” they mean it. If they aren’t going to give you an hourly rate or a total cost of the trip – walk away. When they pull out their little notebooks with praises from other tourists saying how friendly they are, while this may be true, if they can’t set you a price, politely say no thank you and walk away.

Our biggest mistake was this because they took us somewhere we had no idea about and put us in the position where we had no choice but to pay because we had no other option. While we bartered them down to a “fairer” rate we still got massively ripped off and that sucks.

Lesson Number Three – Don’t Ever Carry a Bag

While this may not be true in every country – carrying a bag makes you a threat in some South East Asian countries. My bag was on my torso and my arm was covering it but they still saw the bag and took full opportunity. While the cyclo guys no doubt told them where we were and when we would be there, by wearing a bag you do make yourself an easy target. So just don’t do it. Especially when money belts and the such are so easy to get a hold of.

If you do wear a bag – please don’t leave much in it! We were so lucky it was only a bit of cash but we were massively unlucky that it was a new camera too.

So only put a tiny bit of cash and whatever you do – don’t put your passports in there!! Just don’t!!!

Lesson Number Four – Don’t Let it Get You Down

Even though it sucks, in some places of the world, even in your own home town, these things are inevitable.

We heard so many stories of people getting robbed, mugged or tricked and by the end of our trip we realized that when people say “it’s not a matter of if but when” it might actually have been true.

The best advice we can give you is to be aware of it but don’t let it get you down. Even if it happens, you have to accept that it’s happened and leave it in the past. At the end of the day, there are reasons why people do these things and even though they are dishonest and unfair you have to try and understand that these people are in a situation that is generally a lot worse than yours. If you can come out of a situation and you are still healthy then you can stay happy because at the end of the day that’s the most important thing!

Another important thing to remember is that not everyone is like this! If you go through a horrible situation then please don’t assume that all the people in that country are going to be as horrible as those people. In our case, so many of the people we met in Vietnam were so lovely and the people that robbed us were by no means a reflection of the Vietnamese population! Even when we told some Vietnamese people about our story – they took pity on us and felt bad and were sorry for what happened. One man we met, on a flight from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, was so upset by our story that he offered to share a cab with us to Hanoi city to ensure we got there safely!

At the end of the day all you can do is take light of the situation and don’t take life too seriously! It’s all part of your story and your experience and chances are it will be a one of a kind story!