It’s strange how quickly some things can change; just 40 years ago, Vietnam was one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and nobody would have considered spending their holidays there. By contrast, these days it is considered one of the world’s safest destinations, and remains unaffected by the global terrorist threat that makes international travel in the 21st century such a risky business.
Once in the country, the main dangers for visitors to Vietnam are the same as they might face back at home, meaning pickpockets, bag snatchers and confidence tricksters. The only difference is that back at home you are not exposed to these dangers as you are as a tourist in Vietnam. So the best advice is to be on your guard in all social interactions, particularly if somebody appears to be acting in an over-friendly manner.
Though Vietnam’s economy has been performing extremely well in recent years, there are still plenty of people, especially in the major cities, who have to live off their wits, and the rapidly expanding tourist industry provides plenty of opportunities for them. Scammers and con artists are aware that the best time to catch visitors out is as soon as they arrive, when their lack of familiarity with the local culture can work to a scammer’s advantage.
As a result, you need to be on the lookout for such characters when arriving at international airports, especially Hanoi. The favourite trick here is to take you to a hotel that gives them a commission, explaining that the hotel of your choice is ‘closed for renovation’, or some such line. The easiest way to avoid this is to arrange a pick-up from your chosen hotel. Even if you don’t like it, it’s easier to make alternative arrangements the next day without a horde of sharks pestering you.
Driving and Road Safety in Vietnam
With an average of 30 deaths every day on Vietnamese roads, extra care should be take if you plan to rent a car or motorbike. The cities are generally safer as the congested traffic prevents any excessive speed, but the motorways can be extremely dangerous any many local people will not even dream about driving on them without a four-wheeled vehicle.
The sight of roadside corpses draped in blankets with incense surrounding them will certainly make you think twice about taking to the road. And remember, should some accident befall you local hospitals are unlikely to provide treatment unless they are sure you are able to settle the bill.
Theft in Vietnam
As the Vietnam government is only to aware of the benefits millions of tourist dollars can provide, crimes against foreign nations are met with severe punishments. That said this is still a very poor nation and appropriate care should be taken especially in big cities.
In Saigon motorcycle gangs have been known to grab the bags of unsuspecting tourists’ shoulders and ostentatious displays of wealth such as flashy watches and jewellery may attract unwanted attention. Beware of talking on mobile phones in busy areas as they can be snatched and the perpetrator flee down a deserted alleyway.
It is best to deposit valuables in the hotel safe, use a concealed moneybelt and not to walk alone late at night in unfamiliar neighbourhoods. On popular beaches such as Nha Trang it is almost a daily occurrence for foreigners to return from a swim to find their possessions taken.
Prostitution in Vietnam
Unlike neighbouring Thailand, prostitution in Vietnam is illegal and the age of consent set at 18. People that are convicted of sexually exploiting children and women face sentences from 20 to 40 years and many Western countries are more than happy to see their citizens dealt with by Vietnamese courts and not intervene to bring the transgressor home.
Vietnam Safety as a Pedestrian
Crossing the street in a Vietnamese city is a feat of daring worthy of the most dedicated adrenaline junkie. Most traffic lights either do not work or are simply ignored. Rather than trying to dodge out of the way of vehicles, the best policy is just to make yourself noticed and trust the oncoming traffic to avoid you.
The trick is to walk slowly and purposefully without changing your speed. Literally to step out with your eyes shut and just stroll blindly across the busy street is preferable to trying to second guess the medley of cars, lorries, bikes and pick-ups and attempt to dodge them. Drivers in Vietnam are well versed to predicting the course of pedestrians so try not to do something unexpected and you should be fine. And if in doubt follow a local closely and mirror their movements.