CITY DIARY

In Vietnam, is it worth the risk?

Stivi Cooke

Updated : 11/13/2016 11:01 GMT + 7

Just after I signed up for hospital insurance the other week, I got a brutal reminder about why I need it.

One Saturday morning heading toward Da Nang on the coastal highway, I came across a gaggle of Vietnamese huddled around a fallen motorbike. Everyone was on the phone to someone. As I came closer, I realized there was a young, Western female holding her left arm and crying while sitting cross-kneed in the middle of the road. 

Now, it’s a terrible thing that you have to stop and think before intervening in accidents in Vietnam. I’ve heard countless stories of helpful Westerners eventually being blamed for accidents after they’ve only pulled over to assist. In most parts of the world, there is no legal requirement for someone to stop and help at the scene of an accident if they are not directly involved in it; however, most people will feel the instinct to help. So I turned back to the scene to see what I could do.

The poor young lass was badly injured, covered in blood with what I (later correctly) guessed was a broken arm. With the Vietnamese still arguing, a young man from Mai Linh Taxi Company pulled up and I got him to get our victim up to Hoan My Hospital in Da Nang as quickly as possible. 

In the end she was patched up pretty well at the hospital with a story to tell when she got home and months of gravel rash pain to get through.

Whilst feeling good about having helped, it did spook me a little as I’d just only finalized this year’s health insurance the day before. I’ve had close calls on the roads myself, threatened by all manners of driver insanity and also had some horrible bouts of illness over the course of nine years in Vietnam, so knowing that I now have some kind of financial protection is comforting, even though I have no idea how effective it will be until something actually happens. I’m ‘knocking on wood’ as I write this!

For Vietnamese readers, ‘knocking on wood’ is part of a Western superstition of knocking on something made of wood to protect oneself from evil spirits and bad luck.

Anyway, I was prompted to get the insurance, which I had put off buying for a long time, after incidents like the accident mentioned above. It isn’t cheap in hospitals here, particularly for foreigners, who are often seen as easy prey with deep pockets.

I’ve signed up with Bao Viet Insurance, a state-run company that was recommended by friends. The insurance guy, Bi Linh, was a very nice fellow who said that my ‘plan 2’ package was typical for many middle-class Vietnamese with some money. My coverage is about 6000 dollars for a year and up to 60 days in hospital – a reasonable deal. Anything more serious and I’m off to Australia, fast!

The process has been largely free of any major bureaucratic red tape and I’ll get my ‘Bao Viet Card’ soon. I wonder how many cards I’ll eventually have in this country?

Although I have no idea how many foreigners have decent health and emergency travel insurance, I’m still quite amazed at the risks young foreigners take on the roads here.

In the space of less than a week, I witnessed backpackers with no helmets, no T-shirts and no decent footwear racing up the highway giggling to one another, clearly over the speed limit, somehow believing that Buddha is looking after them. One fellow I observed wore a Vietnamese conical hat, had a cigarette in his mouth and was barefooted going through a red light not that far from my house. Another I witnessed rode on the back of a bike ridden by his larger English friend with a beer glass in his hand, racing up Cua Dai Road in Hoi An late in the evening with plenty of local traffic whizzing pass them too. 

Even for the prudent and sensible, the hazards of disease, traffic and I don’t even want to think what else are never far away, so having insurance in Vietnam (or from your home country) is a ‘must’. Please consider this if you are planning on sticking around in Vietnam for a while.

Even though I hope nothing ever happens, as the saying goes: “life is unpredictable so you’d better be ready!”