When it comes to trouble-free travel, Vietnam is top shelf among the countries I’ve ever visited. People are generally honest and will often go out of their way to help those in need when sticky situations arise.
Rest assured that there is no shortage of crooks, particularly in the larger urban areas and tourist hotspots, just like everywhere in the world. Risk increases at vacation destinations during the big holidays throughout the year because crowds are the largest, thus creating more opportunities for thieves.
One of the biggest holidays of the year is upcoming this weekend (Reunification Day on Saturday and International Workers’ Day on Sunday, with many people adding extra days before and after), so airports, other modes of public transportation, hotels, and sights will be packed.
Keep these three principal themes in mind when travelling:
Minimize risk where possible, keep your eye on your personal belongings, and be vigilant of those around you at all times, particularly in crowded areas.
* Always use ATMs during bank opening hours if possible, so you can avail of machines that are inside the building where it’s safer than standing on the street, plus bank staff members are available to help should issues arise.
* A few years ago, for the first and only time in my life, I forgot my PIN code, panicked, and my card was eaten by an ATM. Because I was inside the bank during opening hours, I was able to convince the staff to retrieve my card instead of it being sent to a central office.
* Avoid using ATMs located in convenience stores, other shops, and malls. Those ATMs are not maintained by someone on staff, rather by a bank employee who services the machines periodically. Should your card get swallowed by one of those ATMs, the staff won’t be able to help you.
* Unguarded ATMs on the street attract snatch-and-grab thieves and are more likely to be tampered with by skimming scammers.
* If you’re forced to use a standalone ATM, look for camera lenses discreetly mounted in ceilings, people loitering around, and check carefully that the keypad is firmly in place.
* Scammers loosen ATM pads and place skimming devices under them, enabling capture of card data. Other thieves take photos or videos of card information using hidden cameras, then make a copy of the card and use it to withdraw your cash
* Take your card with you only when you need cash, go to the bank, get your money, and return the card to your accommodation as soon as possible.
* If you lose that card, you'll be stuck without access to cash and will have to wait for a replacement to be sent. That implies being stranded somewhere expensive, missing work, bothering family or friends to send emergency cash, and filling out a ton of forms at your bank. It’s all well worth avoiding!
* One simple solution is to have multiple bank accounts so that you have a backup ATM card, or a credit card that allows cash withdrawals, but remember to keep the backup separate from your main card.
* Vietnam is still largely a cash society, so people have a tendency to carry large wads, especially while on trips. When you go out sightseeing and visiting your destination, never take more cash than what you’ll need for each outing.
Stash your cash
* Nearly all hotel rooms in Vietnam are safe, with most having a cleaning schedule including cleaning assignments by floor or range of rooms, or the business is run by family and close friends so the management knows who is responsible for your room.
* Find a good place to hide your cash in your accommodation – cut out a special hidden pocket on the inside of your backpack or article of clothing, in the folds of the curtain, or find a spot inside cupboards or closets, or appliances such as TVs or mini fridges.
Fake hotels and commissioned agents
* During prominent national holidays like Reunification Day, accommodation is usually in high demand and prices rise accordingly, which is an invitation for scammers to profit.
* Touts stake out bus and train terminals, offering deeply discounted accommodation and showing photos as proof that the hotel they’re pitching is on the level and of good quality.
* Anybody can buy a branded motorcycle taxi helmet with a logo and matching jacket, which lends credibility when the tout approaches people.
* Stop and think if approached by such a tout: if the accommodation and price are acceptable, why aren’t the rooms already sold given the high demand?
* Similarly, thieves troll social media groups and travel pages disguised as hotel managers. They follow conversations and target innocent victims who post messages looking for hotel rooms.
* The thieves use authentic links to real hotel social media pages and advertisements, then take reservations, demanding a deposit or full payment in advance because it’s such a popular holiday.
* Hotel payments are often made to personal bank accounts so the innocent visitor thinks nothing of transferring to the scammers’ accounts.
* The victims don’t find out until they reach the hotel only to discover no reservation exists.
* A thick wallet in a hip pocket, a flashy, expensive bag or purse advertise where your cash is likely to be, so it’s best to split your money up and put it in your front pockets, small amounts for souvenirs and snacks in one pocket, larger amounts in another.
* On public transportation, be aware of who is near you. You may think you blend in, but a local thief can easily spot you as a visitor from another city.
* Pickpockets often wear larger coats and baggy clothes so they have room to move, a dead giveaway, especially in warm weather.
* Keep your wits about you without ruining your good time, observing who is near you in popular and crowded areas, and don’t put your phone, purse, or camera down on a bench, ledge, or adjacent chair even for a second.
* Smartphones have become increasingly attractive to thieves because some sell for tens of millions of Vietnamese dong. Bold thieves snatch them right out of people’s hands in crowded places such as night markets and disappear into the throng like a rat down a drain.
* The greatest value in your phone isn’t just the phone set itself, rather all your valuable personal information stored on it.
* The best defense against losing your personal data is to use the free utilities and apps provided by most of the mainstream phone manufacturers.
* Google also has excellent functions enabling recovery of a lost phone, plus features that sync contacts and other data between your phone and your google account, and it’s all automatic, just be sure to activate the ‘Sync’ function for the features to work.
* Be sure to save critical account information for easy retrieval in an emergency. I use a Samsung phone, but never use my Samsung account and have no idea what the account name and password are, but they are the key to Samsung’s lost phone functionality.
* The easy solution is to keep your password under a name that doesn’t really exist but is easy to recall. Just choose a random name such as ‘Uncle Samuel’ or another name that only you will recognize as being a fake.
* If your device is lost, just log in to Google and look up ‘Uncle Samuel’ among your contacts and you’ll be able to access your account password.
* Google also has a ‘find my phone’ feature which requires device ‘Location’ to be on for it to function. If you usually keep Location off, make sure to turn it on before leaving on your trip and you’ll be able to locate your device anywhere as long as it’s switched on and has an Internet connection.
Despite Vietnam’s reputation as a safe and secure destination, be aware, things can and do happen, especially in high-risk situations.
Besides, it’s prudent to get into good habits that will automatically surface when you go abroad, where petty crime is often more prominent.
Better invest some time before you travel to minimize risk so that you spend your trip enjoying yourself instead of fighting fires that could have been avoided.