Staying Safe in Vietnam

Staying Safe in Vietnam

By Wendy Updated Jun. 22, 2021

Vietnam is generally a safe country to travel to, even for families with children. With relative political stability, an effective police force, and high rates of tourism, the country is well equipped to keep foreigners safe.

No matter when or where you are traveling, however, it is still important for you to take any necessary steps to keep yourself and your belongings safe.

Below are a few of the safety issues you may encounter in Vietnam, in the order of likelihood that you will face them. Overall the country is safe for tourists, but the list below should be regarded as a general safety reminder, and encouragement to travel as safely as possible.

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Traffic

The odds of someone mugging you in the street in Vietnam are next to none. The odds of a red taxi or an electric scooter running over your toes, however, are somewhat higher.

Due to the country’s warm climate and heavy traffic, most locals own motorcycles or scooters for navigating the cities. As scooters and bikes number in the hundreds of thousands, collisions frequently occur.

Fortunately, the speed of the traffic is typically slow and accidents tend to be minor. If you find yourself in an accident, make sure to wait for the police to arrive. They will call English-speaking staff members to assist you if needed.

It is advisable never to leave the scene of an accident until the police arrive, but in the next section about scams, make sure to learn about how to avoid getting tricked into paying for someone else’s car accident.

When crossing the street, ensure you are on a cross walk (zebra crossing), and do not expect traffic to follow the same rules as back home. Cars will often drive against the traffic and scooters are even less predictable.

In Vietnam the horn is used to warn that someone is going to pass you. If someone honks, stay put! Do not move out of the way as they are going to try to go around you.

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Scams

Violent crime against tourists is very uncommon. Scams on the other hand, almost exclusively target foreigners. Below are common scams to be aware of.

The ‘Guided’ Tour Scam

At busy tourist destinations, you will find a large number of sometimes aggressive “guides”. These locals will approach you in the guise of being a helpful source of free information. Their temperament will change quickly once your unsolicited tour is over and you do not offer a large tip.

To avoid such scams just make sure to go to a ticket window or office to find an official tour guide, and feel free to say no, politely but firmly, to anyone who approaches you.

The Really Long Taxi Ride

This scam has been tried and tested all the way from NYC to HCMC. You get into a taxi in an unfamiliar city, and end up four blocks away after a two-hour ride.

This scenario is easiest to avoid by having your hotel or tour director call you a cab ahead of time. When this is not possible, make sure you have a map and are familiar with the city’s taxi rates.

The cost of taxi rides can vary greatly from city to city and depending on the time of day. On the front dashboard there should be a sticker that shows the taxi’s rates.

Be sure the driver starts the meter. If the meter is not running, the driver will probably announce the cost after you have arrived and you can expect it to be significant.

May I Practice My English with You?

If you get into a taxi or are approached by someone on the street whose English seems better than you might expect, you have either found yourself in a lucky situation or one in which you could lose a serious sum of money.

Very fluent English is in no way a guarantee that you will be scammed, but most scammers will be more proficient than their countrymen, due to the number of interactions they have had with foreigners.

Wildlife

Vietnam has a tropical climate, making it home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna that makes for excellent sightseeing. Beautiful tropical birds and flowers live within this diverse ecosystem, as well as their more dangerous cousins.

If you do plan to do any outdoor exploration, it is always recommended to go with an experienced professional.

Water-borne diseases and toxic plants and animals make survival in the wilds of Vietnam challenging. Stay on established trails, always carry a waterproof map, and whenever possible, use a guide. Avoid ALL contact with wild animals.

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Violent Crime

Muggings and robberies are rare in Vietnam as is all violent crime against foreigners. Locals know that the punishments for committing such crimes are harsh, as the government enjoys and relies on revenue from tourism.

This said, pickpockets and thieves thrive everywhere there are large crowds. Make a checklist of important belongings such as passport, phone, and wallet, and make sure you still have them after every change of location.

If you plan to enjoy Vietnam’s exciting and hectic nightlife, you may encounter more situations that require you to be aware of your situation and belongings.

Vietnamese locals will rarely throw the first punch, but will often team up against a foreigner if they feel threatened. If you feel an altercation coming, surrender and withdraw.

As a general rule; avoid all conflicts with locals, even if you are being provoked.

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Unexploded Ordinances

If you plan to visit the War Memorial Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, then you are probably already aware of the impact war has had on Vietnam. Recently, as land is increasingly being developed for farming and tourism, more and more unexploded ordinances are being discovered.

An unexploded ordinance is a bomb or explosive device left over from the Vietnam War that is still live and dangerous. Locals who find such munitions often lose limbs trying to remove them from private property. If you see any unidentifiable metal object, especially in remote areas, AVOID IT.

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