Theft, robbery, scams; three intense weeks in Vietnam (Hanoi to Saigon overland)

People often ask each other about which countries were their favourites to travel to. It’s a hard question to answer, and not a question which I can answer with one single country; I’ll usually answer with a shortlist! However, sometimes the opposite question is asked – “which country was your worst?” – and that question I can sadly answer without a moment’s hesitation…


Welcome to Hanoi… we’ll be keeping your passports…

The day I arrived in Vietnam, we got ripped off and almost ended up in a fight as soon as we crossed the border (though to be fair the aggro was made worse by a random Dutch guy off the bus who we didn’t actually know), witnessed an accident involving a scooter and a bus, and my friends’ passports got stolen overnight from the hotel. What a way to start things off! And while it didn’t keep coming quite so thick and fast, there was plenty more to come. Picking up from where that crazy day ended, I woke up in my hotel room in Hanoi having had a solid sleep but still feeling the effects of the previous two days’ epic journey from Phonsavan, Laos, to Vietnam’s capital, involving a couple of landslides, enchanting views of fireflies over the rice paddies, the angry scenes at the border, and the scooter accident. But it felt good to have made it, and I was looking forward to checking out the bustling, chaotic, vibrant city I could hear honking and hustling about its day outside. Dragging myself out of bed with thoughts only of first sourcing some coffee, I noticed a piece of paper had been pushed under the door… a note from Mike:

“Si mate, you’re never gonna believe this. The bastards have lost our fucking passports! Yours is okay, but mine & Dave’s are gone. We’re off to the police station, see you this evening – Mike”

Unbelievable… I hastened downstairs to confirm that they did indeed still have my passport, and then went off to sort my caffeine fix. (Now, while I had a pretty constant string of annoyances and problems, and found myself in a couple of outright dangerous situations in Vietnam, it wasn’t all bad – the food was excellent (bowls of excellent pho noodles from street stands for dinner, and fantastic French baguettes with fillings like lemongrass and chillies for breakfast), and so was the coffee. You get a little glass with an individual filter shaped to fit over the top, stuffed with ground beans and with the hot water poured in just before it’s served. You sit and wait for the coffee to drip through, while the old chaps sit around playing xiangqi and putting the world to rights and the heaving life of the city pours past just outside the door, and then a few minutes later (if you’ve remembered to ask for it without milk – they use condensed milk which I find far too sweet) you have a deliciously bitter glass of coffee in front of you. Without much to do until the lads got back from the police staton and the embassy, I whiled away an afternoon of people watching, snacking, and way too much coffee.

A cafe in Vietnam

Hanging out in cafes – overdosing on delicious coffee and watching (but not partaking in) the madness outside – was pretty much my favourite thing to do in Vietnam

We never really knew who’d taken the two passports, but the fact that they’d failed to take mine – presumably because it was in the passport holder I’d bought in Mongolia a few months previously – did suggest the hotel’s claim it was someone from outside was true. If it had been their own staff, all three would likely have been taken, so it did lend credence to the idea that it was an opportunistic theft. Of course, that still didn’t exonerate the hotel from their failure to keep the passports safe from would-be opportunistic thieves in the first place (Vietnamese law requires you to leave your passport with reception at every place you stay, so you just have to trust them to keep it safe).

Mike & Dave were advised by the embassy to stay at that same hotel until the whole thing was sorted and they had their new passports and their insurance reports, but I had no intention of continuing to give my business to them – especially as they were being so unhelpful and unapologetic. They seemed to be more concerned with dodging the blame than they did with either apologising or trying to make up for it in any way. But with the next day being Sunday and with the embassy closed until Monday, there wasn’t much to do except go out for a good-old fashioned bender and relieve some of the tension! And boy, was it a bender… we drank all night, all over Hanoi, including at one point a night club on a boat moored up on the banks of the river, and eventually found ourselves joining the crowd of elderly folk doing tai chi in the park at dawn. I can honestly say that we weren’t taking the Mickey and made a genuine attempt to follow the moves; but we were rather drunk at this point, so our attempts were frankly pathetic.

Another cultural experience we had on that long and messy walk home as we wandered in circles (we couldn’t find the hotel) was crossing the street Vietnamese-style. This involves picking your spot, choosing your line, setting a steady pace along that line, and then sticking to it until you reach the other side. Sounds easy, but when there’s a constant stream of scooters, swarms of scooters, buzzing past you front and back, it’s a real test of nerve – but if you start trying to read where the bikes are going and changing your line, you’re gonna get hit. So you just have to keep your eyes forwards and walk straight and steady. Now, the locals have this down – they’ve been doing it all their lives – but it takes some getting used to at first… especially when you’ve just witnessed a scooter accident a couple of days before. And I didn’t really get the hang of it until we started doing it drunk – and then it was kind of fun!


Crossing the road; hectic

Anyway, with the need for alcohol-derived stress-relief having been dealt with, and another day having been spent sleeping it off, on the Monday I checked out of the hotel to head to Halong Bay while the lads were back at the embassy once again. They were looking at a week or so stuck in Hanoi but I was aiming to be in Bangkok to meet someone a few weeks later, so we’d agreed to try and meet up again somewhere further down the Vietnamese coast. So, having been there for 3 nights in the end, and having been told it was 10 dollars a night at check-in, I had my 30 dollars ready and went to drop my keys off at the front desk – where I was told that I owed them 45 dollars at 15 a night. This obviously didn’t go down very well, especially as they’d lost my friends’ passports; I insisted that I’d been told 10 dollars a night, and they insisted that the staff member who’d told me that had made a mistake. I insisted that that wasn’t my problem, and given that they’d failed to keep the passports safe I didn’t really think they were in a position to demand more money from me. And so I placed my 30 dollars on the counter, bade them good day, and walked out of the door… I’d made it about half way to the taxi rank when I felt the first slap on the back of my head, and before I’d even turned to defend myself I had two cleaning-ladies dragging and pulling at my backpack, the straps caught on my elbows and pulling my arms down, while the old chap who was always sitting in reception slapped me round the head and pushed me in the chest, with my arms pinned to my sides, quickly reinforced by the manageress – whose pregnancy didn’t prevent her from getting stuck in! – who contributed the most stinging slaps of all. The four of them pushed and pulled me back into the hotel lobby, slammed the door shut and locked it. I was being held hostage!

There ensued a furious argument between myself and the manageress – “you, big fat liar!” she kept shouting at me, again and again, refusing to accept that I’d checked in on the understanding that the room was 10 bucks a night. I tried again to leave, but it was clear that this would lead to violence – there were by now half a dozen hotel staff surrounding me. So I told them I wanted to use the phone to call the British embassy. “Okay”, she said, “you can use it. Phone charge is 15 dollars!”. Haha… I remember admiring that even at the time. So then I said I wanted to call the police. “It’s okay”, she said; “we already call them. They come now, arrest you!”

And that’s exactly what happened. They took my passport, we all walked to the station, a cop holding each of my arms (thankfully the station happened to be just around the corner), and the English-speaking policeman in the group asked if I wanted my passport back. I said that of course I did, to which he replied that once I paid the hotel the 15 dollars, he’d return my passport. I still wasn’t having it, and asked to call my embassy, which the police allowed me to do from their phone.

Imagine my two friends, sat in the British embassy applying for new passports to replace their stolen ones, when the official dealing with them breaks off to take a phone call – and tells them it’s from their friend who’s in the police station! They told me they couldn’t believe their ears… “What now?”… The embassy official explained that if I really didn’t want to pay the 15 dollars, it would go to court and I may very well win… but also that it would take months and I wouldn’t be able to leave Hanoi during that time. So, of course, in the end I just had to suck it up and pay the extra. What did I learn from this? Mostly that, as a tourist, you aren’t always welcome; that to many people you’re just business; and that when you’re in another country you really don’t have a leg to stand on when dealing with the police, however much you feel you’re being wronged. They say you have to keep your cool in situations like that, and it helps to take a deep breath and calm down. I kept my cool reasonably well, I think, other than the shouting in the hotel lobby after they’d got me back in there. But it’s hard to keep your cool when the people you’re dealing with are not even remotely keeping theirs, and have been hostile and aggressive from the word go. I still have a scar on my right arm from where my bag strap cut into my skin as they were forcing me back into the hotel; they lost my friends’ passports, they overcharged me 50%, and I don’t think they had the slightest guilt about it or any consequences to deal with. In those days we couldn’t even write them a scathing review on Hostelworld and the like.

Halong Bay beach

The beach in Halong

Ah well. In any case, I did eventually make my way to Halong Bay that evening. The bus conductor ripped me off for a few dollars (dropping me off at some intersection and slamming the door and driving off as soon as I’d got my bag out of the luggage compartment, without giving me my change), adding to the simmering rage I was already feeling, but whatever, I got to Halong.

Halong Bay

And it really is a beautiful place – that’s the photo you always see of Vietnam with the limestone karsts towering up out of the sea, traditional junks sailing between them; a breathtaking view and well worthy of its World Heritage status.

Boat trip in Halong Bay

My boat-mates in Halong. They were the first people I managed to have a nice conversation with in Vietnam (after 5 days in the country), which was refreshing

However much hassle I had in Vietnam, it doesn’t take away the fact that it’s a gorgeous-looking country with amazing food. And on the boat cruise I did around Halong Bay, I finally got to interact with some locals without it feeling like a cutthroat transaction, and they were of course absolutely lovely.

The old fortress in Hue

Hue’s old citadel

Continuing on southwards, I visited the ancient fortress city of Hue on the way to the charming old town of Hoi An. This pretty little town really was by far my favourite place in Vietnam, and unwinding there for a few days I started to feel the hassles of Hanoi and Halong had just been a string of bad luck; I was perhaps even starting to quite like Vietnam. Hoi An is a World Heritage listed town, a living collection of traditional Vietnamese architecture including a fantastic roofed wooden bridge; and nearby are the ancient Hindu ruins of My Son, well worth a day-trip – not quite as spectacular as Angkor Wat or Borobudur, but definitely a place which appeals to the Indy Jones in you. I emailed Mike to see how he and Dave were getting on in Hanoi, telling them that Hoi An was great and that I’d be making my way to Ho Chi Minh City and stopping there for a while, so hopefully they’d catch me there.

The My Son ancient ruins, near Hoi An

The My Son ruins

The next port of call was Nha Trang. And this was where I realised that the hassles back in Hanoi hadn’t just been bad luck; that there really were a lot of people in the tourist areas of Vietnam who just wanted my money, were willing to straight-up take it from me, were likely to resort to violence to do so, and who absolutely didn’t give a fuck if I liked their country or not… and indeed, I suppose, on that last point why should they?

The beach in Nha Trang

Nha Trang… not as nice as it looks

Nha Trang is a famous beach town, and the beach itself is nice enough (though not nearly as nice as the one at Mu Ne, further south); but it’s also a notorious spot for sex-tourists – including, apparently, for some with very disturbing tendencies. Elderly white men in speedos sunbathe alone on that beach, a beach where kids are wandering up and down selling postcards and chewing gum and other bullshit to tourists. It’s disgusting and heartbreaking to think of the opportunities for predators; there’s a restaurant in town called Lanterns which works with local orphanages, and to anyone stopping in Nha Trang I’d highly recommend a visit to learn about the great work they do and support them with your business.

So, this coastal beach resort town has a very unpleasant side to it, and it’s barely even hidden – as you walk along the road, motorbikes slow down alongside you…

“Hey, you want taxi?”
“No thanks, I’m okay”
“Okay… you want marijuana?” (said with a little ‘spliff-smoking’ action)
“No thanks”
“How about boom boom? You want boom boom?” (said with a pelvic thrust action)
“No. Go away”

…was more or less how the conversation went each time. Two of the other guys on the boat tour I did said that on one occasion the day before, the standard exchange had been followed with one additional (hushed) question:

“You want little boy?”
“…what. the. fuck?!”

You get the picture… the motorbike taxis in Nha Trang are the local drug dealers and pimps. Not a nice bunch. We discussed this on the boat tour, but mostly we had fun and swam and drank and had a singalong with the boat’s resident band (i.e. the crew) who had a good stock of tunes – one classic tune for each of the nationalities on board, and members of said nationalities had to get up and sing. The song for the Brits on board was ‘Yellow Submarine’, to which I discovered I actually knew sod-all of the lyrics apart from the chorus (which we delivered con gusto).

I also got stung by a jellyfish that afternoon, and had a great big pink lightning bolt slashed across my torso for the rest of the day. It hurt a lot at first, but faded quickly – perhaps due to the excess of alcohol that the passengers on this cruise were encouraged to imbibe. Arriving back at shore, we all headed for showers & changes of clothes before meeting up for dinner, more drinks, and ultimately a club.

A temple in Nha Trang

This Nha Trang temple’s Buddha may look serene; my time in Nha Trang was anything but

It was when the last three of us remaining left that nightclub at 3am that things got sketchy. Names are long forgotten I’m afraid, but I was with a stocky New Yorker and a legless-drunk 18-year-old from Scotland; we left the bar, New Yorker and myself taking one arm each as we held Scotsman up between us, steering him out of the door. And then next thing I knew, I was pinned up against a wall – by five scantily-clad Vietnamese girls doing the full Full Metal Jacket routine, for real… “me love you long time”, “sucky fucky, let’s go, me love you”, while they giggled and tickled and distracted me as I protested and tried to politely brush them off, laughing “no thank you” while one of them crouched down and fondled my groin with one hand… and lifted my wallet from my pocket with the other.

I saw the wallet come out, and I must admit I completely lost my cool right then and there. I shoved all these girls off me and chased after the one with the wallet, catching her on the other side of the road and throwing her to the floor. I got my wallet back and stood over her, lecturing her – in fact, yelling at her – that it wasn’t okay to steal from me just because I’m a tourist, or words to that effect (though rather more colourful, I think…), before being turned about by a hand on my shoulder. One of the motorbike drivers – the pimp – was confronting me, but before he’d even told me to back off, I just facepalmed him and shoved him to the floor. It was a very stupid thing to do, but at that point I was well and truly seeing red – I’d say that’s probably the most out of control angry I’ve ever been. And I really do think that I could’ve been stabbed if a group of Irish and Australian guys hadn’t been passing at that exact time; my memories of how they got me out of there are pretty blurred, and in fact I was told many of the details by the Irish lads when I happened to see them again the next day – but I clearly remember one of these guys grabbing me by the shirt and looking me in the eye, and saying “Run!”

Which we did – our hotels were all in the same direction, and we ran from back street to back street before ducking into a street stall with tarps covering the sides. We ordered coffees and huddled in there, listening to the scooters driving up and down – some of them no doubt searching for us. Luckily – and it was very lucky indeed – they never did find us, and eventually we made it back to the street where our hotels were. Those lads really helped me out that night, at great risk to themselves, and if any of you boys happens to read this, thanks again!

As for the guys I’d left the bar with, I didn’t see what happened to them and I didn’t know which hotels they were staying in to go check on them; but by chance I bumped into the Scottish lad again in Saigon, who told me he’d woken up safe and sound in his hotel bed with nothing missing other than his memory of anything after midnight. Presumably New Yorker had managed to bundle him into a taxi and out of there while I was surrounded by hookers, and good thing too – Scotty would’ve been thoroughly done over with the state he was in!

View of the Nha Trang countryside

View from the temple in Nha Trang

Of course, following this narrow escape I sent warning emails to Mike and Dave, telling them to be very careful in Nha Trang, especially if they were to go out drinking, and then I continued on to the highland town of Dalat (nice enough place, but at the same time not so interesting) and the beach at Mu Ne (gorgeous beach, without any of the nonsense of Nha Trang!) before finally reaching Ho Chi Minh. And it was there in Ho Chi Minh City that I got a message from Mike – he and Dave had been attacked and robbed in Nha Trang, having come out of the exact same nightclub, by a gang of prostitutes and their bike-riding pimps. They had been similarly surrounded but had escaped, only to be chased and cornered in an ally, and threatened with knives (and were even threatened with being clubbed with motorbike helmets). They emptied their pockets out – they’d made sure they weren’t carrying much after what they’d heard from myself and others about Nha Trang – and handed the contents over, and thankfully walked away.

Boat trip, the Mekong delta

The Mekong delta (day trip from Saigon)

I never did manage to meet up with them again in Vietnam, but I next saw Dave two years later in Vancouver, Canada. After that spell in Asia, I’d headed to Canada to work in the ski resorts, and Dave and his girlfriend had travelled all the way up from southern Argentina to Canada overland (a trip I hope to emulate some day!). And over a few beers by English Bay, he filled me in on the details of that night – and also told me about the bloke they’d met in Nha Trang who’d actually been stabbed, having likewise been surrounded and threatened but trying to fight their way out. To anyone reading this and heading to Vietnam, I say be very careful in Nha Trang at night, don’t carry too much money or valuables, and if you do get robbed just hand it all over and be able to walk away. Don’t do what I did and lash out; in fact, not getting drunk late at night in that town in the first place is probably the best advice.

(I should point out that despite all the crap that happened to Mike & Dave in Vietnam, Mike eventually went back to live there for a while and ended up loving it – he now says it’s his favourite country in Southeast Asia, and that it’s changed a lot in the years since. I certainly don’t mean for this post to be a damning indictment of all Vietnamese and their country; I’m just telling the story of my (ridiculous) experiences there as a backpacker, not wanting to put anyone off going and checking it out for themselves, but to hopefully give people a heads up to keep their wits about them when they do)

So anyway, there you go; in just three weeks in Vietnam I experienced more threats, rip-offs, aggression, danger, and hassle, than I probably have in all the other years of travelling I’ve done combined. Well… there’s been a lot of minor hassle in a lot of countries… but in terms of aggression and really being in physical danger from other people, Vietnam was definitely the worst by far (except perhaps the one nutcase hillbilly encounter on a mountain road in the Rockies). And all simply because there are people there who see (western) tourists as a source of cash, but unlike, say, India, where people will cheekily try it on to get a little extra out of you but then will also be cool about it and sometimes even laugh it off if you don’t let them get away with it, in Vietnam when you try to stop people ripping you off it seems only to lead to aggression and possibly violence, as though they feel they have a right to do so and you’re being deeply offensive for trying to prevent it – I say this all in my own experience, of course. I do know people who travelled there without any problems at all – all of my Japanese and Korean friends who’ve been there, for example, had no trouble; same for my sister and her boyfriend. I think the people who have the most trouble are young, single, western, males (whether travelling as groups or individuals), so if that’s you bring all the patience and streetsmarts you can muster.

So, would I go back? Well, I almost did go back – almost – when I was in Kunming last year and aiming for Bangkok; I was looking at the overland route options from China to Thailand, and as I’d been through Chiang Rai & Chiang Mai before, and I’d been through Luang Nam Tha & Luang Prabang etc before, I was looking for somewhere new to check out on the way (Myanmar was out, due to the MTT permit situation at the China / Myanmar border). It occurred to me that I could swing through northern Vietnam to check out Sapa for a few days and then cross to Laos from Dien Bien Phu; I very nearly did it, but you know what? I imagined crossing the border at Lao Cai and trying to get myself to the Sapa bus without getting fleeced, and all the angry glares and shouting and aggro it would probably involve, and I just could not be fucking arsed with it; so I just took the bus from China to Thailand (now possible in one day, with a change of bus in Huay Xai, thanks to the new bridge over the Mekong), and I didn’t regret it at all. So would I go back? I’d never say never of course… so suffice it to say that if I ever do find myself back there, it will be to my great surprise.

But with that said, the food is great, the scenery spectacular, and the people (the ones who aren’t out to make an easy buck from you) friendly. So, do go to Vietnam and see for yourself what it’s like, but do be careful! (and one last thing to note again – the events I describe here happened in 2008, almost a decade ago, so hopefully you find a different (better) experience to mine)

Further reading: all I’ve given here is an account of my personal experiences in Vietnam, unfortunately largely negative. But I haven’t given any practical advice for actually dealing with it. So, as both a counterpoint to my post and for some good advice on dealing with Vietnam (or more specifically Hanoi), have a read of this great post by a long-term Hanoi expat on how to get your head right for dealing with the Vietnamese capital.

I also strongly recommend travelling by rail rather than road, and booking your tickets online. Baolau* is a Vietnamese online ticket booking agency (trains, buses, and domestic & regional flights), you can search & book using this widget:

Have you been to Vietnam? Got any similar stories to share? Would also love to hear from anyone who loves Vietnam, and why. Or maybe you just want to call me a moron? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

Also see my main Vietnam page here

(*affiliate link)

48 comments on “Theft, robbery, scams; three intense weeks in Vietnam (Hanoi to Saigon overland)
  1. Bob Bakk says:

    You are dumb to leave all your passports with the hotel. I have been there and I only provided them with copies. Based on your notes, $15/night sounded like a cockroach motel. You got what you paid for … goes the saying….

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Bob,

      Fair points, though it definitely wasn’t a cockroach motel – it was actually quite nice, and good value at either 10 or 15 dollars! Bear in mind that this was almost a decade ago – I’m sure prices must have gone up a fair bit since. Same with the passport rule I guess, as they wouldn’t accept photocopies at the time, only the physical passport itself; sounds like this has also changed.


      • KG says:

        I think the passport rule has changed; I’ve not had to give mine over when I’ve stayed in hotels. AirBNB is also here too and I’ve rented a place in Hanoi. Sorry to hear of your experiences. I’ve just actually arrived in Hanoi for the first time now and after reading your story I’m wondering what the hell I’ve let myself in for. I’ve been to HCMC, Hue and Hoi An before now (I live in SE Asia) and so far it’s been good! HCMC was my second time and I felt very safe and welcome there. I must admit though that the feel of Hanoi is totally different. They are vastly different cities so I’m looking forward to finding out more.

        • Simon Norton says:

          Hi KG,

          Thanks for reading & commenting. I actually think I’d have quite enjoyed visiting Hanoi if all the above stuff hadn’t happened! It’s got a buzz to it, and a certain charm in places… so, I hope no crazy stuff happens to you, and you enjoy it! cheers

    • Dave says:

      In reply to: Bob Bakk

      You’re a total arse!

      Leaving my passport at the hotel meant it was the only thing not stolen.

      I’ve paid $80 for shite and $10 for excellence. Shame I can’t offer you a full time position in Nha Trang touristic centre on the night shift.

  2. Terry Waller says:

    I got back to Manchester,uk, yesterday, 20/9/17, after being violently attacked, beaten, stalked, intimidated, followed and harassed in several cities in Vietnam. The attackers included police, immigration police, hotel security staff, mafia families, ordinary people, and prostitutes. I am 65 years old, 5′ 5″ tall, and traveled alone. I have been to Vietnam about 8 times. Most trips had some kind of theft or scam but this trip was unrelenting and epic. I absolutely agree that the police are part of the scams. I advise being extra careful in Saigon, Da Nang, Hue and Hoi An. I also agree that many Vietnamese people can be wonderful, very loyal and appreciate any tip. With a daily wage of 200,000 Dong (say £7 GBP) I can understand that some Viet people see Westerners as there to be robbed. On my Flickr site there are albums of some lovely Vietnamese people who I am proud to call my friends. Stay safe out there.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for reading & commenting… sorry to hear about your latest visit, sounds like it was pretty full-on. You’ve been there 8 times? Haha, I think once was enough for me… good on you for giving it another go (and more!)

    • DTraveler says:

      In my case, the theft or robberer was also a foreigner. He was friendly and we walked together along the walking street until we ended in my hotel room. He was gone while i was using the toilet with all my money in my wallet. Good my phone was with me. His said his name is Faousi or just an alias. He looks like turkesh, tall and about 26 yrs old. Don’t trust anybody u don’t know, that was what i forgot. Stupid me.. lesson learned

  3. Billboolie says:

    In Simon Norton’s defense. I have had two Viet Nam experiences out of 59 countries visited and lived in over 43 years. Problems have never materialized for me except for this nation. The first involved overland travel alone by bus from Vientiane, Laos to that vile, slimy border post at Dan Savanh?, and although it was close to ten years ago now I’ll never forget my passport taken in the early evening by a 40 kilo chain-smoking child-man with a sub-machine gun demanding $100.00 transaction fee to get my passport back before morning after accepting it to stamp – no hotels on site then. If I wanted to wait –
    and not pay – I could wait till morning by staying in their border hotel (tents outback with gas lanterns) for only $50.00 US then pay another fee in the morning depending on what the change of guard demanded to get back my passport. I am not a wimpy guy, some say intimidating…I was almost arrested for arguing with them. Then this past spring I was using a TripAdvisor travel agency listed as excellent for a journey onto Myanmar. After days of working out the details and being assured all was well and about to pay I see that the hotels I had decided upon (they had pools) all had different names??? Turns out this ‘excellent’ agency would only book their own companies kick-back hotels (without pools I was being charged for) and lied about this expensive fact until deposit is accept and never returned and then claim the these hotels I selected were closed for summer. Their last resort excuse. They then supplied me with 2 references after pursuing this issue at addresses that did not exist and claimed these addresses worked fine??? I do not wish to sound racist but Viet Nam has a very negative vibe in my books and their ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth and whore themselves for cash only seems to define my impression of their business acumen. Great country, scumbag tourism representatives.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Bill, thanks for reading & posting… sounds like you’re pretty sick of Vietnam too! As you say though, great country… hopefully one day it’ll be a bit more enjoyable to visit it as a tourist!

  4. Fletch says:

    Hey mate,
    gta say i feel the same. i lived in SEA for 5 years. Love thailand and laos and cambodia but Vietnam is horrible. Ive had police officers try to Scam me and threaten to Jail me if i dont pay the fines for bike riding even when i have all legal documentation.. I will NEVER visit this country again. My word of advice for people is thailand i a nicer version of Vietnam or Laos is a more chilled version. This country doesn’t care about tourists so IMO we should stop funding it with our tourism

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Fletch, thanks for reading & taking the time to comment. I doubt I’ll go back there either, but as mentioned above one of the lads went back to live there for a bit, and loved it. Defo seems to be a love it or hate it destination. I don’t want to completely put people off checking it out – just want to give them an idea what they could be getting themselves in for! But yeah I’m with you on Thailand & Laos, I’m always happy to revisit those two. Cheers!

  5. Mart says:

    It’s my second time in Vietnam and I just recently came back to Philippines after my Christmas holiday in Hanoi. It was so unfortunate that I experienced theft for almost 1000USD inside the hotel that I temporarily lived during my last day in Hanoi. I came back from Da Nang that time and it was my last day in Hanoi. It happens at Caballos Hotel nearby Hoan Kiem Lake, Room 201 when I am sleeping. Morning after the incident when I realised that my stuff were not in order, I immediately reached out the receptionist of this hotel but it doesnt help as he does not speak english. I ran to a nearby hotel and seek help and glad that the receptionist from the other hotel helped me going to police station. It was unfortunate that the police didn’t help me and just did the documentation and went for a quick inspection inside the room. The manager advised me that the CCTV of the hotel is not working. I dont know if this is kind of modus or inside job.I already reached out just now the embassy of Philippines in Hanoi they are still coordinating with Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Mart, I’m really sorry to hear this happened to you. That really sucks. Definitely sounds like an inside job – very suspicious that the cameras weren’t working. Thanks for sharing your story though, as any other readers who see it can avoid that hotel.

      Actually this happened to me once, in a cheap hotel in Manila, but they only took about 30 dollars cash so I didn’t even report it to the police, just complained to the manager and changed hotels. It wasn’t nearly so much as in your case, but still left a bad feeling. Anyway, really hope you can get the money back on your insurance.

      All best,

  6. Sheryl says:

    My daughter is vietnam as we speak and I ve just found out that she was attacked luckily saved by three tourists with a guy on top of her taking her clothes off and a plastic bag tied round her head all money stolen all hsppenned in Nha trang

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Sheryl, that’s awful – I’m so glad she’s ok, though she must be shaken up. Nha Trang is a sketchy town – anyone reading this, please do take great care in Nha Trang, or better yet just avoid the place.

  7. Richard says:

    Simon: Clearly, you are a moron. Do you really think the British Embassy cares about your tiny money “rip-off” experience? Stay in the UK. Don’t leave. You’ll be happier that way.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Richard,

      Greets from Seoul.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, one role of an embassy is to provide consular assistance to citizens who get into legal difficulties in the host country, whether or not they are at fault. Given that I found myself overseas and under arrest with my passport confiscated and unable to communicate clearly with anyone other than the angry woman I was in dispute with, it seemed prudent to call the embassy. If you have a constructive suggestion of a better way to handle it for anyone finding themselves in a similar spot, please do share.

      Of course, it would be better not to end up in the police station in the first place, especially over a few dollars. Easily said with hindsight, and I think if my friends’ passports hadn’t just been lost/stolen from the same hotel I wouldn’t have dug my heels in. If even one person avoids similar confrontations after reading this post, it was worth being called a moron for writing it.

      Cheers and all best to you, wherever you may be

  8. Brian says:

    Vietnam is one of the best countries in Southeast Asia. Been here three times and now live in Hanoi. Not once have I had any issues here. The people are amazing and the country is beautiful. Sounds like you made some pretty dumb decisions. Most travelers I speak to that have been through Southeast Asia day Vietnam is their favorite country. I have to agree. If you don’t use common sense maybe you’ll be the target of scams and muggings but I’ve never had an issue nor have I met anyone that has had issues here. Apart from a snatched phone or being ripped off for a few dollars.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree, it is a beautiful country. And the food is outstanding… but you say it’s the favourite country of most travellers in SE Asia yet the statistics tell a different story – Vietnam has the lowest return tourist rate in SE Asia, suggesting they’ve been doing something wrong. I know the government has been trying hard to rectify this, and I know several people who live there or have done recently, and others who’ve recently visited, who had no serious trouble. Sounds like it’s changed in the decade since I was there, I’m glad to hear it, and I don’t doubt for a second that you’re having a great time. However, this post remains an accurate snapshot of what it was like backpacking there 10 years ago (and is not intended either to be an assessment of Vietnam’s worth as a country, or what it’s like in 2018).

      As for my dumb decisions, yes I could’ve handled the situations I found myself in a bit better, which is easily said with hindsight and out of the heat of the moment. But those situations were not of my making, beyond my decision to go there in the first place.

      All best for your Vietnam days, however long you stay – and be careful if you go to Nha Trang 😉

  9. Jess says:

    Hey man ,

    Thanks for posting this! As a female solo traveler my phone was almost taken 3 times, grab bikes keep harassing me and through some elaborate scam with a tour I lost 55 dollars. I’m in my twenties so young solo traveler still applies just not male. I have been safe in Saigon and Cat Ba. Hanoi has been the worst, I stayed in a lovely hostel but in the city it’s just full of hasslers and a tour operator operating from Hanoi Panda Hotel was the just the worst.

    I’ve been hassled before in SAE but the entire vibe in the last week was something I only experienced in Jamaica where scamming is very common. I’ve met many nice Vietnamese and maybe it’s just bad luck. But I guess they just exploited the vulnerability of individuals…

    Thank you for posting, unfortunately like me , I guess many people will only find this after being scammed. Hope you are well!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Jess, yes I’m well thanks (though getting my ass kicked by the Japanese summer!)

      I hope you’re well too despite all the hassle, and try not to let it ruin your trip. Safe onward travels, wherever you’re headed next!


  10. Insaneinthebeijing says:

    I’ve lived in Vietnam seven years on and off. Yes I have met some wonderful people there. But many Vietnamese are shockingly nasty – happy to scam their own family.

    Also, there’s a pervasive, nationalistic arrogance backed by a stunning lack of knowledge and common sense.

    Instead, you have greed and egotism. The mantra is ‘Me first, me first, me first.’

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi, seven years, quite a stretch! Judging from your handle you also live or lived in Beijing? I was living there briefly (just a few months, which was enough), how do you think they compare?

  11. ian guard says:

    my last day in vietnam and all iam bothered about is getting to the airport and out of here.although a beautiful country, i find the people to be very hostile and aggressive. i totally understand desperation, but i have never experienced this type of behaviour in se asia. i got robbed once and an attempted robbery, where i managed to push the person away and run. i looked back to see his face shocked and outraged like he had been robbed!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Ian, sorry to hear you haven’t had a great time there, but glad you at least got away from the second robbery attempt. Safe onward travels and hopefully you can enjoy wherever you’re going next!

  12. David says:


    Good article Simon, and I’m here to confirm that nothing is changing. I’m in nha trang as we speak and was robbed yesterday. I’ve lived and travelled SE Asia for 8 years and this is the worst I’ve witnessed in the attitudes of some of the locals. Everything has already been said in previous posts.

    I tried out Lanterns restaurant and that is great. I’ve stayed at a place called “Homestay Nha Trang” with a wonderful family that have endlessly helped me with the police, use of phones and fed me as they say down to dinner.

    Just off to collect my western union bail out find from family. Just need to survive until a train leaves this evening. Bring on koh Chang Thailand!

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi David,

      Sounds rough mate but glad you’re (presumably) unharmed, Nha Trang was definitely the worst single place for me too and plenty of people say likewise. Glad you visited Lanterns though, they do great work there.

      Hope you have a good journey on to Thailand – Chang should be a good place to let off some steam!

  13. Varughese says:

    I visited Vietnam in Feb 2019 and two bad incidents.

    1. Taxi driver in Hanoi demanded 500k instead of 50.0k. It was the first day there and were confused about the numerous zeros on their currency. Taxi meter got such an unmoving zero at the end to help the drivers to cheat the foreigners.

    2. A motorcycle guy came from behind at high speed and snatched away the mobile from my son’s hand. Mobile was worth more than USD 1000/-

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi, sorry to hear about this but thanks for sharing as it may help other readers. A friend of mine who lives in Hanoi recently had his phone swiped the same way, but in his case it was a cheap one (and to be fair he’s been there for 2 years and that’s the first such theft he’s experienced)

  14. Vk says:

    Hi Simon,
    Came across your story while searching google on “how rampant is theft is Saigon, Vietnam?”. After getting robbed of my passports, cash, credit cards etc.. yesterday. Right in front of a police officer and he was like shit happens, get over it. It is really sad to know that even after a decade, there hasn’t been munch of a change. Hope the people of the country get serious before the negatives outweigh the positives of the country for people to come visit.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Vk,

      That really sucks, sorry to hear that. Saigon seems to have less of these problems than Hanoi, but clearly isn’t free of them either. I also found the police to be rather unhelpful, to say the least!

      I hope you manage to get all your stuff replaced quickly and enjoy the rest of your trip.

  15. TJ says:

    Just yesterday, my daughter and niece (in their 20’s) had taken an overnight bus from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh,,, arrived around 430am .. walking on the sidewalk, cell phone in hand to map direction to their hostel, a motorcycle drives up on the sidewalk behind them and grabbed my daughters cell phone from her hands. Unbelievable experience .. after the wonderful hospitality and kindness of the lovely Thai people. .this is what they encounter in Vietnam..Lousy end to a 30 day trip of a lifetime in SE Asia. I’m so glad the girls are okay but it’s so disappointing to have lost the photos. I can hardly wait for them to fly back to Canada in a few days.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi TJ,

      Sorry to hear this, but as you say the main thing is that they’re okay. Hopefully the photos were saved in the cloud?

    • Lewis Maygru says:

      If one’s photos aren’t automatically and immediately backed up to the cloud one deserves to have one’s phone stolen. Who doesn’t use Google Photos, Dropbox, iPhone Backup or the like?

      • Response to Lewis Maygru says:

        If one can speak so ignorantly and unsympathetically, one deserves a negative reply. Who is that arrogant upon someone’s misfortune and blame them for having their phone stolen?

  16. K says:

    I’m a Vietnamese myself, but have been born and raised in Europe so to most I might as well be a foreigner. Thanks to my relatives there, I am acutely aware of how corrupt the police is and how gangs are there just waiting for a tourist to come along to rip off.
    Usually, I stay at my grandmother’s home but this time a friend is coming along so I booked a hotel. Hearing about the passport loss is making me incredibly anxious. It’s bad enough to think about my stuff being stolen (although I’m (sadly) already mentally prepared for it), but if it happened to my friend? Call me paranoid but at this point I don’t want to leave ANY valuables at the hotel, because if something goes missing no one will help me.
    I bought a waist bag for the sole purpose of this trip (never felt the need for it in other countries) because I heard thieves on motorcycles would try to rip it from you even while you’re clutching it in your arms, resulting in wounds from falling down and being dragged across the street.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi K,

      Just 2 days after you commented, someone else commented about that exact thing happening to them – phone ripped from her hands (see the next comment below).

      But to be honest, I’m not sure if a waist bag is necessarily much better – pickpockets certainly know to look for them and target them. No perfect solution! But certainly a good idea to keep valuables out of sight while you’re out & about.

      That said, I hope you manage to have an incident-free trip. Good luck!

  17. Rebecca X says:

    I just had my brand new iPhone ripped right out of my hands in HCMC. The guy on the scooter came up the wrong direction from a one-way street, so I was watching the direction of traffic from the “correct” direction. He snuck up right behind me and shoved me. I initially thought I was in the wrong, and this was a driver who was protecting me from a hit, but alas, he sped off with my $1,500USD phone. I even had a solid grasp on it and had my hands tucked in close to my chest, as we were crossing the street. I immediately screamed and tried to run after him, yelling for help, but not a single person made an effort… instead they seemed to chuckle amongst themselves and stare. My 5-star hotel was across the street, and the staff just shrugged their shoulders.

    I have been here once before. Spent an entire month traveling all throughout the country, and had a beautiful time. I was traveling with a good pal who grew up in Saigon, so I always had a translator, someone who knew where to go (and not to go), what to eat, etc. so it was perfect… This time around it’s been an absolute shit-show since we landed. Everyone has been SO aggressive, scammy and downright scary. I will not be returning.

    It’s very unsettling to see an entire society so indifferent to tourists being robbed of thousands of dollars and passports, or something as terrifying as physical assault and armed robbery.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Sorry to hear your story, that really sucks. I hope you can at least get it replaced on insurance, but even then like you say it’s still an unsettling experience. I still haven’t been back, and I find it hard to imagine ever making the effort; a shame, as it is a gorgeous country as you found on your first visit.

      Anyway, stay safe & I hope the rest of your trip goes more smoothly.

  18. Rex says:

    Nha Trang totally sucks. Had a massage and they did a switch (girl to man) with the lights dimmed but I was suspect and caught em on it. Also some French guy who had a hotel told one day “I don’t want you staying at my hotel”. I was baffled, hadn’t brought a girl in caused an argument or anything. Recently in Hanoi I went back to hotel where I stayed previously were I was working and it was 25usd then, now it’s 180usd. Place has turned to shit. Currently have been renting an apt near the Aprt in HCMC 400 a mth includes utilities, and no problems at all so far. Just the regular Immigration idiots and visa scam agents. Was living in Chiang Mai for a long time but the pollution and traffic and airplane noise, barking dogs all night plus the baht at 30 to the dollar and a million crazy new visa rules has ruined it for me. I originally came to SEA 20 yrs ago, and the change for the expat for the worse is everywhere. They all want old rich retirees who will die with tons of money in the bank. Still can’t figure out with the US one year visa if if can do a land or fly in or out every 90 days. Nobody knows, only thing I heard was that you have to fly out then back in. as I have not tried the land run which sounds like a big goat fuck to me.

  19. Jc says:

    Came across your post while looking up some scams and issues in Vietnam as we’re after experiencing one of them first hand. I was checking my phone while we were waiting for our grab driver when a scooter quickly got onto the side walk and drove past us snatching my phone. Luckily it appeared he was looking for a specific phone (Iph nes?) and threw my phone on the ground. This happened in HCMC near the Gem center in district 1. Reading through the horror stories of the rest of Vietnam, especially Hanoi and Nha Trang are unsettling as those are our next destinations. We’re Chinese-Vietnamese Canadians that speak some of the tongue but still feel very lost sometimes with very common local phrases and speech.

    • Simon Norton says:

      That sucks, but I’m glad to hear your phone wasn’t up to his standards! It’s probably good to have had this warning shot at the start of your trip, without anything lost. Keep your guard up and hopefully the rest of your visit will be incident-free.

  20. Call me Tiny says:

    LOL, a great head start, but the food was ok? Hahahahaha
    I like that humor. As for the journey, a lot of people do a lot worse. Same/similar plans, but ending very prematurely. So, don’t take personally.
    All respect, maybe see you one time. I can ensure you, no hassle and no tourist (scout) near

  21. Elena says:

    Hi Simon,

    I really am sorry for your terrible and traumatic experiences in VN. From your article, it sounds like you were there around 2007? Yeah, even Vietnameses themselves oversea don’t even want to go back there due to MULTIPLE and ENDLESS back to back theft, robbery, and violence. You are NOT alone. I have experienced it and read about it on VN newspapers, magazines, and from ppl who went back there.

    I went back in 2008 knowing all of these were happening. SO I dressed in really poor clothes and took of all of my jewelries. VN ppl would stayed away from me if I look like a nasty beach bum.

    However, since then, it’s almost 12-13 years? Things have changed a lot and I say it got better. I would go back there but looking as poor as hell. Otherwise, they would prey on you. There are friendly VN ppl out there and I’m sorry the inconsiderate vipers got to you first before the good one do. IT’s not your fault and don’t let this make you bitter. As a Vietnamese who was born there, I agree with you 100% and I don’t bias toward my home country.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Elena,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, it’s good to hear your perspective as a Vietnamese. Yes, it was 2008 when I went there so quite a long time ago now. I’m sure it must have changed since then and the standard of living is increasing, but sadly it seems a lot of people still have bad experiences there when they visit – let’s hope it keeps improving until that changes!

  22. Sharifa Ozeta says:

    Its real helpful reading your experienced in Hanoi. I agree this Vietnam is a beautiful place but just last Sunday the Grab motorbike driver snatched and stolen my phone and went away with his motorcycle. I reported to the Police and sad to say that interrogations and etc. took almost 4 hours until the madam manager of the hotel came to interpret my report for them to have a Police blotter.

    What a shame to trust the Grab apps which id been using for almost 4 years now. Today one Grab Customer support team identified my booking details and for sure they got the record of the plate number and the name of the driver, I am still hoping for the soon recovery although its not about the mobile price but the information inside it.

    Until now I cannot imagine trusting this motorbikes driver of GRAB as I am more than 1 years staying here in Saigon and working as an expat/consultant to one of the foreign funded project.

    One piece of advice for foreigners like me, never trust anyone who’s trying to be good and friendly in here, the bottom line is they hated foreigners.. that’s all and no one can erase it in their minds and heart except for a few girls wanting to have a greener pasture and married foreigners for security reasons. But after marriage, when you can hardly support the dozen of the family , then you will be goodbye and will be kicked off from your own home, sorry for you then after all you had enjoyed them. No love at all in here, its just for money.

    • Simon Norton says:

      Hi Sharifa, what happened with the driver in the end? As you had the plate number & booking details, were you able to get the police to do something about it?

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.