TRAVEL STORIES: VIETNAM (pt. 1)
When people tell me that a country is dangerous, unless it's currently war torn or has a disease outbreak, I always respond with scepticism. I think this is likely due to the fact that I have travelled so much (most of which I have done alone) or because the people who usually say this are a) benefactors of white privilege and/or b) basing their opinion on some media propaganda rather than real evidence. Also, danger is relative.
On this particular occasion I had flown into Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam and I was so excited because it was on my bucket list. I was staying at the Mövenpick Hotel Saigon and I wanted to explore the area surrounding the hotel as I usually do when staying in a new accommodation, especially if it's in a new city. I went down to the lobby and was walking out of the hotel when the concierge started calling after me. I turned around and he was briskly walking towards me looking incredibly flustered. Unfortunately, as a black woman, this treatment isn't uncommon, however, it usually takes place in a retail store, not on the way out of a 5* hotel.
I stop and wait for him to catch up, ready to give him "polite insult". To my surprise, instead of suspicion, his face is filled with concern and a tinge of fear. He tells me that Saigon is very dangerous and I shouldn't be going out alone at this time (it was around 6pm but you could tell it was going to start getting dark soon). I relax. I've heard this a few times before too; I am often warned of the dangers of going out alone in foreign countries, but I am always as careful as I possibly can be (I might actually do a post of this in future). He tells me that thieves targeted tourists, that if I were to get attacked on the street onlookers would mind their business and asked if would I like for him to book me a taxi. I assure him that I won't be out long, I just want to get some local snacks (another travel ritual of mine) at the corner store I saw on my way to the hotel and come back.
"Madam, you should leave your bag, phone and headphones at the hotel then." This is when I really got concerned. You see, in my experience, locals are never worried by the dangers portrayed in the news, they know exactly how exaggerated they are and have a true understanding of the incidence of crime in their city. For the concierge to be this worried... it gave me second thoughts.
I returned to my room, dropped all the extras (bag, headphones, sunglasses, handheld fan, wallet) and left with just my phone and the cash I would need to pay for my snacks in my pockets. I went back down to the lobby and asked him if this was better. He grimaced and said he could tell there was a phone in my pocket but that it was much better. For a second I began to second guess my decision to go out but, I quickly reminded myself that I am a bad gyal pon road and headed out.
I remember walking more briskly than I usually would have (I'm a bad gyal, not a moron!) and feeling relief when I finally entered the store. On my way back I was ready to drop the bag of snacks and run to the hotel if necessary (I knew the way now) but I am very glad it wasn't. I did see a family of 3 on a scooter get hit by another scooter in the middle of a large intersection and their child, who looked around 3 years old, went flying. Traffic continued to flow as usual and not a single person stopped what they were doing. Except me of course; I was rooted to the pavement with a look of horror on my face as the parents picked up their child who was crying and went on their way.
When I returned, the concierge looked very happy to see me but I saw him shake his head when he thought I wasn't looking, "These crazy foreigners". I liked most of the snacks I selected and did a lot more exploring the next day, but I made sure to only walk around with essentials which most definitely did not include Apple headphones.
Ask locals for an accurate assessment of risk within the city
Some cities are much more prone to thieves and pickpockets than others
Don't let fear stop you from exploring a new city
You can't dress fancy in all cities