Getting Robbed in Vietnam
A few solo trips to adventurous places, and I labelled myself a ‘seasoned traveler’ and got a little cocky. When I first started traveling alone, I admitted to not having any idea what I was doing. Over time I became proud of the far distance I had come in knowing all the hacks to being a “smart backpacker.” By the time I made it to SouthEast Asia, I expected these welcoming countries to be a refreshing breeze compared to my trip through the Middle East, and therefore, perhaps let my guard down a bit. After all, my best friend was coming with me this time.
Or maybe my “guard” wasn’t as good as I ever thought it was.
I was doing everything I knew how to never put myself in a sticky situation though! I separated my money into different places so if I lost some or got pickpocketed I wouldn’t lose everything. I even hid photocopies of my passport in different bags. I didn’t consider the potential of getting hustled by a taxi driver, and him being so good at it that I didn’t even know it was happening.
My travel buddy and I effortlessly hailed a cab from the tourist area in Ho Chi Minh City. We expected to have to argue about whether their meter actually worked or not, as we hopped in at the corner of the Westernized bars and row of hostels of Pham Ngu Lao Street.
I typically try NOT to stand out as a walking dollar sign, but my physical features don’t exactly give me the ease of traveling that I wish they did. Awkwardly tall, blonde hair and bright blue eyes mean that I’m a sore thumb, so I force myself to be extra assertive in order to not be targeted as another tourist to scam. This often entails making it known that I will not be riding in a specific taxi if the meter “doesn’t work,” only for the driver to demand a ridiculous amount when we arrive at the destination.
As soon as we climbed in the driver turned on the meter without question and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We had not yet found out that our friendly driver was actually a scam artist that had perfected the art of creating chaos to effectively rob unsuspecting tourists.
When we took off, the ride turned into sensory overload and nothing made sense, but we accredited that to the language barrier, and abided by his wishes since we were in his country and in his car. He mentioned something about how my friend would have to slide to the other side in the backseat because the seat belt didn’t work and “POLICE MONEY NO SEAT BELT… MOVE!”
Who would argue with that?
My friend slid over so she was sitting on the passenger side, conveniently out of the line of vision to see what was about to happen. Of course we weren’t able to piece that together without hindsight on our side.
The ride consisted of the typical small talk.
“Where are you from?”
“How long are you here for?”
“Do you like it here?”
We pieced together the conversation and were happy to have a friendly local to get us safely to our destination.
When we arrived he pulled over and I handed him the amount that the meter displayed, plus a tip. He said it wasn’t enough and demanded more money. I attempt to count the amount again while he is waving it around in the air starting to talk louder and louder, in worse and worse English. Nothing that he’s saying is making sense, and the louder he gets the more I just want to throw him some extra knowing that I’m overpaying and climb out of the car. He rolls my window down and leans over me to yell at a passerby to “find a translator.” I’m trying to express that this isn’t necessary, but he isn’t giving me much room to calmly ease the situation.
The “translator” (who knows if he’s in cahoots with this guy) is half leaning in the window speaking in Vietnamese with the driver and every second that goes on gets more and more elevated and confusing. The driver all of a sudden shoos us out of the car and we’re left standing on the side of the busy road wondering what the hell just happened.
“Shake it off, we’ve got a show to catch” my friend and I tell each other, and I reach for my phone to check the time.
“Where the heck is my phone, it was just here!”
I’m starting to feel a little panicked and am rummaging through my purse. Then we realize my friends wallet is also missing, which was in my purse when we got in the taxi. We both looked at each other in defeat with the knowledge that this driver just took my cell phone and her wallet that contained the majority of her savings for the 5 week journey around Southeast Asia. Oh no.
I couldn’t let it go knowing that all my pictures from Thailand and Cambodia were on that phone. No, they weren’t backed up. We went to the police, who were sympathetic but could do nothing without the number of the cab, which we of course did not think to note when we got in or out of the car.
“Ah-ha! What if I used ‘find my iPhone’ to track down the thief?”
The money and the phone were replaceable, but I refused to lose a month of photos to prove my other wise stellar adventure.
Turns out when you turn off your mobile data as a broke backpacker trying to save a buck while traveling, ‘find my iPhone’ doesn’t work.
After realizing we were out of ideas we sat down on a dirty curb with cars whizzing by and started crying. Sometimes you just have to let all your emotions out to get on with it, and personally, anger often shows up in the form of tears.
So maybe I was pickpocketed, but it sure felt like robbery.
I never did get my pictures back and I’m still quite bitter about that. And I’m certainly not going to say “Oh, everything happens for reason, I don’t regret the experience, blah blah blah,” because I would love to have a picture of me looking over Angkor Wat as the sun comes up.
However, I did learn a valuable lesson, one that I hope other’s won’t have to learn the hard way.
- Don’t be me and not back up your pictures. Upgrade your iCloud for more storage space, or pay a monthly fee to Dropbox to make sure you’re memories are covered.
- Assuming you’re getting a more local experience and not using Uber or Lyft where recording technology holds the driver accountable, always note the taxi (or tuk tuk, or bicycle taxi, or rick-shaw)number before getting in the car. You never know how many different ways this could save you.
- You’re never as good of a traveller as you think you are. No matter how seasoned of a backpacker you are, how many countries you’ve lived in, or how much of the language you speak, you are always the vulnerable one when away from your familiar home. Which isn’t this part of the beauty in travel anyway?