A question I often get from concerned friends and family is “are you safe in Vietnam?” The short answer is “YES.” However, there are different types of safety. I’m a lot more likely to have my phone nicked here, for example, but I don’t feel in any danger of violent crime. For another, are we completely safe anywhere? Crime can and does happen across the globe. However, although it’s not without its dangers, on the whole I would say that Vietnam is safe. That is not to say, however, that one should not exercise caution.
Petty crime in Vietnam is high. You should avoid walking around with your phone out, because an opportunistic thief might just snatch it. ‘Snatching’ is a big problem in Vietnam; thieves drive by on scooters and your possessions are gone before you’ve realised what’s happening. It won’t happen to you every time you leave your house, but if you stay here long enough, it may well happen. In this sexist world in which we live, women seem to be targeted more often; which is not to say that both sexes shouldn’t be careful. Snatching also happens more frequently at night, so bear that in mind. To reduce your chances of being targeted, carry a backpack or bum bag (I know, super sexy) instead of a cross-body one. If there’s space, put your bag under your bike seat whilst driving. Don’t get your phone out in public if you can help it, and if you really need to, duck into a shop to use it, or at least stand back from the road and keep your eyes peeled.
Snatching is something to be aware and cautious of, but it’s no reason not to come here. It’s not something you should constantly be afraid of; just be careful and keep your valuables tucked away while you’re out and about. If it’s any small comfort, not all attempts at snatching will be successful either; it’s an imprecise art. I’ve had three attempts in 15 months of living in Ho Chi Minh City and, thankfully, each of them failed. The first time someone tried to take my bag, I instinctively grabbed it back with such force that the would-be thief fell off of his bike. JUSTICE.
Violent crime in Vietnam is very low, especially against foreigners; indeed, it’s a lot less frequent in Saigon than in most cities in the UK. At home, late-night punch-ups are commonplace; I’ve never seen one here. In fact, I have *touch wood* never felt in danger of violence in Vietnam. In this regard, I feel even safer here than I did in Cambridge – which I would call an extremely safe city.
Again, rates of sexual assault against foreigners are low in Vietnam (although exact statistics are difficult to find) but unfortunately, this can and does happen anywhere. Most of the cases I have heard about have involved expat, rather than local, men. There have been instances reported on the Female Expats Facebook group of attempted assault from xe om drivers, although these are rare. There have also been a few incidences reported of men exposing and pleasuring themselves in public, which I have been unfortunate enough to experience myself. It was unpleasant and violating, to say the least. However, it’s one of those disgusting things that happens all over the world, and I don’t believe that it’s any more common in Vietnam than many other places.
Health and Safety
Health and Safety is just not a thing in Vietnam. I’m not totally against this; I have never forgotten that my university made me fill in a form before they’d give me a blister plaster. However, it can be a little worrying that my students have no idea what to do in a fire and security guards think it’s ok to lock fire doors.
Any expat will tell you that the biggest danger in Vietnam is the traffic. Riding a motorbike is by far the most common and convenient way of getting around and it can be dangerous. There is no systematic driving education in Vietnam and the roads are lawless. It’s kind of liberating once you get used to it, and I promise, the traffic does stop feeling scary pretty quickly. However, you should always be careful, and for the love of God invest in a decent helmet.
I honestly believe that, if you are a competent and not-insane driver, it’s safer to drive yourself than to take Grab bikes and xe oms, because those drivers can be crazy. And they’ll probably get lost. If you’d like to have lessons, there’s now a driving school in Saigon – hooray! Click here for more details.
All in all, Vietnam is a very safe country to travel. Don’t assume, as my nan does, that coming here is not a good idea because “sometimes foreign countries aren’t safe.” Overall, you’re probably as safe here as in any western country – sometimes more so. So what are you waiting for? Get packing!