“Careful. Bad people around” whispered the aged street-vendor who had just sold me a banana for an extortionate price, making me wonder if she might be one of the ‘bad people’ that she was referring to. It was 3am and I was on my way home from Nha Trang’s popular nightspot ‘Why Not Bar’. I assured her that I would be cautious as I made my way back to the guesthouse.
I was not alone. My boyfriend Nicklas was with me and after a few years of living in Vietnam we were both used to feeling safe out on the streets, even in the early hours. But the ancient street-vendor was not the first one to warn us of dangers on the streets of Nha Trang. Signs warning of pickpockets are a common sight in many of the guesthouses and guide books comment that crime seems to be more concentrated in the Nha Trang area.
Our hostel was set back in a courtyard that could only be reached by a narrow alley that branched off the main road. In daylight it looked fairly pleasant and the prices of the hostels in the small enclave were certainly more favourable than on the main streets, but by night it took on a more sinister atmosphere. The darkness was opaque and as we stumbled over unseen potholes I muttered to Nicklas “wow, I would not want to be doing this alone”.
Before I even ended the sentence I became aware of a presence very close behind me and turned to see a wild-haired Vietnamese woman in her early twenties standing only centimetres behind me with her arms outstretched. We had heard no sound behind us yet she must have been following us all the way up the alleyway; there had been no other entrances that she could have come from. In shock I screamed but she did not react. Her huge dilated pupils betrayed the use of drugs. Ignoring me she went towards Nicklas heading firstly for his wallet, which he quickly removed from his pocket, and then for his crotch. Whether she was thief or prostitute is unclear. The sad fact is that she was probably both.
In my fear I screamed again and she turned on me walking towards me with a blank, impassive expression on her face, she stood only centimetres from my face and I feared that she could get out a knife. She didn’t. After what felt like an eternity to me she turned and walked away from us. Shaking, we returned to the guesthouse.
This was not a terrible incident; we were not harmed and nothing was taken but it was enough to remind me that safety should always be a prime concern when travelling, even when you are somewhere you feel safe. Of course, paranoia does not help either but there are things you should do as a matter of course when you are a foreigner.
Tips for safety after a night out.
- If you are travelling alone, stick to guesthouses on the main streets and in lit areas, even if you have to pay a couple of dollars more.
- Try to avoid walking back on your own late at night. My story may have been different if I had been alone.
- Don’t be too cheap to take a taxi if you are staying somewhere more remote. Do your research and check that you go with a reputable firm. Of course, you could just stay dancing on the beach until it’s light enough to walk home safely!
- Only take the money that you need for your night out. If you can, avoid taking your cash card.
- Do you really need an expensive camera when you head out for the night? An expensive SLR is hard to conceal and will be a temptation to any would-be thief. Take a small, inexpensive compact with you, then you can get your party pictures without worrying about theft or damage.
- Handbags may be convenient but they are easy to snatch and once they are gone you lose everything. Distribute your cash and camera about your person as best as you can. I always find a denim skirt is a good outfit for a night of dancing on the beach. The small pocket at the front is just big enough to roll up a few notes. Either that or in your bra, girls!
- Keep your voices down – young people shouting loudly in English at 3am in the morning says “I’m foreign” and “I’m drunk”. Both of which make you vulnerable.
Do you have any safety tips to share? Or a close-call of your own? Maybe you’ve not been so lucky and have been a target of street crime? Please share your stories by commenting below.