As soon as you arrive at Ho Chi Minh Airport, avoid anyone offering taxi services. When you exit the doors, turn left and walk until the end until you see guys in Green or Dark Turquoise shirts. They work for the two most trusted taxi companies, Mailinh and Vinasun. You will find them everywhere so there is no lack of these cars. They run on meter as soon as the car moves, and will usually have a GPS map on a screen so you will know if he is giving you a “personal tour”.
Another smart option is to get an app like Grab or GoViet to order your car or bike (if you are as adventurous as I am) for cheaper and also scam-free travel. However cars will usually require a bit of a wait, and GPS is dodgy in some places so you might have some problems waiting for your driver. Bikes are abundant and quick, reasonably safe as city traffic is usually slow.
TIP: If possible, get your payment ready (or thereabouts) before arriving. Do not show the driver your wallet and let them pick the notes for you. Some notes are very similar in colour but very different in value.
2) SIM cards
The airport sells SIM cards as soon as you arrive. Depending on what you need, SIMs go for 100k to 150k Vietnam Dong. If you pay more than that you probably got scammed.
TIP: Ask for your SIM card number, so you can use it to register for the Grab App or GoViet App if you haven’t already done so.
3) Walking around
I have never felt unsafe to walk around Ho Chi Minh, even at night. But I have heard stories of snatch thefts and the likes. It pays to be street smart. If you are all bling and have a massive camera on your neck, you are basically wearing a “rob me” sign. I go everywhere in shorts and sandals. I am always bottom of the target list. But I am not fashion conscious, but I am never robbed either.
There are many sights in the city and it’s understandable if you want to whip out your phone for some pictures. Be smart. Look around you when you are taking photos. Don’t stand next to the street when doing so. The usual modus operandi is to grab it from a bike and zoom off, hence the term “snatch theft”. If you have a fancy camera, always have it strapped to you.
4) Going for a massage
I am so surprised that to this day, people still believe the lockers in massage parlours are secure. You think you’re holding the ONLY key? When you are getting your back rubbed, someone is going through your stuff and wallet. There are some legit massage places in town where it’s safe. But if you are not sure, it is best to have your valuables with you. If they insist then go to another place.
TIP: I usually don’t carry a wallet unless I have to. I will put my big notes in one pocket, and small change in another. (there aren’t any coins in the Vietnamese currency) If you do carry a wallet, then place the wallet underneath your pillow as you are getting massaged. In case you only remembered this tip DURING your massage, check your wallet and valuables before you leave. You might see a wad of cash still in there. Always count it. There are stories of people switching out big notes with small ones, and even monopoly money.
5) Road safety
Where you are from, there are rules that apply to protect you on the streets. In Vietnam, there are no rules. Traffic can come from the opposite direction, bikes zoom through red light like it means stopping are for pussies, sidewalks are just another bike lane, zebra crossings are just stains on the road.
If you’re like me, if there’s a honking biker behind me on a sidewalk, I will stop, turn and stare. Why should I give way to someone doing something illegal? I once smacked one car when he zoomed past me while I was crossing a zebra crossing. All I got was a big “F You”. You are doing their country a favour by visiting it and spending your money there. I say we show them how things are done by civilized people around the world.
For poker players, sometimes we do make a profit at the tournaments and carry cash back home. First of all do not carry Vietnamese Dong. Always change it back to USD or your home currency. There is a rule where each person is only allowed USD 5000 when exiting the country. Most other countries in the world allows USD 10000 per person. If you are traveling in a group, split your money amongst those you trust, of course. Otherwise check some in with your luggage IF your luggage can be secured and locked. Split the rest between shirts or roll into your socks.
I for one agree with rules and abiding with them. However USD 5000 is unreasonable in my opinion and these guys are not enforcing the rules, they are looking for bribes. I have heard stories of players voluntarily declare their winnings and still got scammed for a bribe. I would happily give my money to a Vietnamese orphanage or hospital than to give a cent to these greedy corrupt officers.
I have been to Vietnam probably 20+ times, even lived there for a while. The food is great, the history sad but meaningful, some parts of the country is absolutely beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I have made some good Vietnamese friends as well. Some of the people are hardworking, honest and humble human beings. But the general culture is a self-centered, self-serving, scam you at the first opportunity upbringing. When parents, teachers, role models are not obeying simple traffic rules, you only teach the next generation to seek self gain whatever the cost. But we are not talking about post Vietnam war, or post embargo Vietnam. We are talking about 2019 Vietnam that still has a village culture.
I sincerely hope the younger generation, especially the poker players we interact with, after seeing cultures from all over the world, be able to make a change by setting a good example for future generations. I have met so many people that have a bad experience in Vietnam and will never return. Vietnamese are very proud of their country, especially when they do well in sports. But nevertheless many Vietnamese would not do their part to make their country great. They do not know that foreigners are judging their culture and behaviour. Winning football games is great, but it is better to win hearts.