Only 40 years ago, Vietnam was about as popular for holidaymakers as Iraq and Afghanistan are today. Its phenomenal increase in tourist traffic over the last decade or two is largely due to the safety factor, meaning that it is now one of the safest places in the world to travel.
The Vietnamese are by and large honest, friendly and helpful, and friendships forged here often lead to repeat visits. Nevertheless, every city, Hanoi included, has its share of tricksters who are not averse to taking advantage of new arrivals. But by following principles of common sense, as well as keeping a look-out for the following types of villain, you should survive unscathed.
Thieves in Hanoi
Most robberies in Vietnam, as in the majority of countries, are perpetrated by pickpockets. The best deterrent is thus to not to let anyone near your bag or pockets, which means being particularly vigilant in places such as crowded markets and visitor attractions.
Watch out also for snatch thieves on motorbikes, who slash bag straps and disappear round the corner before the owner realizes. Also, don’t leave tempting items, like a camera or mobile phone, in plain sight and if you must wear a bumbag, keep the thing concealed.
Scams in Hanoi
By far the greatest number of visitors who vow never to return to Vietnam are the victims of scams, which take a wide variety of forms. Some are extremely sophisticated so it pays to be on your guard when anyone approaches you in an over-friendly manner.
Hanoi’s best-know scam is operated by taxi drivers at the airport, who tell visitors that their hotel of choice is closed and take them to a different one to claim a commission. Other complaints are of tour companies not providing the promised itinerary for a trip and of motorbike rental companies charging exorbitant fees for damaged or stolen vehicles.
Drivers and riders in Hanoi
As in much of Asia, traffic habits in Hanoi bear little relation to their Western counterparts, and newcomers need to be especially cautious when out on the street. Crossing the road can be a heart-stopping activity in Hanoi, as pedestrians come lowest in the pecking order of road usage.
Wait for a reasonable let-up in the traffic, then cross at a steady pace and allow the cars and motorbikes to flow round you. Motorbike rentals are the most common cause of injury for foreigners in Vietnam, and hospital care leaves much to be desired, so take great care if you decide to rent one yourself.
Pushers and hookers
It should go without saying that anyone involved in the drugs or sex trade is likely to be an unreliable character, but it’s surprising how many visitors are prepared to take the risk – perhaps it’s that wild, holiday mentality. However, if you are tempted by offers of drugs or sex on the street, be warned that it will probably lead to a scam of some sort. Also bear in mind that HIV/AIDS is rife among sex workers throughout the country.