Narrowly avoiding theft

This is a little story about an experience I had in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam nearly 2 months ago. It's not meant to provoke fear about travelling but I think there are some important lessons to be taken away.

I was staying in a hostel in the backpacker-rich District 1. It was a pretty decent hostel and I generally didn't have many qualms with it. I think I was there about 3 days before the owner came into my room and kindly asked me to move because a group of girls wanted a room to themself. Sure, that's fine.

The room I was originally in was quiet -- I think only 2 other people had been their since I was there. The new room was much busier, with all 8 beds being taken. I met some of the other people in the room and got talking. We chatted about our journies and what we're planning on doing. I was talking to a Vietnamese resident, and a Phillipines traveller. The Vietnamese guy was nice, shared some stories about his plans and talked about people he had met from the UK.

Around 15 mins after I arrived two guys arrived, a Slovenian and Canadian. The Slovenian was talking about how he was soon going to Nepal, and had to get some money out (this is the big mistake right here). It wasn't obvious but I mean, I heard it so I presume others did too.

He said he was heading out for drinks with an Indian friend that night and asked if I wanted to tag along. I said sure, I'll see what I end up doing. Later than day, I went out for dinner with the Phillipines guy instead.

Now I'm not generally lax with the security of my stuff but I definitely should have taken better care. The room was empty when we left, and I just left my stuff in my locker. Like, basically everything. Passport, laptop... everything.

We got back and I went to grab my stuff out the locker. Looked alright to me -- I didn't notice anything, but then again, I wasn't expecting to.

I noticed the Vietnamese guy's bed was all messy, with a bag of food left on it and his stuff gone. I think I assumed he had gone out for drinks and his bag was in his locker.

I settled in for the night, just chilling on my phone. It must have been around 22:30/23:00 when the Slovenian and Canadian came back. All of a sudden, the Slovenian guy shouted "S**t, I've been robbed". I was like what the hell. He switched all the lights on and paced around the room looking for something. He said his locker had been busted open and his money belt opened, with money missing. The rest of us were just looking at each other like "Jesus Christ". We all had alibis, having been with each other for most of the night.

He then said my locker had also been busted open and the lock taken off. I was seriously confused. I think I was just on autopilot when I got back and didn't notice my locker was actually open. So I immediately start checking all my stuff. I can pretty much recall everything I have so it didn't take long and I didn't notice anything missing. Phew!

The Slovenian guy went downstairs to get the owner. She came up and started inspecting. She said the Vietnamese guy had checked out early and just left. Big red flag here.

The guy was keen to contact the police and asked that the owner print off the photocopy of the guy's ID. They went off to the police station to report it. A couple of hours later, they came back. The Slovenian said the police were coming to take a report. It was around 01:30 so most of us just went to bed, but I head the police come and take photos.

The next day, the Slovenian, Canadian and myself went down for breakfast. We asked him what had happened since last night. The Slovenian said the police took a report but that the ID the Vietnamese guy used looked fake -- something to do with the stamp being misaligned. Wow. I asked him how much he had had stolen -- ~$1000. As he was off to Nepal within the next few days, he had taken out a wad of cash. He also said the hostel owner had told him to say he was robbed on the street, in order to avoid a bad reputation (not cool).

We think the Vietnamese guy was just opportunistic in his approach. Kinda sucks...

I pretty much decided I wanted to leave there and then, and so moved on to Da Nang.

So I think the lessons to be taken away from this are:

  • Unless you really trust the place, never leave any valuables in the locker. It's a bit of an annoyance because you have to weigh up being robbed on the street vs in the hostel.
  • Watch what you say to people about your travels. Thieves typically want things they can use easily, so money is the number one target. I don't know if he went through my bag but I had some things in there that were worth good money. I never tell anyone that I carry a laptop now.
  • Plan for the time that you could get robbed one day. That means backing up all your documents and thinking how you can recover from such an event. I mean, if they take everything, you're kinda screwed but it's still best.