Last night I joined Saigon's least exclusive club: I was robbed - Rusty Compass travel blog

Last night I joined Saigon's least exclusive club: I was robbed

| 06 Oct 2015
06 Oct 2015

Last night I joined Saigon’s least exclusive club - I was robbed.

I’ve been pretty proud of my record. Prior to last night, I’d lost just 2 phones in 25 years of travelling in Vietnam - there were no mobile phones till 1993.

The last one that was openly stolen was outside the Reunification Palace in 1996. I lost another in curious circumstances at Xom Dao Christmas festival in District 8 2012.

For Saigon, that’s good going. And it ain't like I stay indoors.
Now I’m gutted. I’m not sure what hurts more - my bruised self-image as a street smart traveller who thought he knew all the scams; the violation of being robbed; or the prospect of having to replace my iPhone 6 plus in what must be one of the most expensive places to buy Apple stuff in the world?

Expensive Saigon Instagram post.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Expensive Saigon Instagram post.

What happened?

Last night I pulled in to a new cafe called Kujuz at 35 Ly Tu Trong St to finish off some work. I’d never been to Kujuz but noticed it was yet another cafe decorated with deep blue retro shutters and popped in for a look.

My last act with the phone was to post a shot of the cafe on Instagram….

I was the only person apart from staff in the cafe and was on a roll.

At around 7.30, a newspaper seller came in. He had all the swagger of someone who belonged in the cafe. I assumed he was either delivering papers to staff, or he was someone allowed to sell papers to cafe guests.

It was a little odd - but I have had lots of good times talking to the paper sellers (and book sellers) of Dong Khoi St over many years. I’m pretty positively disposed to these guys. In fact on Monday, I posted a little photo feature on a favourite bookseller on Dong Khoi St.

The video tells the story from there.

I’m hyper-careful to the point of paranoia on the street. In this cafe, I was in the work zone and my guard was completely down. I felt safe.

With masterful execution, I was relieved of my phone in moments.

Note how cool this guy is. He maintains perfect poise throughout - even walking towards the cafe counter after grabbing the phone.

I didn’t notice anything amiss until I went to leave the cafe about 15 minutes later.

The cafe owners arrived very quickly to help out and we went down to the police station together. They were terrific. Poor Ms Duyen, the diminutive waitress who looked about 17 years old, was distraught.

Crime scene. Kujuz Cafe.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Crime scene. Kujuz Cafe.


Pretty easy to feel secure here.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Pretty easy to feel secure here.

Forlorn charger awaits news of lost phone.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Forlorn charger awaits news of stolen phone.

The policeman who handled the case was helpful, spoke reasonable English and even expressed regret at what at happened - a definite improvement on the experiences of friends and family members in a similar pickle.

He also told us that he was familiar with the offender. Apparently this guy's been striking frequently of late with similar efficiency.

Finally, he told me there was virtually no prospect of catching the thief (despite him being reasonably well captured on video - the version I have is of lower quality), or getting my phone back.

It leaves me wondering once again how many tourists get robbed in this city each year - and how much damage that does to the country’s reputation?

Vietnam is reeling from falls in tourist arrivals. Most people believe the pervasiveness of petty crime is at least part of the problem. It seems like every second family member, friend or acquaintance that comes through Saigon falls victim to a nasty scam, or is relieved of a phone or wallet. Most expats know the feeling too.

Saigon’s crime epidemic hits local people the hardest. Vietnamese are the victims of more serious and often vicious attacks. Few are spared.

To put this in perspective from a travellers’ standpoint, the chances of falling victim to petty crime like this in Vietnam are high - arguably high by regional standards as well - especially in Saigon. The chances of falling victim to violent crime as a foreigner in Vietnam are low.

Getting robbed is pervasive. Getting bashed is rare.

Your biggest risk of violence is being pulled to the ground while a bag or camera snatcher pounces from a motorbike.

Since most people view reporting crimes like this as futile, there wouldn’t be any accurate statistics of how many travellers are struck. But I am constantly mixing with travellers, both in Vietnam and elsewhere. I’m amazed at how many begin their Vietnam travel tales recalling a stolen phone, camera, wallet or bag.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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2 comments so far

I was hit by this same retard at starbucks cafe le lai near new world hotel a year ago and rusty starbucks wouldn`t give me the cctv clip. damn ! i would have "clipped" this guy then. did you find him yet? please what`s happening ? i think i got his face ...... and now finder`s keeper !!

  • Otiteh Iyke
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Wednesday, 07 October 2015 11:19

omg so sneaky! I too joined the exclusive club, and seems it happens on a more frequent basis then you think. I arrived on 23rd October in HCMC and I went out for a walk for not even 30mins. I was returning to my hotel and was 50metres from the entrance. I saw this guy on a motorbike on the same footpath as I was just a metre behind me (I noticed him only for about a minute) Low and behold, I had my purse in my left hand, and off he went with my bag. Tried to stop him, but he disappeared in the depths of HCMC, never to be seen again. I'm thankful the hotel staff were very helpful and reporting my stolen bag to police, but I will never see that again. I know exactly how you feel

  • Lauren
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Wednesday, 28 October 2015 09:05