One of my last nights in Saigon, I wanted to snap the skyline at sunset. I asked the sweet ladies at the front desk of the Saigon Mansion (my home for that month), and they directed me over to this bridge across town: Cầu Thủ Thiêm
Hopped on an Uber Moto with my camera / tripod and got dropped off right by the bridge. I realized I needed to hit the loo before setting up my snap sesh, and was wandering the streets when this young guy on a moto stopped by me.
My first thought was, "Stranger danger."
Second thought, "Oh yeah, I've got a heavy ass tripod in my hand."
One strategy I started during my first month of travel was to always carry my tripod with my camera bag. If someone wanted to snatch my gear, they're gonna have to deal with my weapon.
Him: "Hey, are you a photographer?"
Me: "Ummm, yeah, I was just looking for a spot to take pics of the skyline."
Him: "I know a great spot to take pics of the skyline. You want to come with me?"
This is one of those moments when you see your life flash before your eyes. I've seen the movie Hostel and it left an indelible imprint on my imagination.
As murdery thoughts were making their rounds in my mind, he pulled a small tripod out of his bag.
"This is my tripod for my photo class."
I stalled for a bit, as we chatted. We introduced ourselves (his name was Lam) and he showed me his student ID.
He was in college and was an avid photographer. We talked about photography for a bit and my spidey-sense stopped spiking.
The sun was starting to set and it was decision time. He had kind eyes and seemed like a real nice kid.
I trustingly hopped on the back of his moto, but told him I needed to hit the loo quick before we set up shop.
As we rode through the streets of Saigon away from the bridge, a few murdery thoughts reemerged. But they were squashed when we arrived at a mini-mart and he offered to pay my small fee for using the toilet.
After that, Lam brought me to this sweet spot on the Sai Gon river, near this park. It was dark but there were tons of people around. It looked like a lot of locals with maybe a couple tourists sprinkled in. We set up our tripods and started snapping.
And I got to know Lam a bit more.
He was also a tutor. If I recall, he was tutoring students in English. (I could be wrong, it was over a year ago now).
And, he was SO incredibly nice. He went out of his way to help some random tourist.
He was so nice, that he was almost late for his tutoring lesson, because he wanted to give me a ride home!!! When I realized he was cutting it close, I insisted he just drop me off and I would walk the rest of the way.
What an incredibly nice and thoughtful guy! We exchanged Facebook profiles and I checked out his profile. He is a FANTASTIC photographer. And an even more fantastic guy.
This was one of my last nights in Saigon. And, now, ~1 year later, I'm going back to Vietnam.
I look forward to reconnecting with Lam, and maybe doing some more photography with him.
For me, this story proves that, while it is important to keep your guard up while traveling, it is also important to keep an open mind.
Some of my most amazing memories from Remote Year center around meeting random locals and them inviting me into their lives for a brief moment in time.
Sometimes, I get a little sad when I think about how many awesome people I've met on my travels that I no longer see. But, that's life. And, if our paths cross again, it will be like we never skipped a beat.
"See you soon, Saigon! See you soon, Lam!"
THOUGHTS ON TRAVEL SAFETY
Before I started traveling on Remote Year, many of my family members and friends cautioned me about the dangers of traveling abroad.
"You better watch your back in Buenos Aires. So much crime there."
"Be careful over there in Asia."
"Are you going to wear a money belt?"
"South America is really dangerous."
I definitely agree that travelers need to exercise strong street smarts, wherever they go. And, yes, certain countries / cities, extra caution is wise.
But, I also think people are pretty paranoid of the unknown. I felt just as safe in almost all areas of South America than I did in almost all areas of Los Angeles.
You stay away from Skid Row, you're good to go.
I traveled with ~70 other people for 1 year and I recall (may have been more):
- 3 Females getting their purse snatched: (1 left a bar alone to walk home; and 2 others who got their purse stolen via a fast moving motorcycle thief in Kuala Lumpur, & Phnom Penh)
- 1 Male getting mugged in Lima by a taxi driver who drove into an alley where guys were waiting
- 1 Female who had her cell phone snatched from the side pocket of her backpack
~70 travelers, who each traveled to ~15-25 countries each over the course of 12 months. To me, that's not that bad, especially when you often stand out like a sore thumb.
Sadly, female travelers need to be more careful than males. It's just statistics. Even if you're walking on the street with your hand on your purse, those motorcycle thieves are driving fast and your hand grip is no match for their slick n crafty techniques.
And, don't walk on the sidewalk with your head buried in your celly.
It's impossible to always walk in groups, so if you are walking alone, walk on the building side of the sidewalk, not on the street edge of the sidewalk. YES, motorcyclists can and will ride on the actual sidewalks, so you do always have to be on alert.
In Buenos Aires, and a lot of other cities in South America, young women and men, often wear their backpacks with the pack side on the front. Much safer than having it on your back, where someone could be walking behind you, and unzip it.
And, there were several times (at least 3) that I personally left my apartment / hotel with one of my backpack sections accidentally unzipped. Guess what happened? Every time, someone on the street noticed it and told me about it so I can fix it. (Cities: Bogota, Belgrade, Kuala Lumpur) I personally alerted several people throughout the year that their packs were unzipped.
That doesn't mean you should just let down your guard when traveling. But, I do think a lot of people are overly paranoid. If this is what's keeping you from traveling abroad---please reconsider! And message me if you want more advice.
When I returned from RY, I got this question a few times: "Was there any time or city you felt unsafe?"
The only time really was in Paris at Le Louvre.
It was the day after Bastille Day, 2016. Tragically, this was the night that terrorist drove his truck through a crowd of partygoers in Nice, France, killing 87 (including himself). After buying my ticket to tour Le Louvre, I was eating a baguette sandwich when the alarms started going off.
"PLEASE EXIT THE BUILDING. PLEASE PROCEED TO THE NEAREST EXIT IMMEDIATELY."
Everyone was on high alert, and we all started to funnel toward the exits, eyes darting around, people looking for their loved ones. As we approached the underground exit, there was a Louvre security guard who was stopping the flow of traffic telling everyone they needed to go back the other way.
This was a weird moment. My imagination ran wild with the idea that a shooter was on the other side of where this security guard was shielding us off from. So, people started to turn around, but people were also pushing from behind. Getting trampled temporarily trumped my worry about an active shooter.
Thankfully, within ~30 seconds, the guard opened things back up and allowed everyone to exit through the underground pathways. And, the whole thing was a false alarm.
Other than that, I found every city I went to just as safe as any other in the good ole USA. Of course, you do your research about the bad areas of town and you steer clear of them.