Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the sixth of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Vietnam.

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Thailand from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Jodie Bougaard, Senior Political Risk Analyst at red24

Website: www.red24.com
Email: jodiebougaard@red24.com
Twitter: @JodieRed24

I am a senior political risk analyst specialising in political and security related developments and concerns in Southeast Asia. I am currently employed at red24/iJet International, although the views and opinions expressed in this piece are my own.

How safe is it to visit Vietnam?

Vietnam has become an increasingly popular tourist travel destination in recent years due to its status as a historically and culturally rich country. Most visits conclude without major incident and the country generally presents a fairly safe operating environment for foreign travellers. As with most other countries in Southeast Asia, there are some security concerns of which to be aware; however, these are not assessed to pose any significant threat to tourists or visitors to the country.

What are the biggest risks?

Crime is the primary risk facing travellers to Vietnam. The country is subject to medium levels of crime, particularly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Other areas such as Nha Trang, Danang, and Bien Hoa are also subject to medium levels of crime.

Petty crime

The most prevalent form of crime, and the largest security threat facing travellers to Vietnam, is petty in nature, including bag-snatching, pickpocketing and mugging. A common bag-snatching technique involves two thieves on a motorcycle driving past a victim while the passenger snatches the victim’s valuables. This is particularly common in instances where travellers make use of three-wheeled bicycle taxis (known locally as cyclos), due to their relatively slower pace and the ease with which thieves may perpetrate snatch crimes.

Violent crime

Violent crime such as murder and sexual assault affecting foreign nationals and the expatriate community is not commonly reported. However, violent assaults targeting tourists have been reported in larger cities, particularly when robbery attempts have been resisted. Other forms of assault relate to criminals who have been known to drug their intended targets with the intention of stealing valuables. Most recently on 24 June, a US tourist was stabbed and killed in Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district. However, subsequent reports indicate that the incident was attributed to a drug-related dispute and is therefore not truly indicative of the general threat of violent crime facing tourists in the country. The threat of violence is significantly elevated by engaging in criminal activities of any sort, including those relating to the illegal narcotics trade, prostitution, human trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking activities, extortion and illegal gambling. Violent crimes rarely affect foreign nationals travelling to the country on a short-term basis for recreation or leisure.

Scams

There are increasing reports of various scams in Vietnam, in which criminals deceive travellers into purchasing or paying for goods and services at inflated rates. Credit card fraud has also been reported, although to a lesser degree.  Some scams include overcharging customers, adding unnecessary taxes to bills for services rendered, street vendors claiming that a product is free but demanding payment once the item has been used, the sale of counterfeit products, taxis operating with tampered meters and so forth. A comprehensive list of known scams in Vietnam can be accessed here.

Tourism infrastructure

A secondary security concern relates to Vietnam’s under developed tourism infrastructure. Some tour operators lack basic safety equipment and training, which poses a risk to travellers utilising their services, particularly if engaging in sea-based activities or if conducting road-based travel with unlicensed or non-reputable tour vendors. In 2016 there was an increase in the number of foreign travellers who were killed while engaging in tourist-related activities. In addition, many of the country’s natural attractions, such as national parks and mountain hiking areas, lack adequate safety markings and warnings.

What are the overlooked risks?

The enforcement of state laws

The country’s status as a communist state poses other security risks in Vietnam. The rigid interpretation and enforcement of state laws, particularly those relating to the government, freedom of information and speech as well as privacy, remain in place.

Visitors to the country seen to be acting in contravention of these laws may be subject to punitive measures such as detention, arrest, deportation and the temporary confiscation of passports or visas. Wrongful or unlawful detention poses an additional risk, particularly in the business environment, where detention has been used as a mechanism to settle business disputes or disagreements. The wrongful detention of foreign nationals has also been reported in instances where visitors are seen to be critical of the government or are believed to be engaging in political speech, whether publically or via the internet, due to strict surveillance and monitoring measures employed on digital and electronic platforms. Persons found to be in the possession of religious materials or engaging in unsanctioned religious activities may also face harsh penalties. In addition, laws relating to illegal narcotics are strict and foreign nationals have routinely been subject to arrest and detention for minor drug-related offences.

Landmines

Unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War is a major safety concern along the country’s shared border with Laos. The Quang Tri province, located on the border of the old Demilitarized Zone that once divided North and South Vietnam, contains significantly more landmines than any other province in Vietnam. However, landmines have also been found in the Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Ngai, Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces. It should be noted that areas containing landmines are not clearly defined or marked, which poses a clear risk to travellers operating in the aforementioned areas.

Ethnic tensions in the Central Highlands provinces

The central highlands region, which encompasses the five provinces of Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Lam Dong in the south west of the country, has long been plagued by insecurity, which may pose a risk to travellers in the area. Tensions remain elevated in the region after decades of conflict between the central government and the indigenous ethnic minority ‘Montagnards’. This has resulted in the restriction of foreigners from travelling freely in the region. Stringent travel restrictions remain in place in unrest-affected parts of the region. Tourists require security permits, obtainable through select tour companies, for travel in areas such as Buon Ma Thuot and Pleiku. Other popular hiking and trekking sites near Da Lat and Kon Tum may also require special permissions from the authorities. Checkpoints, military instillations and roadblocks are not uncommon in these provinces.

How should these risks be mitigated?

Basic precautions are recommended for travellers wishing to visit Vietnam. In order to mitigate the risk of being affected by crime, the most pertinent security threat, there are certain commonsense precautions one may apply.

  • It is advisable to avoid overtly displaying wealth and to keep your valuables including cash, traveller’s cheques, credit cards, airline tickets and passports in a safe and secure place.
  • Practice heightened situational awareness, particularly near crowds, tourist sites and public transport
  • It is ill-advised to accept food or drinks from strangers.
  • When utilising scooters, bikes or cyclos, personal possessions, including sunglasses, jewellery, handbags or cameras should be firmly and securely stored.
  • Only legitimate, reputable and licenced tour guides, operators and taxis should be utilised.
  • When considering the additional risks tourists or business travellers may face, it is advised to be cautious when discussing any sensitive, political, religious, proprietary or business-related issues in the country.
  • Travellers should exercise heightened caution at roadblocks or near security personnel and military instillations, particularly outside of urban areas.

What duty-of-care provisions should employers have in place before sending staff to Vietnam? What should employees ask for?

  • It is advisable to seek a consultation with a vetted security provider which should ideally be able to compile and regularly update crisis management plans (contingency and evacuation plans), provide risk assessments, security reviews and should maintain operational expertise in your region of interest.
  • Companies should further seek to assist their staff members in securing adequate and specialised travel and medical insurance, with a provision for evacuation and repatriation in the event of a medical emergency, if not already included in their selected crisis management plan, as health care infrastructure in Vietnam remains limited.
  • Specialised insurance cover or security provisions may be required for staff members working in higher-risk operating environments or undertaking work in hazardous conditions. These include but are not limited to areas in Vietnam subject to ongoing natural hazards such as typhoons (particularly common in the Mekong delta), which have resulted in large-scale displacements or evacuations. Other areas of concern include those subject to prolonged communal or civil unrest-related violence; areas experiencing disease or viral infection outbreaks such as dengue fever or cholera; areas along the shared border with Laos due to the presence of unexploded landmines and areas in which localised hostilities have been reported.

Hàng Bông, Hanoi, Vietnam by Đức Mạnh on Unsplash

tto1_piko_logo

Travel Operative

Email: editor@traveloperative.com
Website: www.traveloperative.com
Twitter: @travel_ops

The Travel Operative is a website produced by people who have spent many years working behind the scenes in the security domain. Together with their extensive travel experiences, they provide free detailed analysis of location-specific threats and security insights for travellers.

How safe is it to visit Vietnam?

We assess Vietnam to be a relatively safe destination, particularly in comparison to neighbouring nations location in South East Asia.  Vietnam is host to a number of emerging tourist destinations including the beaches of Da Nang and cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are rapidly evolving into major business centres.

The Travel Operative assesses the risk of terrorism to be very low and other risks are either location or season dependent. Extreme weather can cause flooding and landslides with little notice, predominantly in rural areas of the country through the months of May to November.

What are the biggest risks?

In early 2016, Vietnam reported its first case of the Zika virus and by late 2016 health authorities were reporting 10 new cases per week in Ho Chi Minh City. The threat of Zika transmission remains in major cities and some rural areas. The non-profit health organisation, IAMAT, indicates that the most affected localities are Ho Chi Minh City, Vinh Thanh, Nhon Trach and Ben Tri. The Travel Operative recommends that visitors to Vietnam take measures to avoid mosquito bites including using insect repellent at all times, wear long, loose-fitting and ensure accommodation is mosquito-proof.

Petty theft is common in tourist areas, markets and other public places. These incidents are most likely to occur in locations such as Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang where large numbers of tourists congregate. One such tactic used by criminals is ‘bag slashing’ where a victim’s bag is slashed open by a sharp knife and emptied.

What are the overlooked risks?

Visitors to major developing cities like Ho Chi Minh City may be lulled into a false sense of security. The country is undergoing rapid development and growth and evidence of this can be seen in areas of Ho Chi Minh City with improved living standards and the arrival of hip new bars and cafes. However, like many countries in this region, visitors still need to be pay close attention to personal security at all times. Tourists can be targeted through a number of scams including fraudulent Visa application portals, petty theft and taxi scams. Many tourists fall prey to unmarked ‘taxi’ services which may result in being extorted into paying a large sum of money.

How should people mitigate this?

We recommend visitors to Vietnam follow our five travel safety tips paying close attention to personal security at all times and minimise the amount of valuables carried. To reduce the risk of Visa scams, ensure that you apply for a Visa or travel permit through reputable or official sources. Avoid being scammed by unlawful taxi operators by using the trusted services of Vinasun.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Vietnam have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employees should be provided with health cover including adequate coverage for in-country treatment and repatriation costs. Full terrorism cover is optional due to the low risk, however, this would be dependent on the regularity of travel to and from other destinations within the region. Employees should check that the medical or security provider provides in-country support 24/7.

Vietnam by Jose Urbano on Unsplash

 

Aaron Balshan, Senior Geopolitical Security Analyst at MAX Security

Website: www.max-security.com
Email: aaron.balshan@max-secuirty.com
Twitter: @MaxSecurityLTD

Aaron Balshan is a senior geopolitical security analyst at Max-Security Solutions, a security and risk management solutions provider that ensures clients the optimal environment to meet their business and personal objectives by providing the most effective security – and travel-related services.

How safe is it to visit Vietnam?

Like much of Southeast Asia, Vietnam has increasingly become a popular tourist destination over the few past years, both for the intrepid adventurer and the luxurious getaway seeker. However, every country has associated risks and Vietnam is no exception. By taking basic precautions, tourists can ensure boundless fun in the sun, whether it be trekking through the mountains of Ha Giang or relaxing on the beaches of Binh Dinh.

What are the biggest risks?

The primary risk to foreign nationals comes from crime, especially in major cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, and Nha Trang. Foreign nationals are often viewed as soft targets based on the perception that they are unfamiliar with their immediate surroundings in a new country. This typically materializes as petty theft, including bag snatching or pickpocketing, in spaces with high tourist traffic such as markets or public transportation terminals. Instances of armed robbery are known to occur, though less frequently, and often involve unsophisticated weapons such as knives or blades. The likelihood of violent escalation is known to increase if the victim resists or confronts the attacker. It is important to note that this form of criminality is more likely to occur with drug-related offenses, best evidenced by the US tourist who was stabbed and killed by a suspect with a history of drug addiction on June 24 in Pham Ngu Lao Street, a popular tourist quarter in Ho Chi Minh City.

Overland travel in the country is another area of concern for foreign tourists, constituting the single biggest cause of fatalities in the country. This is due to two main factors: non-adherence to traffic laws and suboptimal civil infrastructure, such as bad roads. Additionally, altercations with locals are known to occur in such instances of “road rage”, most recently witnessed in the attack on a Dutch tourist in July in northern Sa Pa, and the death of a US national in a highway accident in March.  Similar fatalities are known to occur intermittently at tourist hotspots due to the absence of safety measures and the use of non-vetted tour guides.

Inclement weather can also considerably exacerbate travel risks, especially during the monsoons, when widespread flooding can impede movement. This threat is particularly relevant during the seasonal onset of typhoons, which typically occur between June and November.

What are the overlooked risks?

Land conflicts are common in Vietnam, especially in the country’s peripheral rural districts, where the government is sometimes accused of appropriating land for commercial interests without satisfactory compensation. In April, villagers in the My Duc District, 40 km south of Hanoi, held police officers hostage during a standoff over the alleged unlawful seizure of their lands. Additionally, environmental conflicts, such as the toxic spill in Ha Tinh Province in 2016, have resulted in sustained protests and government-led crackdowns on public demonstrations and activist leaders.

While demonstrations do not necessarily pose a direct threat to foreign travellers, there remains a risk of collateral damage to those in the vicinity of public protests, due to the latent propensity for civil unrest. Given the government’s hard-line position on protests, including those with anti-Chinese sentiment, such events have a significantly higher risk of inviting forcible dispersal measures by local police.

In general, the government maintains a strict policy of monitoring dissent and activist groups, and consequently, association with anti-government groups or individuals who espouse similar causes is not advisable. In March, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Sports also issued a “code of conduct” for foreign tourists visiting popular tourist sites to prevent instances of disrespect to local traditions.

How should people mitigate this?

Foreign travellers are advised to maintain situational awareness at all times, and to use only vetted tour guides and travel options.

If confronted by armed criminals, it is advised to cooperate fully and not engage in any behaviour that could raise tensions and lead to violence.

Maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of protests, particularly anti-Chinese or land demonstrations, as they carry the potential to devolve into localized unrest and violence. It is advised to avoid openly espousing political views or demonstrating any affiliation to local parties in light of the government’s resistance to dissident activity.

Re-confirm all flight and overland travel itineraries, especially between June and November when typhoons and tropical storms can cause travel disruptions. Additionally, remain cognizant of local authorities’ updates on affected areas and potential evacuations.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Vietnam have in place? What should employees ask for?

It is advised to develop contingency and emergency evacuation plans for employees planning on visiting Vietnam to pre-empt any security risks that may affect business continuity in the country. Additionally, security protocols will require periodic updates, and to this end, a working relationship with a credible security provider is a recommended option. Furthermore, subscription to regular risk assessments are advisable to maintain organizational awareness of potential security threats, given the dynamic on-ground developments in a foreign country. Contact Max-Security Solutions at Operations@max-security.com or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

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