A veteran guard in September 23 Park said his job was fairly uncomplicated until a group of listless drug addicts began robbing visitors.
Nguyen Van Cuong, who has worked in the park for 26 years, said drugs addicts in Ho Chi Minh City once used the park as a place to shoot up.
Lately, he said, they're taken to robbing pedestrians to fund their next fix.
Cuong said one drug-inspired robbery occurred on the afternoon of August 9.
A foreigner sitting on a bench waiting for his wife to finish exercising, had the bag beside him snatched up by a drug addict crawling over on his belly.
The man screamed out and the addict threw the bag back after a crowd rushed over to stop him.
Cuong said that happened at the same time two students ran up to the park’s guards in tears after having their bags snatched.
The kids lost their laptop computers, cell phones, keys and parking cards, he said.
“Nine motorbike thefts have been reported around the park in the past two months" he said. "The victims were all motorists who stopped to use the public toilets at the intersection of Le Lai and Pham Ngu Lao."
A District 1 government leader said locals have complained about drug addicts forcing park goers to buy worthless objects like a stone for VND50,000 (US$2.36) or a bottle cap for VND20,000 (nearly $1).
The addicts threatened to beat them or damage their vehicles if they refused.
“We have instructed relevant forces to beef up patrols to deal with this problem,” the leader said anonymously.
Huynh Trong Nghia, chief of the Pham Ngu Lao Ward police force, said his unit has tried many tactics to shoo drug addicts out of park but they haven't worked as well as expected.
“More addicts are getting out of rehab centers every day,” Nghia said.
A new Law on Handling Administrative Violations took effect on January 1, transferring the power to send drug addicts to compulsory rehabilitation programs from the local police departments to district-level courts.
Judges only received government guidance on implementing the law very recently.
Meanwhile, the community-based treatment programs that were supposed to pick up the slack have run into methadone supply shortages.
Many hardened addicts have walked out of voluntary rehab programs.
Nghia said the ward police arrested 30 drug users in a single raid last week. They could only detain one of them who was homeless; the rest they returned to their families.
City officials have said at meetings that it could take at least six months to go through all steps and office required by the new law to send a drug suspect to rehab.
It’s too complicated there... You’d bump into all addicts" - a company guard near Hoa Binh Park in Ho Chi Minh City talks about why he dares not visit the park
As such, drug addicts have made the city's parks into their homes.
On the afternoon of August 26, dozens gathered to inject drugs at September 23 Park in full view of perhaps the largest concentration of foreign tourists in the country.
Some were alone, others sat in groups of three to five, shaking out syringes before shooting them into their veins.
Many shot up on benches so they could nod off comfortably.
Residents around Hoa Binh Park in District 5 say they now avoid it due to the “scary” scenes they find there.
Few visitors were seen around the park on the afternoon of August 26, though drug addicts were strewn all over the place.
A tattooed addict on a bench off Hung Vuong Street still had his crash helmet on.
Another made herself at home on the floor of a stone gazebo in the middle of the park by stretching out stoned. Many of her tattooed friends sat nodding around her.
A security guard stationed in front of a business near the park said he wished he could sit under a shady tree in the park but he didn't dare wander over.
“It’s too complicated over there... You’d bump into a lot of addicts.”