Ho Chi Minh City police have had to stop passing out leaflets warning foreign visitors of robberies, rip-offs and taxi scams due to complaints from tour companies.
Some people, including sources from the media, hailed the warnings as proactive; others said they painted Vietnam as a dangerous country.
The leaflet, “A few travel reminders for a hassle-free trip,” was created (in both English and Vietnamese) through an initiative of the Ho Chi Minh City Police amid rising street crime.
They have only been distributed on a trial basis in Pham Ngu Lao Ward -- the area frequently referred to as the "backpacker area" in the city's District 1.
Lt. Col Nguyen Van Phuoc, the ward police chief, said the leaflets are designed simply to keep tourists alert.
“If we don’t want [to distribute the flyers] and leave tourists to be robbed and ripped off, the blame is on us,” Phuoc said.
Last week, uniformed members of the ward's crime police began handing out the flyers at coffee shops and bars frequented by foreigners.
Since the leaflets became controversial, he said they have halted their distribution and will await further instructions from the Ministry of Public Security, he told Infonet, the ministry of information's official website.
A police officer in District 1's Pham Ngu Lao Ward, Ho Chi Minh City, hands out leaflets with security warnings to two tourists at a local café. Photo credit: VTCNews
The leaflet began by saying that “Violent crime is very often [sic] in Ho Chi Minh City.”
It further advised tourists to “keep your bags close to your body, avoid wearing precious jewelry and try not to be too flashy with your camera and phone.”
It also told them not to “trust the taxi meter. Ripping off unsuspecting passengers is an art form for dishonest driver [sic]. Stick to reliable companies such as Vinasun taxi and Mai Linh taxi.”
The flyers also encouraged visitors to bargain while shopping, tip hard-working cyclo drivers and agree on prices with xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers before beginning their trip.
The leaflets also provided the numbers of telephone hotlines to obtain further information or to report crime.
Phuoc said the leaflets have received positive responses from foreign travelers.
They said the police care about them. They feel well-treated" -- Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Phuoc, police chief of Pham Ngu Lao Ward in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1, about tourists receiving leaflets warning them of street crimes.
“They said they felt like the police care about them. They feel looked-after,” he said.
He said giving security reminders to tourists is a normal thing, not unlike a daily paper's police blotter.
“We came up with the leaflets because too many foreigners have become victims of bag and jewelry snatching.”
He said they also gave the leaflets to Vietnamese tourists and hotels, which are expected to deliver them to their guests.
Do you think these leaflets are necessary and helpful?
A police officer from District 1 said the leaflets make the tourists feel better about being here.
“The tips give tourists some advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.
“The tourists took the leaflets happily and they felt satisfied with our attitude. They didn’t seem scared or discouraged.
"Only when you've seen a tourist's horror after being robbed will you understand our security measures, including the leaflets."
Courtesy of warnings
Ton That Hoa, the former general secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Association, said the leaflets imply that the police have no power over criminals operating in their yard.
Hoa said the leaflets should be distributed through other channels, such as hotels or travel agencies.
Travel safety tips in a leaflet that police in Pham Ngu Lao Ward in Ho Chi Minh City have distributed to foreign tourists. Photo: Dinh Quan
“Distributing leaflets is a passive measure. It will do little good while causing bad impressions of Vietnam.”
Tham Tuyen, the deputy editor of Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper, supported the leaflets as thoughtful and “proactive.”
Tuyen said in many cities that he’s visited, including Paris, warnings about pickpockets and other petty criminals are displayed on e-boards on crowded street corners.
“I’ve seen crime warnings in public places everywhere except for Venice, Erevan and Maurice, where I didn’t see any garbage, beggars and suspicious faces, either.
“You don’t need to give warnings when you’re clean, but when you’re not, you have to be clear about it so people can protect themselves.
“That’s how you gain the upper hand in dealing with crimes,” Tuyen said.
He said if Vietnam decides to be vague and less than forthright with foreign visitors, the country would be better off closing its doors.
“If you invite people to visit you without giving them a heads-up, you help criminals turn your guests into their victims."