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What started out as a pleasant daytrip today to Marble Mountains in Da Nang, Vietnam soon descended into a terrible travel experience. After 15 years of crime-free travel, I’d heard about various scams and stings in Vietnam and I had thought I had prepared myself well – but literally within five minutes of arriving and climbing up the first staircase, I’d found myself a victim of robbery, with my bag slashed and my phone stolen.
The visit to Marble Mountains started well enough – we’d bought our entrance tickets from the welcome desk and made our way up the steps to the first pagoda. We had commented how busy the area was with visitors but little did we know some of these tourists were actually local criminals.
Bag slash – so how did the criminals work?
As I walked up the first set of stairs I stopped to take a photo of the temple below with my phone and then popped it into my tote bag for a few minutes until I needed it again for another photo. I then noticed three women (2 girls in their early 20s and one woman in her 40s) kept getting far too close to me.
The older woman stood behind me and was well dressed (garish bright red clothing, red lipstick and lots of gold jewellery) and was holding a traditional Vietnamese hat (which is something a lot of Chinese tourist groups wear on day trips). She ‘accidentally’ poked me with the tip of the hat as I tried to walk past her – a trick I assume to stop me moving too fast.
The 2 other younger girls were stood in front of me and also kept getting in my way when I tried to move – almost hitting me in the face with their fans and selfie stick. Frustrated, I quickly moved on and put their behaviour down to them just being rude tourists (I’d encountered so many in tourist hot spots across South East Asia that what they were doing didn’t seem too unusual).
As I walked up the second set of stairs I felt a couple of bumps against myself from behind and realised it was the three women from earlier, but as it only happened for a second or so, I thought nothing of it (although I commented to my boyfriend how annoying some tourists could be, and their lack of spatial awareness).
A few moments later, as we were climbing up to the cave area, I noticed some rips in my bag and then instantly realised my mobile phone had gone. I doubled checked my bag and then it dawned on upon me – those weren’t rips in my bag – they were four knife marks.
Adrenaline kicked in and we asked one of the nearby store-holders where the nearest security office was. We ran down the stairs, alerted a security officer and he took us to the tourist office. It then became apparent they’d caught some of the perpetrators already and several other tourists had already been the victims of crime after us….
After making an initial statement at Marble Mountains about the crime, we then went through our photographs and realised we’d captured some long shots of the girls scoping out the area (the joys of digital cameras). We alerted the staff and it confirmed the girl being held in a locked room in security was one of the two young women from the trio (her hat and bag were clearly identifiable).
We then realised that they had also arrested the other young woman and they were swiftly put in a police van (unfortunately, the third older woman didn’t appear to have been apprehended). Security staff then whisked us on the back of two motorbikes to the nearest police station to make a formal statement.
We were told by one of the women who worked in the security office that there had been an unusually high number of bag slash / crime related incidents this month in Marble Mountains and attractions in Hoi An, so security had been on high alert – hence the very quick arrest of the the 2 girls.
At the police station, we then saw another tourist who had had their phone stolen (via exactly the same method – their slashed bag was plain to see). As the police emptied the thieves’ bags, along with the stolen phones, you could see their tricks of the trade to make them blend in as regular tourists – the selfie sticks and fans, but alas, not the knife or my phone. The other tourist who had her bag ‘slashed’ was lucky as she got her phone back.
Over the course of several hours, we made several statements although there was a language barrier. About five hours after the incident had happened, we were allowed to go (with very little further explanation) as the girls were still being held.
All in all, this is the first time I’ve ever experienced any crime in many years of travel and I also appreciate I was lucky, given knives were involved – it has made me a lot more wary about my surroundings and based on my experience, I don’t think I’ll be visiting Vietnam (especially Da Nang) any time again soon. I will also be using a much more sturdier bag next time I am out and about – an expensive lesson learned.
Credit to the staff and security at Marble Mountains for catching the thieves – we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As I write this, I’m now trying to resolve this with my insurance company ‘Holiday Safe’, but matters are complicated by the fact I’m not due to return to the UK until April next year (2019). Update: After 3 months of chasing and an angry email to the complaints department of Holiday Safe, I eventually received an insurance payment. I’m pleased it was finally resolved but would probably use a different company in the future.
Do not let our experience put you off travelling in Vietnam / SE Asia, but merely as a warning that no matter how savvy a traveller you think you are, always be aware of your surroundings and belongings, as thieves can look like regular tourists. Ultimately, stay alert and travel safe, and maybe research into the best anti theft travel backpacks available on the market!
Have you experienced any crime or bag slashing in Marble Mountains or in Vietnam? Let us know in the comments.
Protect your belongings with an anti theft bag
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Other Vietnam blog posts
- Top things to do to Hoi An
- Hoi An during rainy season – activities for a rainy day
- Top things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam
- A guide to visiting Lady Buddha in Da Nang
- The best street foods and foodie experiences in Hoi An
- Guide to New Year’s Eve in Hoi An, Vietnam
- Half day cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam