It had been a lovely day. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. I had arrived in Vietnam six days ago and spent three of them in Sapa in the highlands in the Northwest of the country and the other three days in the capital Hanoi. During that time I had done a shorter hike from Sapa to a place called Cat Cat village including a stop at the Cat Cat waterfall and a longer trek through the rice paddies and the mountaineous landscape to the villages of local ethnic minority groups.
In Hanoi I had surrounded the Hoan Kiem Lake, walked over the The Huc-bridge and had paid the Temple of the Jade Mountain a visit. I had attended a show of the famous Water Puppet theatre „Thang Long“ and had strolled through the Old Quarter. I had also been to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, to the Presidential Palace, to the One Pillar Pagoda and had also spent a lot of time at the Temple of Literature also known as „Van Mieu“, followed by lunch at KOTO („Know One, Teach One“), a non-profit organisation which educates Vietnamese street kids and gives them a chance for a better life hereby.
On my last day in Hanoi I had visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda and had planned to do a short stop at the Opera House and the elegant Trang Tien street. For the next day I had planned to start my journey across Vietnam southbound.
At the Opera House it happened. I was standing at a roundabout for a better view of the famous building, taking photos, and I didn’t paying much attention to the traffic surrounding me. Suddenly I felt a hand in my face. Within seconds my camera which I was holding tightly with both hands in front of my face was snatched away. I could see an Asian guy running away with my camera through the heavy traffic, jumping on a motorbike where a second Asian man was waiting for him. I started screaming and crying but it didn’t help.
For me the loss of my camera was one the worst things that could happen since I am working as a journalist and photographer for a newspaper in Cologne and therefore I rely on my camera. Also, this was just the beginning of my trip across Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangkok and Northern India.
I knew right away that I had to report the incident to the police to get at least a document for my insurance company to claim back the money which I had paid for the camera.
I headed to an elegant store to ask for the nearest police station which was fortunately right next door. The shop assistant offered to accompany me there because none of the policemen spoke enough English to take my report.
After finishing all formalities I met another very friendly and helpful Vietnamese in front of the police station who insisted that I use his phone to call my parents. Normally I would have waited with the phone call till being back at my hotel, but my parents were almost on their way to the airport to start a journey across Cambodia and Indonesia the same day so I happily accepted.
I was also lucky that I had saved most of the photos which I had taken so far on my laptop except of the ones from the Temple of Literature which I had taken the day before and the photos from the Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Opera House from the day of the robbery.
In the evening I decided to interrupt my travels and skip the Vietnam portion of my trip. I didn’t feel safe in Vietnam anymore. The next day I paid the police station another visit to add further details about my camera which I had forgotten the day before.
One day later I flew out to Bangkok. There I met my parents for one day and got my Dad’s DSLR so that I wasn’t limited during the rest of my travels. After my parents had heard what has happened they decided that my Dad would borrow me his camera and take a spare camera for himself. Thank you so much, Mom and Dad, you are the very best parents of the world!
I spent the next few days in Bangkok to apply for a new visa for Vietnam and became a witness of the floods which had hit Bangkok, Central and Northern Thailand at that time. Then I flew to Saigon to continue my journey across Cambodia, back to Bangkok and further to Northern India.
This incident happened in October 2011. But did it keep me away from Vietnam?
No, it didn’t!
I had always planned to go back and this is exactly what I have just done. About two weeks ago I got back home from a trip across Vietnam from North to South which led me to Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, but different than three years ago I didn’t travel alone this time.
I went back to the Temple of Literature, to the Tran Quoc Pagoda and to the Opera House and I took the photos I lost last time but which I really wanted to take. On the day I visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Opera House I was accompanied by two males who reassured me in advance that they would protect me and they kept their promise. Thanks a lot, Bengt and Ket, for being my „body guards“. This time I felt safe!
It was good to return to Vietnam and this time my most recent journey to Vietnam is connected with amazing memories of a beautiful country, lovely locals, a great group consisting of 15 people from six different countries and a fantastic tour leader.
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