Personal safety is generally not a problem in Saigon, though you need to keep in mind that the country has still not quite made the shift from the chaotic post-reunification era to a smoothly-oiled, jobs-for-all society. Many inhabitants of Saigon live off their wits, and if that includes making an easy buck out of a gullible tourist, then so be it.
For this reason, you need to be on your guard against any friendly approach, even from young kids and old grannies, and watch out for bag snatchers on motorbikes (though they usually approach from behind).
Saigon safety risks: If you are out and about sightseeing alone, only carry what money you need with you, and keep it in a money belt concealed beneath your shirt or pants. And just as your mum told you, don’t accept free drinks or snacks from anyone you’ve just met, or you may wake up a day later separated from your cash and jewellery.
Saigon safety risks: The most notorious tricksters are the cyclo riders; if you decline their services, they will often follow up with offers of marijuana, special massage or any other way to get you to share the contents of your wallet. Needless to say, it is advisable to decline such offers.
Saigon safety risks: Another distraction, for single males at least, are the sexy ladies on motorbikes who slow down and offer ‘boom boom’ in sultry tones. Be extremely wary of such encounters, not least because the incidence of STDs including AIDS in Vietnam is very high.
Saigon safety risks: Ironically, the greatest threat to most foreigners’ safety in Saigon is trying to cross the street, as there are no handy overhead crossings at busy junctions nor friendly policemen to give pedestrians a turn. Though the streets are so congested that vehicles often move at a snail’s pace, the cars and motorbikes also try to stop as little as possible, so they stick close to the bumper of the vehicle in front to prevent others from butting in.
Saigon safety risks: Once you get used to the only way to cross the road, which is by waiting for a gap in the flow, then walking steadily across the lanes without any sudden movements, the danger will decrease, but until then, give Saigon’s traffic more respect than it deserves.
Saigon safety risks: Similarly be extra careful if renting a motorbike and always wear a helmet, despite the reluctance of locals. Rules of the road are very hesitantly enforced so expect the unexpected such as sudden illegal u-turns. Try to be obvious with your own actions with no sudden movements which could cause collisions with other road users not paying proper attention.