Keeping Safe in Asia

ASIA, LAND OF DIVERSITY

Asia is a beautiful and diverse place, from rain forests, rice fields, and cultural landmarks, to bustling cities, gridlock motor bike traffic, and relentless marketeers. But there are two sides to this intriguing land; Asia is also a place of terrible crime, violence and corruption. Travellers to Asia can take safety precautions and procedures to ensure you are kept safe.

CRIME PREVAILS

Most Asian countries are developing nations, where people on average have a much lower income than people from western countries. I was talking with a young 20 year old man that was waiting on us at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He told me he worked 18 hours a day, 28 days per month, and he earned US$40 per month (US$1.40 per day). Although these people get by, living in these conditions can be very difficult, and turning to crime would be an attractive and almost irresistible option. Just a small amount of pick-pocketing and stealing could provide a lot more for their families.

TRAVELLERS ARE TARGETED

Most lower-middle class Asians will see foreigners as very wealthy people. In their minds, if you can afford to travel here, you are rich. Criminals will know that you will be carrying valuable items and cash, and you could be targeted as a potential victim. My friend and I were walking to the park near our hotel in Ho Chi Minh. He was taking photos with a very expensive camera and kept it loosely around his neck with a strap. Thankfully, before anything happened, a concerned local who could speak very good English told us that we should be extremely careful if we were to have the camera out, especially at night time. We returned the camera to the hotel room before returning to the park.

AUTHORITIES ARE OF LITTLE USE

If you are a victim of a crime in the developing Asian countries, there is not much help provided. In fact, the police can be just as corrupt as the criminals. While in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was visiting an Australian who lives there permanently. She had just bought a car and was giving it a test run. She saw some locals drive down the wrong direction of a one way street and decided to do the same. Immediately she was stopped by the police. According to protocol, she was to go to the police station and receive a US$25 fine for breaking the road rules. She waved a US$10 note to the policeman, he took it, returned to his car, and let her go about her business. The police in Cambodia rely on bribes and corruption to provide food for their families, as the wages they get do not go very far.

HOW TO BE SAFE

No-one likes to be a victim of crime, so here are techniques to be safe while travelling in Asia.
1. Do not keep valuables lying around in hotel rooms. Hotel cleaning staff earn a lowly wage, and although they may be nice and honest people, don’t tempt them. A good idea is to lock your luggage zippers with a padlock when leaving possessions alone in hotel rooms.

2. Do not keep valuables loosely hanging on your body. Cameras and belt bag straps can be slit with a small knife very quickly, and by the time you have figured it out, your items are gone. Use a slim, poly-cotton money belt, strapped inside of your clothes, around your body. They are very thin, almost invisible under clothes, and inaccessible by shifty pick-pockets.

3. If possible, wear your backpack at the front. This is not so important if you are in a group, but when alone or in a pair, this is a good idea. An acquaintance was sharing with me his experiences in Cambodia. A foreign woman with a bag on her back was riding on the back of a moto (motorbike taxi service) when a man (who was on foot) grabbed her pack as she was riding by. The woman stubbornly held on to her pack and came off the back of the moto. Although she got to keep her possessions, she was covered with cuts and grazes from the fall.

4. Travel in numbers. A good rule is to have at least two people going everywhere you go, ESPECIALLY at night time. When we were in Cambodia we made it a rule to walk in pairs, even throughout the day. I know this can be difficult for people that travel alone, may be you could find a group from your country that is going to the same country that you want to go to.
http://www.asiaexplored.com An up and coming website dedicated to travel in Asia.