My Wallet Got Nicked in Hanoi ... In Less Than 24 Hours / by Amy Thibodeau

Hanoi Street

Photos and text by Amy Thibodeau

Sweet readers, this has not been my favorite day on my 'round the world adventure. I have been a bit humbled by the experience of having my wallet 'vanished' right under my nose.

I arrived in Hanoi yesterday afternoon and it was major culture shock going from the serenity of Luang Prabang in Laos to the beyond bustling city of millions. I was used to late night strolls, long fresh meals, the orange and yellow shock of young monks wandering the streets, the blinding sunshine, and the slow and steady current of the two rivers that embrace the town. I've never been to Vietnam before and to be completely honest, my desire to come here was rooted in two distinctly naive things: first I love Vietnamese food and second I read a book called The Time In Between by the Canadian author David Bergen a few years back that illuminated the place for me in the way that only wonderful fiction can do.  Yep, naive.

It would be unfair of me to judge Vietnam based on less than 48 hours in Hanoi, especially because I can imagine few things more jarring than the transition from the sleepy beauty of the Laoitian countryside to rush hour Hanoi with all of it's insane traffic. Where Laos was peaceful and friendly, Hanoi is a bit grey and cold - I feel a bit like I've landed in the middle of an ant colony, where the ants are all trying to get to the same place very quickly, on motorbikes. The architecture, the food, the shops piled upon shops feel like being lost in a labyrinth, a kind of puzzle that I can't work my way through. So tomorrow I'm heading to Halong Bay for some respite on an old boat and then possibly down south on a sleeper train to Hue or Hoi An. The way into the heart of this country must be easier with a view, or at least that's what I'm telling myself.

But I digress. The wallet nicking.

The most shocking thing for me about the theft of my wallet (and the main reason for this post) is that it was less that it was stolen and more that it vanished. I've been in some of the biggest cities in the world - London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam - and I consider myself quite clever when it comes to keeping myself and my personal possessions safe. In fact, all day I was bothering my partner about letting me put his wallet in my purse where I thought it would be safer (thank goodness he didn't listen to me!).

My wallet was located in a leather satchel type purse in a zipped up compartment that I wore around my shoulder in front of me - one hand on it all the time. I was careful, I was conscientious and still somehow, somewhere someone managed to unzip my purse and find and remove my wallet without me noticing. I know I didn't take it out and put it anywhere because I had no occasion to remove it between leaving my hotel and returning a few hours later. I'd booked a trip on my way out of the hotel and put the receipt into my wallet, and then the wallet into my purse.

It's humbling because it reminds me that sometimes you can be absolutely cautious and mishaps, theft and even danger can still occur. I can't help but feel like I'm somehow at fault. My pride has been a bit wounded by this experience - one that I recognize could happen anywhere. Luckily that's the worst damage that occurred. My wallet was empty of cash, my passport was safely stowed at the hotel and I've cancelled all of my cards now and there are no charges that were incurred between the stealing and my cancellation with the bank. It's an inconvenience - a loss of my debit and credit card, my short form birth certificate and few pieces of identification. And a lovely wallet with blue birds on it.

Lessons Learned

In afterthought, there are a few things that I'd do differently to better protect myself and prepare for this kind of thing:

  • Keep a list of all the cards/items in your wallet. I've spent a lot of time over the past few hours straining to remember everything I had that needs to be cancelled or replaced. From now on I will always carry an inventory of my wallet contents just in case.
  • If you don't need a bag, don't carry one. From now on I'll be keeping only what I need on me - money will be either in my bra or on an inside pocket on the front of my person. If I do carry a bag, I will seriously consider some kind of locking mechanism on the zipper - even a pin - just to make it a bit more difficult for someone to sidle up and open it.
  • Don't carry any cards that you don't need. There was absolutely no reason for me to be carrying around my birth certificate or my UK National Insurance card. They were there only by default and laziness on my part. In the future I will be much more discerning about what's required in my wallet and what can stay home.
  • Separate out assets. Don't carry all your money with you unless you have to and if you do, don't keep it all in one place but hide it in different compartments, pockets, etc. Same goes for your debit and credit cards; if only one is stolen at least you have the other to fall back on.
  • Make checking your bag a habit every time you get back to your hotel room or guesthouse. You don't want to give anyone the opportunity to charge up your credit card before you are able to report it.
  • Keep receipts for cash withdrawals and not with your cash. If you are lucky enough to have insurance that reimburses you for theft, many will require that you come up with some way to prove your cash losses. An ATM withdrawal slip could be make all the difference.

Hanoi, you and me haven't gotten off to a good start - but I know this could happen anywhere. I had an entire purse stolen from me in my sleepy hometown in the middle of the Canadian Prairies. Still, I think we need a time out while I try to figure out how to sift through your narrow alleyways and still find my way home at the end of the night, all of my pieces in tact.

Have you ever been the victim of theft while traveling? How did you handle it?

Image Credit: My partner in crime, Dan Zambonini