Stories at Saigon’s Pho Tay

VietNamNet Bridge – Over a year holding the position of the chief police officer of Pham Ngu Lao Ward in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, which is called Pho Tay, meaning the Street of Foreigners, Lieutenant Colonel Huynh Trong Nghia has witnessed many funny and annoying stories related to foreign visitors.Sleepless night on the “Street of Foreigners” in Saigon

Pham Ngu Lao at night.

Pham Ngu Lao at night.

Nghia recalled: “On the first days at work, I did not expect to face extremely difficult situations such as a restaurant owner suing a foreigner for refusing to pay for his meal. But ironically, this foreign man did not show off his passport and did not speak a single word. So how should I deal with this?”

According to Lt. Col. Nghia, every day hotels in Pham Ngu Lao Ward receive from 400-500 foreign visitors and the figure is much higher during holidays such as the New Year of Christmas. These visitors come from different countries, belong to different classes so there are a lot of tragic-comedic stories about them.

The 51 -year-old lieutenant colonel said he would never forget the story of a tourist from Finland, about 40 years old, who refused to pay for his meals at restaurants in Pham Ngu Lao Ward for at least three times.

The first time this man walked naked in the Park 23/9. The police had to take him to the police station because this behavior affected the habits and customs of Vietnam. At first he screamed and did not cooperate with the police. He relented slightly when the interpreter came and gave him clothes.

“He said he liked walking naked,” Lieutenant Colonel Nghia recalled and could not stop laughing. “After verification, we knew that a travel company brought him to Vietnam and then left him alone. This man then went to a Western restaurant and called specialties to taste, then slept and left the restaurant without paying for the meal.”

According to Nghia, in such cases, the police can only make records for administrative violations and release them. But two weeks later, this Finish man once again had diner at a restaurant on Bui Vien Street and did not pay. When the restaurant owner asked for money, the man insisted that he did not have money and the restaurant owners had promised to give him a free meal. The case was reported to the police.

Until the third time, the police could not bear this man anymore. The travel firm that brought this man to Vietnam had to manage the man in the time before the man was expelled for breaking Vietnam laws for many times.

Talking about this, Nghia shared: “Vietnam always builds an image of a hospitable country, a safe destination but we had to take that tough measure against such visitors.”

Lt. Col. Nghia said a few weeks ago, two young Nigerians vehemently argued from dawn to dusk for the money and handed it to the police of Pham Ngu Lao Ward. “But after we finished reconciliation, they resumed quarrel against and even exchanged blows in front of the police headquarters.”

Nghia said local police have to handle drunken foreign visitors very often. “Many foreigners were drunk at night and fell on the street, the sidewalk, in the park, etc. and slept there. They were pick-pocketed or stolen… In such cases we had to take them to hospital, take care of them and pay hospital fees for them,” he sighed.

Humanity in distress

Volunteers in Pho Tay.

Volunteers in Pho Tay.

For tourists who unfortunately are in distress in a foreign country, any help from the local governments or residents is extremely valuable. This is a story told by a sugar cane juice seller at the corner of De Tham – Bui Vien: a poor young man who worked as a maid for a family on Bui Vien Street bought lunch for a foreign girl and after that gave her VND100,000 ($5) to catch a xe om (motorbike taxi) to go home after witnessing the girl’s purse being snatched. “This morning he told me that the girl and her husband came back to thank him and they presented him VND200,000,” the sugarcane juice seller said.

Lieutenant Colonel Nghia also felt deeply moved to witness a young female British tourist who was glad to tears at getting back her property, including Eur240, a camera and passport. He said the woman’s bag was stolen at noon on September 4. She was lucky to get back the property because local people quickly detected and cooperated with the police to chase the robbers.

He added that about a month ago, the local residents and government promptly detected and took a drunken foreign man who lied at the park with a lot of luggage to the hospital. The police then informed the consulate of country where the man came from.

However, local residents said that when they saw foreign tourists being robbed, sometimes they did not dare to chase the robbers, fearing of being revenged. They can only help the victims by reporting the incident to the police. Some people who can speak English voluntarily to be an interpreter for the victims.

“On the evening of September 4, I witnessed a young girl hugging a Korean man for pickpocket him. The girl then gave the wallet to her male accomplice and they disappeared on a motorcycle,” said a young person who worked on Bui Vien Street.

Mr. Jon Hyman, a visitor from Australia, said during his nine months living in the Pho Tay, he was robbed three times. He lost two passports, four credit cards and some personal papers. But he said thefts and robbers are everywhere so he would be more careful next time.

Sharing the same opinion, American tourist Vanessa Butler said: “I have traveled many places and been a victim of theft and robbery. Of course, such incidents were not funny but they help you to be more careful. Bandits are everywhere and even on the roads where you feel safest.”

Realizing the importance of creating friendly images to tourists in District 1, especially in the Pho Tay, The authorities of District 1 has set up a volunteer tourist guide team, with 78 young people who are good at foreign languages to help foreign visitors.

The volunteers are available from 8-11am and 2-5pm at the intersections of Pham Ngu Lao – De Tham, De Tham – Bui Vien and No. 262 De Tham, Pham Ngu Lao Ward.

Compiled by T. Van