How to outsmart pesky pickpockets in Asia

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“BEWARE of pickpockets.”

Most seasoned travelers are likely to have seen the signages or heard the repeated subway announcements telling people to be wary of their surroundings and to keep their valuables out of reach of thieves.

Some places in Asia, such as Bangkok in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, and Hanoi in Vietnam are notorious for pesky pickpockets which sometimes operate in syndicates.

While you will not be able to stop these misdeeds and curb the crime altogether, there are some easy measures you can take to ensure it does not happen to you.

After all, it is better to be safe than sorry and it is definitely better than having your long-needed holiday ruined by having to spend a couple of hours running back and forth from the police station to your country’s embassy or consulate and panicked-ly calling up your bank to cancel your cards.

Stay vigilant in crowds

Often, popular destinations like Bangkok, Bali, and Hanoi are filled with curious and excited travelers like yourself.

While their markets are packed to the brim with little stalls selling authentic local goods and crowds searching for the best bargains, they are also the perfect “hunting grounds” for Artful Dodgers.

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Do not set down your bag on the floor while you work your haggling skills with a store owner because you will never know when it will be whipped away by a thief. Literally from right under your nose.

The same goes for absentmindedly leaving your smartphone on a stack of goods while you try to fish out a couple of notes from your wad of cash to pay for your purchase.

Equally, keep your bag securely on your lap or at least in plain view and not slung over your chair behind you while you chow down on a piping hot bowl of noodles at a busy eatery at the market or a restaurant.

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If you find yourself stuffed into a bus, train, or a subway cabin at rush hour, which is usually the perfect smokescreen for theft, be extra alert for grubby hands trying to reach into your pocket to nick your wallet or purse.

Avoid overfriendly strangers

People can be friendly, but not all of them are genuine nor do they always have your best interests at heart. This is a common modus operandi some thieves swear by because it is an effective diversion.

Imagine this scenario:

You are juggling a backpack, heavy luggage, and a large carry-on as you attempt to maneuver way across platforms at a train station. A seemingly helpful stranger lends a hand. Grateful, you hand him or her your large carry-on.

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Before you know it, that person has speedily made a run for it along with your precious carry-on.

Or this other scenario:

You are marveling at the beautiful sunset on a pristine stretch of Pattaya beach in Thailand and soaking in the warm, tropical breeze when a local approaches you offering to help you take a photo. He or she even tells you where to stand and how to pose for the best lighting and angle.

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Lo and behold, when all that picture-taking is done, the beach bag you have left on the sand behind you has disappeared into thin air because a sneaky accomplice has grabbed it.

The moral of the story is, do not hesitate to reject overfriendly strangers. Even if they are in the form of children or the elderly.

Do not look like a tourist

This is the first thing a pickpocket will notice about you which makes them easy to place you in their crosshair: your appearance. Sure, you can be a tourist, but you do not have to look like one.

One sure sign that you are one is if you are seen studying a map and appearing like you have no idea where you are or looking lost.

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Always be sure you know where you are going so research ahead before you leave your accommodation.

To add on, try not to wear flashy goods which will broadcast to everyone, “Look at me. I am a tourist, and I am rich!”

You are bound to stick out like a sore thumb.

Leave your high-end brand logos at your accommodation and don on a culturally appropriate, low-key outfit instead. It could be more comfortable than a pair of pure leather Salvatore Ferragamo loafers or Manolo Blahnik heels anyway.

Finally, when exploring tourist attractions, always walk with a purpose and act like you know where you are going. Take in all the sights and snap all the pictures you want but once you are done, move on with a confident stride.

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Do not wait for a gleeful thief to make you a target.

Avoid using a backpack

There are so many ways for thieves to work with backpacks so unless if you really have to, avoid using one at all costs.

But if you have to lug one around for all your shopping needs, always carry it in front, against your chest. Never on your back.

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This is because you risk pickpockets reaching into the zippered pockets on your backpack when you are not looking and pulling out your wallet/purse, passport, hotel key, stuff you have just bought, you name it.

Even if you feel like your backpack’s zippered pockets are safe and super secure because you have gone to the extent of cleverly locking every single zipper pull there is, you still risk a thief aggressively slashing your backpack open.

And out will come pouring all your valuables.

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Believe it or not, it is a pretty common occurrence especially on crowded escalators be it in public (train, subway, on the streets) or a swanky mall.

Bare minimum cash

Of course, you should always keep your valuables as close to your body as possible. But that does not mean you should be lugging around your life’s fortune everywhere you go.

Please keep your extra cash and other valuables that you will not need for the day locked away in your hotel safe. Most hotel rooms are equipped with one, and they provide a great source of comfort when you are out and about exploring the town/city.

However, if you really need the cash because you plan to shop and paint the town red, keep your notes in a money belt.

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Remember to tuck that money belt way out of sight and do not flash the contents unless if you absolutely need to use them.