Worst Case Scenario happened: Camera Gear and Equipment stolen

Escape-Button_FinalYesterday in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City the nightmare of every traveler and photographer came true for me. I was in the park to work out a little bit. The plan was to go for some night and street photography afterwards so I brought my backpack with me. Inside my camera with both lenses and my tripod. I had put my backpack on the ground right in front of me. I turned around to stretch at a tree only about 2 metres away from my pack and this moment only lasted 20 or so seconds. I turned back around and was shocked. No backpack anymore. It seemed like it has just disappeared. The locals around haven’t seen anything either. Whoever stole my backpack, must have been watching me for a while already and just waited for this brief moment. I was in total shock. Some local girls helped me looking around and also brought me to the police station nearby. But I realized straight away that this was it. I was devastated and I still am.

The worst thing is is not the material loss which is still bad. No, the worst is the fact that I lost a bunch of photographs which I had taken recently and which I hadn’t saved yet. I feel like during the last few weeks my photography has improved so much. And among those pictures lost, there were probably some of the best I have taken during my entire trip. It is so frustrating. A lot of people say that the most important memories are the ones in your mind and these can’t ever be taken from you. That is very true but I feel that I have come to the stage where I don’t take pictures for memories anymore. I try to create photographs and I try to create good ones. I put a lot of effort, time and thought into them. I roam the streets at night just in search of that one image or I go back to places I have been to before in order to get that perfect shot. Losing some of my best images really hurts and frustrates me so much. Losing the gear is one thing but the pictures were just priceless. The night before this incident I just saved one picture I took during that same day. It is one of the last pictures I have taken and I put it below as a little obituary.

One of the last pictures taken: Street scene in Saigon's maze of alleys and lanes.

One of the last pictures taken: Street scene in Saigon’s maze of alleys and lanes.

Another things that bothers me a lot and that these thugs stole from me is my easiness and carefree approach to traveling. I find myself much more worried and cautious while walking around now and also wary of locals approaching me. This is new to me as I was usually totally at ease and confident when traveling a foreign country. I hate it that they took this away from me. I just hope that I can shake it off. All this also puts a different light on my whole experience here in Vietnam which has been great up until now.

I was thinking a lot about what to do now. Traveling will definitely not be the same anymore. Travel photography has become such an important part of me that it will be hard to enjoy things the same way as before. If there is a good thing about it, it is that this happened close to the end of my trip and not at the beginning.
I will try to stay positive but right now I find it really hard to do so. What definitely helped are all the positive messages and comments I received from friends on Facebook. Close friends as well as people I just got to know through this blog showed their sympathy and support and encouraged me to keep going. Thanks so much to everyone of you. It already helped me a lot.

Just a note to fellow travelers: Jut watch your stuff and don’t become too carelessly. Hold onto your belongings, don’t leave them out of sight, not even for a second. I have been traveling for ten months now without anything happening to me. I guess I have become a bit to carelessly and maybe a bit naive. Don’t let this happen to you, keep aware. There are assholes everywhere and things can go alright 99 times but the 100th time it won’t and it will be a painful experience if you let it happen. However, don’t become paranoid, just be careful.

Categories: Photography, Travel Tips, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “Worst Case Scenario happened: Camera Gear and Equipment stolen

  1. peter montgomery

    the worst is still to come phil , cyclo drivers in hue , motor scooter drive by snatches in na trang . its just business . i once told you , the fils is the best country in asia .

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hey Peter, I am through with that and have been to all of those places already. Nothing happened but I guess HCMC is just THE place for shit like that. But yeah, as a friend has mentioned, I have been charmed with good fortune up until now. There have been moments where I some serious could have happened but I was always lucky. Something was just bound to happen. But yeah, it is still frustrating. Shit can happen in the Phils as well. A guy in my guesthouse just today told me that his brand new iPad got stolen in a hostel in Manila and he assumes that it was staff. As I wrote, there assholes everywhere you go. In some places the chance in running into them is higher than in others …. What can you do …. Cheers and thanks for your message Peter!

  2. Ulli Pippart-Heptner

    Dear Philipp,
    I’m so sorry that someone ripped you off. I can sure understand your anger and frustration of losing especially those precious pictures. Still, keep your head up high. Not everyone is rotten. Try to enjoy the rest of your trip. It would be a shame, if some stupid and bad idiot ruins the rest of your trip for you. Need help or Money to get a new Equipment? Let us know!

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Uli, thanks a lot. It is a little better now but I am still gutted. I guess I have to do the rest without taking pics. I also have an old reallz shitty pocket cam wit me which I might break out. No need for help though. Guess I have to save up and then buy something once back home. Thanks a lot..see you soon! Phil

  3. oh no, just read this post. How devastating for you. Makes you want to scream from a mountain top. How frustrating…..I really feel for you. It would irritate me beyond words as well. Would it be worth asking the locals to ask around the community and that you will give a reward and no questions asked if it is returned as the photos mean so much? I can’t believe no one saw the culprit. On a positive note you are well and safe and at the end of the day that is what really matter ;o)

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hey Torie, thanks for your support. Sucks big time. No chance dealing with the locals here and I think they are so used to shit like that happening, that they also just would not care. Saigon is really the city where I feel the most unsafe I have to say. Even before this happened. Today people told me to tuck away my golden neck chain because someone might snatch it off of me. I mean what the fuck? What’s wrong with these people? I have been to way poorer countries and the situation there was not even close to what’s going on here. At the police station I met an English who just had his camera snatched by a motorbike driver…drive by. I am glad to leave this place ….

  4. Pain in the present moment and a cleansing and then the gift again.The present of the present moment.
    All the questing,eyes and senses ,all perceptions at alert for those photos in your camera- they are engrams in your brain.The shooting choices,when to and what were not stolen,you
    evolved in your art,they did not get your personal artistry.They have helped hone you in the dark room of your soul.
    When your synapses wash out and clear.You will emerge a new.
    Consider that viewing your photos in your camera gallery, could in fact change their lives.
    Your images have entered their souls.
    Keep shooting,informed by your pain,disapointment,percieved and actual.Experience the gift of the present moment.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Tohmas, thanks for your thoughts. Very deep….. I hope you are right. At this present moment the painful loss is predominating… but I am sure it will be better soon. Thanks again and best regards, Philipp

  5. I’ve been there. I had my camera stolen on a bus in southern China. The loss of the camera hurt, but the images I hadn’t had the chance to save was the real kicker.

    I live in Ho Chi MInh City and yes, it sucks that you can’t truly relax. I am a photographer and so it’s hard to accept that every second I’m out with my camera I have to be vigilant – especially of motorcycle drive-by grabs. But the encounters I’ve had with amazing and warm people here reminds me that it may be just 1 or 2% of the population (or less) that perpetrate these crimes. At times I become really negative about the city, but the fact is that most people are not like that – just that minority ruin it for everybody.

    It may be hard to hear, but the trust we often have based on how people act in our home country is a not a positive thing to have. After an experience like this, and a little time, your trust for people in general and bright-eyed excitement at exploring new places will return, but it will be balanced by a healthy awareness that things can go wrong, and you’ll be just that little more careful. This is actually a good thing.

    But having lost those photos is not good any way you look at it. Sorry for that loss!

    The photo you posted here is great! You should be pleased with yourself. The composition and way of telling a story in this shot is strong (although it’s a little blurred – I think a combination of the focus not being spot-on and perhaps a slowish shutter speed, but the key thing is seeing the shot, your execution is easy to improve through a little more practice).

    Hope you can still enjoy the rest of your trip. Trust me – this experience, as hard as it is right now, will be a faint memory that brings as much positive (stories to tell, a little more wisdom) in the future as the negative you feel now. The sadness will fade, but not the value the experience will bring you.

    • Hi Adam, thanks so much for your kind words. It feels like you really understand my situation. At the same time I am trying to look at it as you are pointing it out. There is lots of wisdom in your words and I am sure are right. However, the sadness and frustration about the loss, and I am talking about the pictures, not the camera, is still a bit dominating. It’s slowly getting better though.
      I had a great day today again. I rented a motorbike and took it across the countryside of Chau Doc at the Cambodian border. This place is so underrated. Beautiful scenery, no tourists, little villages, friendly locals and hundreds of great photo opportunities. It would have made for a forgiving end of my Vietnam trip since this is my last day here. But then again the thought of a couple of specific pictures that I have lost came back up. Dragged me down once again.

      I definitely learnt my lessons from this and I will change my behavior in terms of a few things. My approach to people, my general level of awareness and my approach to saving pictures. I wanna make sure that a disaster like this will never ever happen again.

      Thanks also for your very constructive feedback on my picture. I so appreciate feedback like that from fellow photographers. That really helps so much. If ok, I will send you a message via your blog on that matter. It would have been great to go on a photo tour together while in HCMC. Maybe next time…

      Thank you again for your kind message. It actually helped me to see the broader picture of this event and become more positive.

      Cheers from Chau Doc, Philipp

      • Glad to hear things picked up a little – that place sounds pretty cool. It’s usually the relatively unknown places that have the best treasures hidden away for us to discover.

        Yeah, it takes time to let those lost images go (I think a part of us never truly lets go of them). But for every brilliant and perfect moment, there will be a lifetime more of them if we keep our eyes open for them (and of course we keep growing in our craft and become capable of even better).

        I got your message via my website and I’ll reply to that one directly.

      • Thanks again Adam. I had a few great experiences again which were very unique and enjoyable, even without a camera. Maybe it is even a little lesson to not lose the ability to take in and appreciate experience just as they are and without documenting them. Anyhow, guess I am slowly getting over the loss. Thanks for your support. Looking forward to hearing from ya. Greets, Philipp

  6. I can completely understand the feeling of betrayal when something like this happens. It’s like you say, it’s never really about the item itself (because one can just get another camera, or iPad, or whatever); it’s about all the photos, or things written, or just some really important files that are lost.

    It’s very, very lucky you’d already saved all your photos before HCMC; I think that’s one of the most important things for any kind of digital artist, whether writer or photographer or painter, etc. Save early and save often.

    Still, I can understand the feeling that suddenly the trip isn’t as enjoyable as it was. I feel like if something like this happened to me, there’d be a stretch of time when I wouldn’t even feel good about the really fun/amazing things that happened. But hopefully that’s a very short stretch, because you did have some really amazing adventures, and I’m sure there’ll be more before the trip is over.

    P.S. Love the photo of the baby getting a hair trim. Little guy doesn’t seem to be enjoying the experience, though ^_^

    If that thief happens to see your photos, he’d damn well better at least be impressed.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Yeah, really sucks. I definitely learnt my lessons from this. I will be way more cautious and aware and I will make sure to, as you said it, save and save as regularly as possible. My next trip, I will try to save my pictures every single day. I don’t want a disaster like this ever happen again.

      Yeah, on top of things I just today lost my smartphone. Probably fell out of my pocket during a bumpy tuk tuk ride. I don’t know, I am on a really bad streak and it feels like someone want to really tell me that is now about time to return back home. And maybe that is really what I just should do. Maybe I will be home already in a couple of weeks. I feel like my mission here in SEA is complete but yet I am not mentally ready to go home. I really hope that I won’t fall into a deep, black hole. Really scared of this to happen …. But thanks Nerija for your support. Have a good day! Philipp

      • Will you be going back to the company you worked for, or another in market communications? I think, with your experiences this past year, and future travels, you could be a good travel writer. Maybe even have your own show, called Escapology 🙂

        I’ve been hearing a lot about the huge typhoon now headed toward Vietnam. Have you noticed any effects while in Burma? I haven’t heard yet where it’s headed next. Stay safe!

      • Philipp Dukatz

        Hi Nerija, I was in Cambodia by the time the storm hit Vietnam. So no worries. Considering my return I actually have no idea. Naturally it would be easiest to et back into Market Communications but I could imagine many things. Traveling is where my heart is and if I could turn that into a professional career, that would be like a dream come true. Right now I am missing a concrete plan or idea how to turn this into reality. I think it is very difficult like my reintegration in general. Hope it won’t be tough of a reality check. What do you for a living again? Greets, Philipp

      • I don’t have a long-term job right now…I worked in a home decor/gift shop for a while, Now I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do next.

  7. Kyong

    Sorry about your terrible loss. Everyone knows of the risks of backpack travels and you can only be so cautious. Lesson learned but don’t let this experience steal your passion for traveling. At least you can upgrade to better equipment now that your skillz have improved.

    • Yeah, I guess I have learnt more than one lesson. Unfortunately it will probably take some time before I will be able to invest in new gear. I will be dead broke by the time I return. And that will be very soon. Thanks for your support though. Take it easy and enjoy Northern Thailand….

  8. Linh To

    oops, i didnt know that yr camera was stolen herein Vietnam. Completely understand yr feeling. For us, we’re always be careful of our belongings at all times n we get used to it. Thats the 1st lesson we learned when being allowed to go out. Really sorry for that! But think beyond n be positive! Take care!

    • Hi there, I think I had to learn it the really hard way. It as a lesson and I changed y behavior in several ways after this incident. But I have to say, it is a really special situation in Saigon. I have never experienced a state of constant awareness and caution anywhere else. A thing that other travelers attested as well. How are you doing anyhow? Everything good? Do you have any plans of traveling soon? Cheers, Philipp.

      • Linh To

        Probably y should have contacted me when u arrived in Saigon, sigh! In that case y would have had a memorable days in Saigon :). Anw, its yr decision n the things happened as a result. Hope y r doing well in Germany now. I cant travel as long as y did. I only travel on occasion of holidays here. I will go to Corons to celebrate new yr 2014 n maybe Phuket n Chiang Mai for Tet holiday in Jan end n Feb beggining. Keep in touch n all the best!

      • I know Linh, I so should have gotten in touch with you. But as I said before, I totally didn’t think of it. I was preoccupied with a few things that seem to have distracted me. Only after you wrote me recently, I realized that I actually know someone in the city. Too bad. I do wanna come back though to make my peace with the city and maybe retake some of those lost pictures.
        Coron for New Years sounds very great. If I would have to decide between Phuket and CM, I would go to Chiang Mai. But that is just very personal. I hope you are doing well. Thanks for your support. I really hope we can stay in touch. Philipp

  9. susan colong

    i came from a country in which snatchers, pickpockets and many kinds of criminals are just around the corner that even the police can never bw trusted. the first time i came to vietnam my students were wondering why i looled like i wouldnt let my bag out of my body. either i have a small lock or put it in my chest. i know how it feels especially when photography is concerned. its still save in ha noi but i never take risks…Saigon and my country are the same when it comes to this issue… 😦 sad sorry to hear about ur experience. my friend fell off the motorbike while stolling the streets of Saigon bec someone snatched her sling bag. that was aweful :((

    • Hi Susan, thanks for your message. It seems like Saigon is really dangerous in terms of crime and especially when it comes to camera theft and snatchings. I also heard similar stories from several people I know personally. It’s crazy there and definitely no fun if you walk around all tense the whole time. That’s not how traveling is supposed to be. I’m curious, which country are you from then if you say it is similar and what were you doing in Vietnam? Were you working there? Thanks again for stopping by. Cheers, Philipp

  10. susan colong

    sorry too many typos arghhh this is the downside of being on a smartphone (*looked like/*be trusted/*still safe in ha noi/*on my chest/while strolling*

  11. Hi Phil, I’m sorry for your loss…your pictures have been great stories in themselves. But I know (by reading your blog n looking at the pictures you’ve produced) that you have great passion in photography n travelling to overcome this.
    I guess if we have passion about something, “life” has a strange way to test us.
    Looking forward to more of your writing.

    • Thanks Rinda, really appreciate your comment. I am saving for a new cam now to finally get back into that passion again. Hopefully soon hehe.

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