Alright, I may be exaggerating a little, but it was still a tense moment during my first week in Saigon.

I was walking around the city to find something more interesting than my quiet neighborhood. I ended up walking along Le Thanh Ton on my way back home and came across the ritzy part of the city — the hotels here are well out of my price range, as are most of the restaurants. That’s when I came across the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee building. There were guards all around and the lights made this colonial-era building look great. I was standing just in front and decided to take a picture of the lights and the flag atop the building.

people's committee building
I was almost arrested for this photo, so you should appreciate it

That’s when one of the guards ran up to me shouting, “No, no, no!” I was confused. I didn’t know what the building was at the time. I quickly turned off my camera and said, “Sorry,” as I walked away in hurried steps.

ho chi minh city
Same building, different angle, different day. No problem

There is nothing wrong with taking photos of this building — I took plenty more from across the street on subsequent days. I’m sure the problem was that I was directly in front of the government building, taking a photo during an event just before Tet. Maybe I could’ve captured a photo of a Vietnamese official whom I wouldn’t be able to identify.

The lesson here is: ask if photos are ok when you’re surrounded by guards with guns.

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