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.
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.
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.