For the last two months, we have been living our day-to-day life very much like we were not in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not because we are defying common sense, but because Vietnam was COVID-free. There had been zero cases of community transmission for 100 days. This allowed all of the locals, including us, to relax. With the borders closed and no transmission happening, Vietnam had essentially eliminated the Coronavirus. This meant everyone could resume living mostly normal lives. That was until another infection cluster popped up out of nowhere to burst our worry-free bubble.
As early retirees and nomadic travelers, we do not own many possessions. We also are not big spenders. Nevertheless, our life still feels pretty luxurious on a day-to-day basis. This is almost certainly because we have an abundance of the greatest luxury: time. We’ve been retired for over a year now and it still feels amazing having the flexibility to do anything (or nothing) on any day of the week. Still, when it comes to material luxuries, we have fewer compared to our previous working life. Lately, we’ve started to reverse that trend.
When we arrived in Danang on March 11th, Vietnam was ramping up its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. While the country had been taking the coronavirus seriously all along, things were becoming more urgent. PSA banners had been hung on light poles of every major street and daily announcements were made over loudspeakers. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other non-essential businesses were ordered to be closed. Shortly after that, masks were required in all public places, indoors and out.
It was just over one year ago that Katie and I vacated our last permanent residence to become nomads. Prior to leaving, we spent a lot of time thinking about what this new life would be like. Since we were undertaking such a radical lifestyle change, it was impossible to know exactly what we would experience. All of our ideas were just educated guesses. A few months prior to leaving, I wrote down a bunch of these expectations. I’ll share these below and compare them to the realities of life in SE Asia. Let’s see how close I got.
Since April 1, Vietnam has been under lockdown. People are only supposed to leave the house for essential purposes. This allows going to the grocery store, pharmacy, or to work at an essential job, but not much else. Restaurants and malls are closed. Even the beach here in Danang has been roped off to keep people away. Of course everywhere around the world people are sharing a similar experience right now. It seems like stay at home orders have been instituted in most every country.
Our Vietnam visa was about to run out. Even though we used a professional agent to facilitate an extension, I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen. We turned our passports over to the agent on Saturday March 21st. Despite being repeatedly promised that our visa extension would be taken care of, up until this morning, our status was still in limbo. However we just received notice that our extensions have been granted which allowed us to breathe a gigantic sigh of relief. It was also just in time for the country to go into full lockdown mode.
It seems like the writing is on the wall. Not enough people in the US are taking the COVID-19 virus seriously. Up until very recently, officials and hospitals didn’t have enough testing kits and were only testing people exhibiting the worst symptoms. Even people with direct exposure to confirmed cases were being denied testing if they weren’t showing symptoms. Due to this ineptitude and the exponential nature of the virus spread, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until the number of cases in the US explodes. When that happens, even those of us 7000 miles away will be impacted.
Initially, I was only planning on making this a short informational post. Van Don Airport is a relatively new airport that opened for business in December 2018. It was specifically built to help facilitate extra tourist travel to Ha Long Bay. In order to help promote it and encourage travel through Van Don, the airport offers a free shuttle from the city of Ha Long and back. There isn’t a lot of information in English on how to take this shuttle, so since Katie and I took it, I thought I would add a quick post to the world wide web on how to do it in order to help future travelers. But our travel day turned into a travel adventure, so now I have a story. (scroll down to “Our Travel Adventure” if you want skip the logistics)
Upon arrival in Ha Long, we took a Grab taxi from the bus station to the high rise apartment building where our Airbnb was located. While waiting in the modern lobby, we noticed multiple signs in multiple languages about steps to prevent transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19). After a few minutes, we were greeted by our host. She immediately grabbed two surgical face masks from the reception desk and had us put them on. We were then escorted to a back room. Once there, we were informed that we needed to have our temperature taken by a forehead scanner before gaining access to our rental apartment. Luckily, Katie and I both registered in the normal range. I’m unsure of what would’ve happened had we not. This was our introduction to the coronavirus hysteria.
Katie and I just wrapped up 19 nights in Hanoi. We visited for the first time almost exactly a year ago, but only for three nights. That previous visit was part of our first trip to Asia and our last vacation ever. At the time, I thought the city was totally crazy but also a lot of fun. It’s a cacophony of sights, sounds, activity, and traffic that’s both entertaining and intimidating. I assumed that a longer stay would allow us to explore at a slower pace, help mitigate some of the sensory overload issues, and be more enjoyable. I was wrong.