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)
[Author’s note from the future: This post has not been edited from it’s original text. However, please keep in mind the context in which it was written. At the time of publishing, COVID-19 was mostly contained to a single area of China and was nowhere near a global pandemic. The US CDC was not recommending that the general public wear masks, only medical professionals. Obviously that turned out to be a pretty egregious error, but that’s where we stood in mid-February 2020. We still followed a “when in Rome” policy and wore masks as requested, even if we were initially skeptical. With hindsight, these requirements turned out to be quite smart and effective . Also with hindsight, I probably would have used a softer term than “hysteria” to end the next paragraph.]
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.
By any measure, 2019 was one remarkable year. We experienced such drastic changes that the beginning of the year almost feels like a whole different lifetime. The top among these changes was retiring from our jobs at the ripe old ages of 41 and 42. Even though we have only been retired for 8 months, it might as well have been a decade ago. It feels like forever since I stepped foot into a fluorescent lit office partitioned into cubicles. Part of the reason for this distance is that we completely uprooted our lives upon retirement. If we had stayed in the same place but just stopped going to work, it may not have felt as drastic. Instead, we not only quit work, we also sold everything we owned and got on a plane bound for Thailand. Lots of other things happened too.
Kuala Lumpur is a cosmopolitan city with a green twist. The downtown area could be mistaken for Chicago or New York at first glance. It’s full of tall buildings, trendy shopping, and plenty of traffic. Yet despite the gigantic skyscrapers of glass and steel, nature still exists here. The sidewalks often pass by huge trees that were here before there was concrete or asphalt surrounding them. The tropical climate means that everything grows fast while frequent rains keep things clean and green. It’s a city that was literally carved out of the middle of the jungle and it shows.
On the surface, Malacca appears to be a great destination for us. Despite not being a large city, there are a lot of things to see and do. The historic downtown area is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It has a lively weekend night market. There are a ton of museums. But it seemed like there was always something a little bit off. Despite staying for a month, we were never able to settle into a local living groove and couldn’t wait to leave.
On each side of the river that meanders through downtown Malacca is a nice walking path. Scattered amongst the cafes, restaurants, and street art that adorn this walkway are signs with public service announcements. These offer encouragement for people to be healthy and active by touting the benefits of walking. I’ve learned that by walking only a few times a week, I can avoid diabetes, heart disease, and even mental decline. While the claims made by these banners might be a bit overstated, they serve as a good reminder to continue to take care of my health. After all, I’m not on vacation here. This is my regular life, and while it may be exotic, it still comes with all of the same requirements for healthy living. It had been 6 months since my last dental checkup, so I booked an appointment for my first cleaning while living abroad.