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.
After spending four weeks in Hoi An, I can confidently state that it’s one of the prettiest cities we’ve been to. The tropical climate allows flowering plants to thrive and the pastel colored buildings and vivid lanterns hanging everywhere are simply gorgeous. Earlier this month I published two pictorial posts, Hoi An during the daytime and Hoi An after the sun goes down. If you saw those posts, you can tell that it’s supremely easy to get good pictures here. The main downtown area, the Ancient Town, is car- and scooter-free so it’s wonderfully peaceful compared to most of Vietnam. The beauty and pedestrian friendly spaces draw scores of tourists from all over the world. It’s become one of the most visited places in Vietnam.
In my last post, I tempted you with the beauty of Hoi An during the day. To complete the story, Hoi An must be experienced at night too. Once the sun goes down, the lanterns light up and the whole old town feels like something out of a movie. The river is full of boats, the bridges are crowded with photogs, and the restaurant patios are taken over by hungry patrons. Without further ado, here’s the marvelous Hoi An after the sun goes down.
Hoi An, Vietnam is an incredibly beautiful spot. The city is known for its colorful lanterns and they are numerous. Its tropical locale means that there are plenty of flowering plants and trees too. The natural blooms and the radiant orbs combine to make Hoi An a photographer’s paradise. In fact, I’ve taken so many pictures that I barely know what to do with them all. So instead of prattling on and on about how gorgeous the scene is here, I’ll just let the photos do the talking.
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.
By any measure, Ha Long Bay is one of the top natural wonders of the world. Its unique limestone karsts seem to continue forever across the seascape. Each of these small isles is different, having been carved up by millions of years of geologic evolution. The result is a vast and beautiful terrain that’s mesmerizing to witness by boat. A cruise through this labyrinth of outcroppings is an unforgettable experience.
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.
Tet is the most important holiday on the Vietnamese calendar and a very festive time of the year. The city of Hanoi, which can otherwise be somewhat drab, comes alive with color. Multiple parks are outfitted with freshly planted flowers. Brightly colored banners are hung. Displays are set up to celebrate the next animal on the Lunar New Year calendar. Locals dress in fancy attire and take family pictures by the lakes. And like every other new year celebration across the globe, there are booming firework shows.