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.
On April 1st, full lockdown mode went into effect restricting trips outside of the house to essential purposes only. Outdoor spaces like the beach and riverwalk were closed to prevent groups from gathering. This mandatory home quarantine was eased after 3 weeks on April 22nd. We could then leave the house as desired, but social distancing and mask wearing were still required. Starting May 1st, more restrictions were relaxed and businesses were allowed to restart. Public beaches and spaces were also reopened. Normalcy started to trickle back into everyday life.
We rode out the quarantine in a two bedroom apartment right next to the Han River with a great rooftop view of the famous Dragon Bridge. We originally booked this apartment for 28 nights beginning March 11th for $689, which is a little under $25/night. Throughout our travels so far, we’ve exclusively booked apartments through Airbnb and this one was no exception. However, the convenience that offers comes at a higher price. Previously, I have been happy to pay a premium for the ease of booking and continuity between countries. And if you’ve followed our spending reports, even these premium prices likely seem pretty cheap.
We were scheduled to leave on April 8th, however due to the quarantine measures in place when our 4 weeks were nearing the end, we had nowhere to go. Danang was on lockdown and people were not supposed to be leaving the house, let alone be moving apartments. Of course the lockdown also meant that our landlord had no one else coming in, so when we asked if we could extend our stay an additional 23 nights to the end of the month, he happily agreed and offered us a rate of $17/night, well below our initial booking.
I assumed that he would send us a special booking offer through Airbnb, but that never happened. Three days into our extension, we still hadn’t been asked for any money. Eventually, we agreed on a cash payment of 9,100,000 VND, which is about $390. Considering that we had a comfort level with him and the apartment already, and we received a discount for doing so, we were happy to pay in cash. This became our first rental outside of the Airbnb platform.
And then, when the end of the month came, we decided to ask for another extension. We weren’t quite ready to jump back into “normal” life with two feet. The comforts of the known were still outweighing the promise of the unknown. Even though our apartment was less than ideal, we were the only renters in the building during this time which provided some extra comfort and allowed us full use of the rooftop common area. We added another 2 weeks to our stay covering the first two weeks of May for a cost of 5,000,000 VND, which is about $214 or $15/night. This time though, we did not request an extension and actually moved out on May 15th.
Despite the fact that we stayed a long time and extended twice, the apartment had some issues. For a two bedroom place, it was about the smallest space that I could imagine. There was no living area, only bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. Almost all of the space in each bedroom was taken up by the beds, of which there were three total. That meant that we spent an awful lot of time in bed, whether that was watching TV, hanging out, or even eating meals. Whatever we were doing, it most likely occurred in a bed.
Even with its flaws, there were some positive aspects that we appreciated. The beds were very nice. So at least the place we were spending too much time was comfortable. The kitchen was also well stocked, which came in handy since we were relegated to only cooking at home. Our host was also a really nice guy who continually checked on us and made sure we were okay. When stuck in a foreign country halfway around the world during a global pandemic, it was nice to have someone local looking out for us. But after 65 nights, we needed a change.
We used that last two week extension to hunt for different apartments. Vietnam was continuing to ease restrictions on its residents, but border closures remained in place. This meant that there were hundreds of vacant apartments with very few people to rent them. Prices were being slashed around the city as landlords looked for anything to help bridge the gap until tourists are allowed back. We took advantage of this to search for places that were closer to the beach with more living space.
I joined three different Facebook groups offering apartments for rent in Danang. These are run by agents looking to fill apartments for their clients. Between the three, I found a large selection with quality pictures. They also had a clear price posted along with any requirements (security deposit, utility charges, minimum stay, etc) that needed to be met. These listings provided all the needed information, but the lack of a search function made it feel a bit disjointed. Ultimately, it wasn’t how we found a new place, but it could be a good option in the future.
We continued to search for apartments on Airbnb too. When we found ones we liked, we would do some internet sleuthing to figure out where they were located and then stop by in person. This allowed us to look at pictures and read reviews, but it gave us the option to rent independently for a lower price. (Shhh, let’s not share this with Airbnb) This would be harder to pull off in a limited time frame, but since we’re not going anywhere for a while, we had the time.
It didn’t take long for this technique to produce results. On our second try, we found the place we wanted. We walked by the building one afternoon hoping to find contact information, with the idea that we’d schedule a tour in the near future. Fortuitously, the owner was onsite when we walked up and offered to show us around right then and there. We looked at two different apartment layouts and decided on one immediately, agreeing to move in a week later and stay for one month. The price quoted was $350/mo (excluding electricity), which seemed like a steal at a little over $11/night. He said we were getting the “COVID discount”, as it normally rents for $500/mo. It was listed at over $600/mo on Airbnb.
Our new apartment has a balcony with a sliver of an ocean view and windows on three sides that provide a lot of natural light and a really nice cross breeze. The 6th floor rooftop, just two floors above us, has a small pool with even better views and breezes. And it’s even three-quarters covered by a corrugated metal roof so we can hang out in or beside the pool without planning ahead and slathering up with sunscreen. It’s only a few blocks from the beach too, so if we want to swap a chlorine swim for a saltwater one, it’s easy to do. Even when we avoid the saltwater, the long sandy shore is a nice place to walk.
Our move to the new apartment has also coincided with things decidedly getting back to normal. Due to the early aggressive lockdown measures, Vietnam has not had a single case of community transmission of COVID-19 since April 16th. This means that most people, including us, are no longer frightened just being in the vicinity of others. Restaurants are open again. Beaches are popular hangout spots again. Mask usage is no longer mandatory outdoors, so we see many more smiling faces. All of this just makes things feel better.
Overall, we are much happier. Our new apartment has more amenities and changing areas makes the city feel different. Our new neighborhood is filled with friendly people, especially kids yelling “HELLO!” at us as we pass by. We have been taking advantage of the location and have walked on the beach almost everyday. We still wear masks when going indoors to shop, but we are free to walk around and explore outdoors without a face covering. Outlooks and attitudes are much brighter than a month ago, both for us and our neighbors.