Danang represents all of the good things about living abroad. It’s a modern city showcasing a beautiful, clean beach with soft sand that stretches for miles and miles. The city is big enough that it’s easy to find most modern amenities, but small enough that there’s no overwhelming traffic issues. It’s also walkable with low pollution by SE Asian standards. This package comes with a surprisingly low price tag too. Overall, Danang is quite pleasant and I hope to never return.
Perhaps unfairly, what Danang also represents are COVID lockdowns and extreme boredom. It’s where our enjoyable retirement travel was forced to come to an abrupt halt. Because of that, I have a lot of negative feelings attached to it that I’m eager to rid myself of. I’m sure that anywhere we would’ve gotten stuck during this pandemic would have had me itching to leave, whether that was Penang or Taiwan or somewhere else. But Danang is where we were, so that’s where my grievances are directed.
We traveled from nearby Hoi An in March 2020 with a plan to spend 4 weeks in Danang. It was pretty much the day we arrived that things started to get very serious regarding the coronavirus outbreak. The Vietnamese government, among others, had begun to close their borders. The US government issued a travel warning that if citizens didn’t return home soon, that they should prepare to stay put indefinitely. So that’s what we did. We stayed put. I just never had any idea that it would last 15 months.
Our time in Danang actually started out pretty great. As far as places to get stuck, Danang seemed like a good one. It’s ridiculously cheap (more on this below) and as a popular vacation spot, there are many hundreds of furnished apartments to choose from. Vietnam is handling the pandemic better than almost every other locale, so it’s quite safe in that regard. At a couple of different points over the last 15 months, there was zero community spread of COVID happening and daily life was reasonably normal.
After the initial lockdown restrictions were lifted mid-May 2020, the beach opened back up and we spent a lot of time at the ocean while swimming, reading books, and just hanging out. I have never been so tan in my life. When the rainy season hit in October and we were stuck inside much more, we switched to entertaining ourselves with jigsaw puzzles and playing around on a ukulele. But that could only take us so far. We were pretty much on our own for entertainment and we definitely ran out of interesting stuff to do.
Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination, but facing month after month of needing to entertain ourselves while also avoiding close contact with people makes it really hard to come up with things to do. Local markets are either crowded or closed depending on the COVID outbreak status. There are a handful of museums, but those were mostly closed too. We had already fully explored all neighborhoods within walking distance. When the beach is closed in Danang, either due to weather or COVID restrictions, it really feels like there is absolutely nothing to do.
If these were regular times, and we had planned on staying somewhere for an extended period, we could go out and make friends or maybe find some place to volunteer. But of course COVID put the kibosh on that. It made the act of human contact a dangerous one. That resulted in a world that was less welcoming. Many friendly smiles transformed into suspicious glares, as foreigners were blamed for initial outbreaks. This eased over time, but it still led to us enduring a fairly isolated existence. Even the time zone made it hard, as we were usually asleep when our people in the US were awake and vice versa.
The last couple months of our stay left a pretty bad taste in my mouth as well. It was 100F (38C) everyday, but COVID has started spreading again so the beach was closed to keep people from gathering. We had rented a high rise condo right on the ocean, specifically for the swimming and sand. Standing on our balcony, staring at the completely wide open beach that we were barred from using just seemed cruel. We had already done and seen everything there was to see and do, and most things were closed anyway, so we were mostly just sitting around waiting to leave. It was hot, sweaty, and kind of miserable.
Then just to up our anxiety levels, the government decided to shut down all international arrivals to help fight the latest COVID outbreak. This filled us with worry that our outbound flight would get cancelled, since it’s not great business for airplanes to fly empty one way. After a single instance of a taxi driver causing the spread of a few COVID cases, the municipal government reacted by shutting down all taxi service in the city too. That left us unsure how we’d be able to get to the airport, even if our flight still took off. And then out of nowhere, our visa agent said that there was a good chance that we could no longer extend our tourist visas for our last month, although she’d still try (for twice as much money).
In the end, the visas were extended and the taxi service resumed after a few weeks. Our flight left as scheduled and our entire 30 hour travel day went off without any incident at all. With hindsight, we really should’ve worked to leave earlier, but we wanted to make sure of the vaccine availability in the US, especially for out-of-state residents since we didn’t plan to visit our “home state” of South Dakota. It was important to us that we could get our shots as soon as possible upon landing. Which we did. Yeah!
What We Did
Nothing. We did absolutely nothing. Okay, that’s not really true. We tapped into our inner American and bought stuff to try to keep us happy. We beached a lot. We perfected our cooking techniques. Typhoons kept us on our toes for a couple of months, including forcing us to hastily change apartments due to ours flooding. We had to endure a couple of lockdowns and one mandatory COVID test. A lot of movies and TV were watched. Travel plans were made and subsequently thwarted.
Where We Stayed
We lived in 4 apartments in 3 different neighborhoods during our 15 months. We dubbed our first rental “The Floor Is Lava” apartment, because it had almost no open floor space. It was located near the famous Dragon Bridge and the night market. COVID caused the night market to get shut down, so that became less of a draw. We stayed here for two months at the average cost of $525/mo. Much of our time here was spent in lockdown. It was definitely not a great layout for spending lots of time indoors. Once the initial lockdown was lifted, we searched for a brighter, airier place.
Our search led us to the Son Tra neighborhood where we found the Blue Sea Apartment. It had a rooftop pool, a room with a breeze and view, and was only 10 minutes from the beach. We were offered the “COVID discount” by the owner due to a lack of demand to seal the deal. We stayed here for 5 months at an average cost of $390/mo. But what turned out to be a great apartment during the dry season became a really poor spot once the storms arrived. During one typhoon the whole building started leaking, with our windows allowing water to just pour in while the hallway staircase turned into a waterfall.
This led us to scramble to find our third apartment, also in the Son Tra neighborhood. We lucked into a dry day and walked all of our stuff 4 blocks to the Harmony Tower. We stayed here for 5 months also. It was bigger and more comfortable, having two bedrooms and two bathrooms instead of just one each. But most importantly, the windows didn’t leak. This one cost us $460/mo, but we were happy to shell out the extra money to have a dry place.
After 10 months in the same neighborhood, we decided to switch apartments again just for a change. The weather was turning warmer so we moved into a luxury high rise building in the An Thuong neighborhood. The apartment we chose was on the 35th floor with a balcony. It was somehow cheaper than our last place at $440/mo, despite also having 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. As mentioned, the beach was closed for most of our 3 months in this rental, so that was kind of a bummer. But at least we got a view and breeze.
What We Spent
If there’s a bright spot from all this, it’s that it was quite cheap to be stuck in one city for 15 months. We only spent a grand total of $22,627 for everything. One cost we didn’t incur before was the almost $200 per month on visa extensions, but that was mainly offset by lower rents due to the lack of travelers. At $454/mo, rent was the best deal of all.
Our grocery bill was somewhat higher compared to some of our other SE Asia stops, as we did nearly all of our shopping at the big fancy grocery stores instead of from local markets and street vendors. We bought a lot of clothes, as many of the ones we left with had begun to wear out. We also splurged on more luxury items like cheeses, bourbon, a popcorn maker, and a few other things like that. Overall though, our spending was quite low (about half of our proposed budget) and we definitely felt like we were getting a pretty sweet deal most of the time. Here’s the full breakdown.
After living in Danang for 1 year, 3 months, and 13 days, we are very happy to finally be somewhere else. Under different circumstances, I’m sure we would’ve enjoyed it more, but it is what it is. We are looking forward to turning the page and writing the next chapter of our lives. That last one seemed to drag on for way too long.