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.
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)
[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.
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.