- Peter Scott & Monica Kong
COVID-19 PANDEMIC: Things To Do In VIETNAM during LOCKDOWN
Updated: May 14, 2020
Da Nang, is a city of 1.1 million people that on any ordinary year, absent of a raging global pandemic, attracts thousands of tourists from around the world. Now, it stands eerily quiet and nearly empty of traffic and people. No more vendors selling banh mi sandwiches, fresh sugar cane juice or steamed dumplings on the streets. No more locals sitting outside on tiny plastic stools and sipping on their coffee all day long. This time of the year, hot, sunny days in Danang are endless, yet the sandy beaches are bare and almost free of footprints.
When the government announced a nationwide physical distancing order on April 1st, things got a lot more serious. We knew it was only a matter of time. Deciding to stay in Vietnam meant that we had to accept the strong possibility of being here for quite some time, with COVID-19 restrictions in place. So now that we are riding out the pandemic in Vietnam for the foreseeable future, what do we do?
We admit, we have NEVER been more glued to our phones than we have since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the news evolving so quickly, there is this constant NEED TO KNOW. The need to know the numbers, stats and the latest research. The need to learn, and understand the rules and restrictions. The need to stay in touch with friends and family. It can be mentally draining, and we try our best to avoid social media overload. However, while we are in a foreign country during this global crisis, it is imperative that we keep up with the latest developments both locally and overseas.
Under registration with the Canadian Embassy, we receive regular e-mails with pertinent information specific to Vietnam and COVID-19. We also read the local news in english, and updates in our area via tracking sites and social media groups for foreigners in Vietnam. Joining expat groups on facebook, for instance, has been especially helpful for day to day questions that arise. Visa extensions, and what that process entails, is also something we are always keeping a close eye on.
FIND THE RIGHT ACCOMMODATION
Our previous hotel was adequate and budget friendly at $570 CAD/ month, but for longer term, we needed a slight upgrade. Our 4 MUST HAVE's were:
1) AFFORDABLE PRICE: With an expensive visa extension, we wanted to keep our costs at a minimum, but we were willing to pay a little more for the right place with additional comforts.
2) CONVENIENT LOCATION: Within walking distance to grocery stores, supermarkets and/or produce stands. (Below: the street market 2 mins from our place, with a military guard monitoring crowd size, mask compliance and offering hand sanitizer)
3) OUTDOOR SPACE: Ideally a place with access to fresh air and nature, like a garden, rooftop patio, or near a beach.
4) NICE OWNERS: During these unprecedented times, when you are far from home, friends or family, to know and trust a local person who speaks decent english and you have a connection with, was important to us. They can end up being a very valuable resource.
We were very fortunate to find LYN's HOTEL & APARTMENT. At 10,000,000 vnd or $600 CAD/month, this was definitely a step above our old place, with faster wifi, two bathrooms, a rooftop patio and a pool. There are produce stands, bakeries and grocery stores within a 5 minutes walk. Above all else though, what sold us on this place, was the family that owns the hotel. They not only speaks great english, but they have gone out of their way to ensure that all our needs are being met. We moved in just in time before restrictions got tighter and hotels were ordered to stop accepting new guests.
BOREDOM is A LUXURY during these challenging times, one that many people around the world don't have. All the hospital and health care workers worldwide putting their lives at risk don't have this luxury. All those with covid-19, struggling to catch a breath don't have this luxury. All those who are unable to work and provide the basic necessities for their families during lockdown don't have this luxury.
Whatever inconveniences these restrictions may pose on our travels, they are hard to complain about. We realize we are profoundly privileged and we try not to take any of it for granted. This isn't to say that lockdown in a foreign country is easy, especially with kids. At least, for us, we've gotten used to spending a lot of time together by now, as we've been on the go since last July.
1) MUSIC and ART
One of the first things we bought when we decided to stay in Vietnam was a ukulele. The plan is to learn, practice and have fun with it. Not sure how far we will get before it drives us all mad in our small hotel room! Balancing it with quieter arts and crafts activities is the goal. Plasticine clay, bracelet making, origami, and paperdoll designs are some of the things our kids have been really into lately.
With only one stove, a rice cooker and a small kettle, we have the tiniest kitchen we've had this whole trip, but somehow we are getting by just fine. Perhaps camping across Canada last summer has given us lots of practice cooking pretty much anywhere. Not only are restaurants closed, take out and food deliveries have all shutdown during the lockdown period. Surprisingly, we've enjoyed getting back into cooking. Finding the ingredients we need can be a challenge, but improvising and experimenting can also be fun. As with everything though, the novelty of cooking all meals at home, will wear off over time, I'm sure!
With the beach closed to the public, we are happy to have a small pool on the rooftop, which is still open for use. Swimming almost daily has been the kids' most favorite activity.
Since taxis and GRAB have suspended their services, we have no choice but to walk for groceries. Even though there are plenty of stores nearby, we intentionally stroll long distances to far away supermarkets for the added exercise.
It has been over 2 months since arriving in VIETNAM, and we are just now barely getting past the basics. If we are going to call this country our home for the next little while, we need to at least make the effort to learn Vietnamese. We are not aiming for deep philosophical debates; just every day, conversational language skills. Going to the market and asking in Vietnamese how much something costs, can make a difference between getting the "local" price versus getting the "tourist" price. You are also much more likely to be received with warmth for making the effort.
5) FOSTER KITTEN
Ever since we visited Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta, Thailand, we've been on the lookout to visit animal shelters and welfare centers everywhere we go. Paws for Compassion in Danang was overcapacity with the number of rescued stray animals, and those they took in from expats who urgently returned home due to COVID-19. What better way to pass the time during lockdown than to foster an animal in need? It may just be the perfect, mutually beneficial arrangement when you are stuck indoors with very little to do.
Below: We now have the pleasure of fostering BUGS, a 5 month old kitten healing from a broken pelvis.
Despite current lockdown conditions, the streets aren't completely void of life and little walking adventures can be had on food outings. You still see construction workers sweating it out handling heavy machinery, or resting their heads on brick pillows and napping amongst rubble. Fishermen on their boats are seen from a distance, casting their nets. Local agriculturalists are hard at work, meticulously tending expansive urban farms that fill vacant lots in residential areas.
Occasionally, weary locals will turn away, cover their mouths, or almost hold their breath when you walk past them. But we've had mostly positive encounters with the people here. A friendly nod, or wave is a common greeting on the streets or in the shops. The other day, the lady at the fruit stand even gave us a couple of free white guavas to try. You could imagine a big smile concealed behind her cloth mask.
Below: Friendly fishermen waving hello from the bridge.
Below: A handmade parabolic solar cooker spotted on one of our outings.
One day we will ask the kids, remember that time when your parents took you out of school to travel the world, only to get caught in the middle of a global pandemic and get stuck in Vietnam? We will have loads of tales from back in 'Nam.