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Despite the coronavirus making for fearful headlines, Vietnam is largely unaffected and daily life is unchanged. From Vietnam, our tour leader Aaron Edgington gives his account.
Although it shares a border with China, the number of cases is low. There have been 14 reported so far, and patients – plus those they have come into contact with – have been placed in quarantine. Measures are also in place to check new arrivals and screen people in areas on the ground, including some tourist attractions.
As is the case in a lot of South East Asia, the Vietnamese have taken to donning masks. As media coverage increases you’ll see more than usual on the streets, at airports, and around the towns. Face masks are popular in Vietnam anyway, usually worn to prevent an unwanted sun tan. Visitors likely won’t notice any difference outside of airports/train stations where there are precautionary measures in place, plus at some tourist sights and hotels where hand sanitiser and masks are provided. This is mostly to show there is an awareness of the current situation and to provide reassurance to visitors.
Typically this is the most popular time of year to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as the weather is cooler and people are festive as they start coming back from their Tet holiday break. With the Vietnamese year of the rat just beginning, many people have taken an extended holiday as coverage has increased around the outbreak. A lot of schools remain on holiday. This all means that popular tourist sights, restaurants, and services are quieter than usual, and a lot more pleasant to visit. Travel restrictions have also meant visitors from China, who make up the largest number of visitors to Vietnam, have dropped significantly. The UNESCO world heritage old town of Hoi An, normally packed with people floating lanterns on the Thu Bon when there is a full moon, is a lot more peaceful and free from the crowds that normally descend on the town.
The downside to the coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, and the consequent drop in visitors, is that a number of businesses have been impacted. Some hotels in central Vietnam are reporting less than half the number of guests they would normally receive leading in to what is normally a busy time and nearly full occupancy. Restaurants are also quieter and the number of boats cruising Ha Long Bay has reduced considerably.
For me, the only change has been the Spartan race that I was going to compete in next weekend in Saigon now being postponed to later in the year. Although there is a lot of buzz surrounding the current events, life continues as normal as most people go about their daily business.