Adam Quinn from West Berkshire (second from left above) is in Vietnam. Here is Part 3 of his travel blog (find parts 1 & 2 here)
My best friend Harry and I came to Vietnam in February 2020, planning on spending three months here. As the Covid pandemic worsened, our route home was cut off and we decided to make the most of the situation, spending what has now been a year and a half in this incredible country. We spent six months travelling, largely in the south, and moved up to Hanoi in September to live and work, falling in love with the city’s quirks and charm, and finding a family away from home.
I am due to start university in late September 2021 and so planned on coming home with a month to spare so I could spend time with family and friends. Harry and I booked flights for the 15 August, leaving from Ho Chi Minh City, so we could travel back down the country, visiting new places and seeing old friends before we left.
Here is an account of how every aspect of this plan went horribly wrong.
On 24 July, while Harry and I were just outside Hanoi on a weekend getaway, we were informed that the city would be entering another lockdown. This, of course, was unwelcome news, but thankfully, we were able to drive into the city without incident and start figuring out what to do.
We correctly assumed it would be impossible for us to do any sort of travelling before we left, especially considering that HCMC was in its own lockdown, with thousands of new cases a day. We decided to look for domestic flights to get to HCMC, confident that if we stayed inside the airport, we would be safe. I booked a flight, and after realising it was for the wrong day, had to book another. Then it was cancelled. We tried again. Cancelled.
Slightly panicked, we started reaching out to travel agents both in Vietnam and back home (huge thanks once again to Veronica and the team at Fare Wise Travel, who have assisted us in booking all our flights), but were met with a complete lack of internal flights. We then saw an article stating that the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam had requested that the Ministry of Travel freeze all domestic flights between cities in lockdown. There was no way for us to get to HCMC.
At this point, I have to divert from our problems with the flights to explain another issue that faced us. On 7 August I went to my girlfriend’s house to celebrate her housemate’s birthday as we were already in each other’s bubbles (on this same day we gave our foster cat Morgana to a new home, in preparation for our departure). Harry stayed in our flat.
The next morning, I received a text from my landlord informing me of a Covid case in our neighbourhood. He said that the area was under lockdown. Through the language barrier, I was unsure of the severity of the situation so decided to return home that evening. I was confronted by a very physical barrier, blocking the only road onto the island that Harry and I were living on.
The combination of a metal obstacle and a combination of uniformed police, medical professionals, large banners in Vietnamese and a loud voice-over the street speakers left me pretty spooked. I was informed that I would be able to pass through this barrier but, once I was on the other side, I would have to stay there.
I didn’t feel up to the prospect of being stuck in the flat, especially if it would have meant not seeing Megan again. So I turned around and returned to her house in a frazzled state. I called Harry to tell him of the situation. As he had not left the flat, and we decided to deal with it the next day when we were rested and alert.
We both started looking for new flights home leaving direct from Hanoi, with Harry now on his own in our flat and very keen to leave the country as soon as possible. Luckily we both managed to find some at reasonable prices. Harry’s on 11 and mine on 13 August. The remaining logistical nightmares were completing all the necessary admin to be able to fly during the pandemic, trying to sell the things we had amassed in the flat and wouldn’t be able to travel with and, most importantly, finding a way to get Harry through the lockdown barrier closing in the neighbourhood. Bear in mind, the entire city was in lockdown – no one was in an office and no shops or services were open, making an otherwise simple task near impossible.
We had to deal with these problems remotely, Harry and I communicating over Facebook and then frantically calling any number that might be able to help us. Eventually, through a lot of stress and effort, we managed to accomplish these goals. We found a friend who had a printer, allowing us to print vital documents. I contacted and made plans for various people who wanted to buy my guitar and laptop. Harry spoke to one of the barrier guards and made plans for him to receive a test and I got hold of an email address for the British Embassy, which would be able to give him a letter allowing him to pass through. After multiple trips back and forth between the barrier and Megan’s house to empty our flat, we managed to get Harry and all of our things out on the morning of the 11 August.
That afternoon, after divvying up our belongings, Harry got a lift from a friend to the airport and managed to catch his flight without incident at 7pm. My flight was early in the morning of the 13 August, and so I would be heading to the airport late that next night. I went to the hospital to receive the PCR test which I needed to prove I was negative before I got on the plane. While being pretty uncomfortable, the test passed without incident. We returned home, for what all of us expected would be my last night in Vietnam. Five of us; me, Megan, her housemates Bella and Jodie, and our friend Ethan all ate, drank, and were merry as we shared a delicious meal cooked by Jodie.
The next morning, we awake to a call from Bella, telling us that a friend’s landlord had received my name from the police. In Vietnam, they have used a tracking system for Covid, whereby someone with Covid is known as F0, someone who came into contact with them is F1, and so on each interaction continuing the chain. When I had gone to get my PCR test the night before, it transpired that I had stood next to someone with Covid. I was now an F1.
Generally, the law states that F1s must enter government quarantine facilities: so I and Megan, who had come with me to the hospital, began packing our bags in preparation for a 14-day quarantine. Thankfully, after corresponding with medical workers, we were informed that we would be permitted to do our quarantine at the house but the five of us wouldn’t be allowed to leave. This was particularly troubling for Venus, the house’s pug – another problem we could have done without.
I am writing this from day three of our quarantine, hoping beyond hope that the rest of my time here passes without incident. I have booked another flight back on 28 August and will be requesting a PCR test be brought to the house rather than risking a return to the hospital.
We are remaining optimistic and grateful, recognising that the situation could be much worse. We have a large house that is big enough to fit all of us. We are all healthy, and are able to cook for ourselves and each other. We have an incredible network of friends who have all reached out to support us, bringing deliveries of groceries and handing them over at a safe distance. We have even been able to rope our friends into helping walk Venus, much to his excitement.
Overall, I am thankful that my last two weeks in Vietnam will be relaxed, if not overly so. The week leading up to my flight was so full of stress and anxiety that it would have left a really sour note on the end of a beautiful trip. At least this way, we will be able to relax and spend some quality time together before I return home.
UPDATE: I am currently writing from the armchair in our living room in East Garston. After a long, tiring and relatively stress-free journey, I managed to make it home without incident. I am incredibly happy to be home and hadn’t realised how much I missed it.
As I was packing for my flight, I realised that I had forgotten to transfer my visa from my old passport to the new one I recieved in March. After a brief panic and a message to the embassy I managed to get a letter which would explain my situation to the immigration police at the airport. Thankfully, they accepted this and stamped my new passport without so much as a cheeky bribe. I was so very pleasantly surprised by this and am very glad I was able to make it onto the plane easily.
I flew with the Vietnamese National Football Team, who were on their way to a World Cup qualifying match in Dubai. They flew in economy, just a few seats over from myself, and I and the rest of Vietnam wish them the best of luck in their game and future matches. This was a surprising addition to my journey and adds to the bizarre nature of this whole experience.
My journey was surprisngly comfortable, I was lucky enough to get extra leg room on my flight from Doha to London, and it was an almost spiritual experience seeing English soil for the first time in over a year as we descended through the clouds. I have already spent the first few days of my isolation relaxing, eating good food and helping mum and dad with some gardening work.
I am proud, and a little heatrbroken, to say that my Vietnam adventure has come to a close, and is a part of my life I will always look back on with extreme fondness. Once again, as I have repeatedbly stressed throughout these posts, a huge thank you to everyone who supported me and Harry throughout this trip as we couldn’t have done it without you:
Veronica and the team at Fare Wise Travel,
Nick and Briana at Brew and Breakfast,
Solar English and Champion Kids, my two employers in Hanoi,
Megan, Bella and the rest of the Science Group,
The Vietnamese people for their total and enduring friendliness and hospitality,
My wonderful family who were no doubt stressing on our behalf,
And of course Harry, who was my companion for this whole adventure, and had my back throughout.