So I’ve been planning this trip for probably 6 months now. It all started with a yoga retreat to Thailand and I thought “well, if I’m going to be in Thailand for a retreat, I might as well see more of Thailand” which grew into “well, if I’m in Thailand, I might as well see other countries in Southeast Asia while I’m there” which turned into “well, my lease is up and my will to work is up too so might as well just quit and travel for a bit”. It was always my intention to return to the US via traveling east (aka: the opposite direction from where I needed to go).
So when Coronavirus hit the news in January, I figured it would blow over by the time I left in late February for my adventure. Obviously it did not. Instead, it spread, as diseases are likely to do in the age of super connected travel and fear of inconvenience. But still, I went on my trip because the countries I was planning to visit had very low occurrences and where there were cases, they were from direct transmission from visits to China. Obviously community cases were bound to start as they do with every flu season and airborne disease back to the plague.
I even bought a face mask despite the belief that it won’t actually keep me healthy. In fact, it would keep others healthy if I were sick, not the other way around. But better to check all the boxes than not (and I bought a reusable one where you replace the filters, not the disposable one healthcare workers use but still–stop buying face masks). I also got more hand sanitizer which I needed anyways. But I didn’t cancel my trip and what I have seen is more Westerners in face masks on airplanes (even though air planes have extremely strong air filters and see above, face masks won’t save you), more people wiping down their trays/remotes on planes (which you should do 100% of the time and I already did because gross and thank you Naomi Campbell), but I’ve also had my temperature taken several times before being admitted to public spaces (not airplanes, they didn’t check me there).
But in Asia, very close to where this all started? There is not a lack of hand sanitizer or toilet paper or soap. I’ve been provided all of the above as needed and shops are not empty of provisions. They have adapted the ‘keep calm and carry on’ motto better than the owners of that phrase (hey, UK).
Instead, what I see is a lack of Chinese tourists. It has been quoted to me by a guide that 90% of their business comes from Chinese tourists and the quiet temples and tours are a result of the Chinese not travelling. There are still Americans, Brits, French, Australian, and Russian travellers who I have encountered. So what’s the lesson? Quarantine. Self-contain. Don’t buy up supplies. Now half-way through my trip and the restrictions are getting more pronounced with several of the places I wanted to see in Vietnam now closed (Halong Bay and Hoi An, thus far) and I am concerned about how I will get home if everyone shuts their borders. But as in all times of uncertainty, I’m trying to take it one day at a time, one announcement at a time to still enjoy my time even if it has to be cut short. I guess I’ll just have to come back to Vietnam one day to see the places I missed during the great pandemic of 2020.