Wanderlust Wendy

Saigon in the Time of Corona

By now, you are probably so tired of reading about Covid-19, the novel coronavirus that has led to a global pandemic. I’m impressed if you even clicked on the link to get here. If you got here by accident, feel free to close the tab. My feelings won’t be hurt. Like most of the writing on this blog, this post is for my future self to remember this major point of history. 

This coronavirus has lingered in our lives for seemingly forever. We have been following the news closely since it broke out in China back in January. Boy, that seems like a lifetime ago. Here’s how it has played a part in our lives since:

January 22nd: We arrived at Saigon’s airport to catch a flight to Phu Quoc Island for Tet Holiday (the same time as Lunar New Year). The airport was absolutely packed. Every single flight was delayed that evening. The domestic terminal is tiny, and there were families spread everywhere on the floor. We’ve heard the news of the coronavirus, but it still seemed like a faraway thing. No one wore masks at this extremely crowded airport. 

January 25th: News about the virus from China intensified. We had dinner next to a Chinese couple who were addicted to their phones, neglecting their 7-year-old daughter. I digress. They were discussing the seriousness of the virus and the situation back in China. We began to understand the gravity of it all. 

 January 27th: Xav headed to the shop to buy some masks before we headed for the airport. I was stunned at the transformation from merely five days ago. Every single airport staff had masks on, along with a good portion of passengers. 

January 28th-February 2nd: News of cases in Vietnam began to trickle in, but nearly all outside of Ho Chi Min City. We received updates from friends in Shanghai on the strict isolation requirements and epically empty streets.

February 3rd: I flew back to the U.S. My initial flight required a 10-hour layover in Hong Kong. I only realized this two days before my departure and phoned American Airlines to see if I can avoid this much time spent in Hong Kong. To my surprise, AA re-routed my flight through Japan for free. A small silver lining from the ordeal. 

I had prepared a mask and hand sanitizers. Ready for the long journey. News of anti-Asian sentiment began to break in the U.S. I prepped for extensive questioning upon entering the border at Dallas airport. Masks were prevalent at the Japan airport, but once I boarded the flight for Dallas, there was no sign of concern. Strangely, I received no questioning whatsoever, much less temperature or symptom check when I arrived in Dallas. Looking back, this is a red flag. I could have easily been a passenger carrying the virus from China that routed through Japan. 

February 24th: Boarded flights to travel back to Saigon. Before departing, I bought extra masks and hand sanitizers to haul back, in fear that supply may run out in case the outbreak intensifies in Vietnam. I was wary of coughing in public places during my stay in St. Louis, otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary. Life was business as usual. Covid-19 was primarily still a problem only in Asia. 

February 28th-March 1st: Hosted Xav’s family in Saigon for the weekend, who traveled in from France. All of the tourist hot spots in Saigon were quieter than usual. The decrease from Chinese tourism has taken a hit across the city. The famous Nguyen Hue walking street was empty. 

Overall, the population was taking more precautions. Our apartment lobby turned off AC to prevent the virus spread. People wore masks, and traffic was a lot lighter. Nevertheless, life was still very normal, and we were able to show our guests all of our favorite spots in Saigon!

Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Vietnam
Streets were mostly empty in what is usually the most bustling part of Saigon.

March 14th: We indulged in a staycation weekend and checked into the Sheraton downtown to celebrate Xav’s birthday (courtesy of travel hacking). Things began to shift due to the increasing number of cases imported from abroad. The hotel was eerily empty. We were asked to complete a health declaration form to state we haven’t been to any high-risk countries. Restaurants were open, but all the bustling of downtown Saigon had disappeared. The governments had closed down bars in the central district. 

March 15th: I received an email from work that informed us to work from home until the end of March. Our apartment building began blasting LOUD announcements every 3 hours to advise everyone to wear masks in public spaces. Grocery stores and shopping centers began taking temperature and requiring masks to enter. 

March 19th: News broke of a confirmed case in the expat enclave. A popular bar sent out notice outlining the times that the individual had spent time there, including a crowded St. Patrick’s Day party. This was when things shifted for me personally. The expat community isn’t that massive, and people tend to frequent the same few handfuls of establishments. We canceled our weekend plans and decided to lay low. 

Covid-19, Saigon, Vietnam

March 20th: Headed for the grocery store to stock up on some food. I was surprised to see so many Vietnamese congregating on streetside eateries, having a great time, albeit wearing masks. 

March 23rd: Our Vietnamese teacher was under self-quarantine, and we had our lesson via video call. Definitely not as effective! 

March 24th: The government announced all restaurants with capacity over 30 will be shut starting at 6pm. Announcements of cases related to Buddha Bar began to trickle out. 

March 25th: Traffic has been significantly reduced. Stoped by our usual lunchbox place to take lunch, and they’ve shifted to takeaway only. I was grateful that they were still open. Quiet streets. Definitely a different mood across even the more residential parts of the city. 

March 27th: The government issued a statement to suspend all non-essential businesses and forbid gathering of 10 people or more. The reduced traffic is now nearly nonexistent. For once, since we moved into our apartment six months ago, our intersection is empty. The city isn’t on a strict lockdown, but citizens are very compliant and staying home. This sign of solidarity is most impressive. 

Phu Nhan District, Saigon, Vietnam

April 1st: Vietnamese government mandated for a 15-day shelter-in-place rule. Groups of two or more is not allowed. Grab cars have been banned. Grocery stores and some food services are allowed to open, but many restaurants have closed.

April 15th: Lockdown mandate was extended for another week. Saigon has been so pleasantly quiet during this time. We had been taking short walks in the neighborhood and buying food at the local market when necessary.

April 23rd: Strict shelter-in-place mandate was lifted. Grab car resumed service, and some restaurants began to open up. Offices let employees back to work in waves.

May 1st: By May, life seems to have gone back to normal-ish. People still wear masks on the streets. Temperature is still taken at grocery stores, but the bustling vibe has resumed in full force. I was back in the office and welcomed the social interaction once again.

Et voilà, that’s the play-by-play until this point. I’ll update significant changes as they take place. Grateful to be in a country where the government is taking strict measures to combat the virus, and citizens are complying to ensure health for the community. Stay well and stay home. I’ve been cooking and baking up the storm in the meanwhile. No better time than the present to #LiveSlowerCookMore. Follow my Instagram Stories to see what I’ve been making! 

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