Coronavirus in Vietnam: chatting with our local experts

Vietnam has made the headlines for being the biggest country – by population – to record zero Covid-19 deaths. We chatted with our local experts to learn more.
Rice field and river, NinhBinh, Vietnam. Photo: John Bill/Shutterstock
Rice field and river, NinhBinh, Vietnam. Photo: John Bill/Shutterstock

A country that has wowed the world with its success in containing coronavirus, Vietnam still has a grand total of zero reported deaths from the disease, and only around 350 cases. We spoke to three of our local experts on-the-ground, to see how life had changed under Covid-19, and what travel to the country could look like for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.    

Sang Nguyen

Senior Direct Travel consultant, Trails of Indochina

Sang Nguyen. Photo: private archive

Q: How has life in Hanoi changed for you over the last couple of months, and what does daily life look like for you right now?

A: Lockdown was lifted and social-distancing measures were relaxed two months ago. During that time, we pretty much stayed at home and only met people on social media – though we were still able go out to work or buy food. Right now, as a nation, we have successfully stopped the spread of coronavirus and everything is back to normal. All business have re-opened – but for domestic use only – and Vietnam’s residents can travel freely around the country without any restrictions. We have returned to the office and do need to wear the masks when going out. However, international arrivals are still banned, so that affects tourism a lot. Some hotels are still closed due to very low occupancy and only serve the local people – with special discounts for booking during this time.

Q: As a tour operator, how did you manage to stay in touch with your suppliers, and has that relationship changed over the last few months?

A: We have been continuing to work throughout the pandemic, but with limited time spent at the office. We have restructured the company to ensure that we are in a strong financial position. We are also in the process of creating some special promotions with the suppliers for next season when the appetite for travel returns. There are no significant changes in regard to our relationships with suppliers – we are all trying to support each other in the face of these testing circumstances.

Rice fields of Mai Chau, northwest Vietnam. Photo: Hans Gert Broeder/Shutterstock

Q: Now that normality is returning to Vietnam, when do you think international travellers will be allowed to return to the country (especially UK and US travellers)?

A: As far as I know, we may reopen our borders in September, but only to countries in Asia that have not had any cases for thirty days – even then, visitors will be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival to protect the local people. The airlines may open the international flights from Europe towards the end of this year, and the US at the beginning of 2021. But nothing can be predicted at this time. We will just wait to see how the other countries manage the disaster.

Q: Do you think travel to Vietnam will be different when it is allowed again? If so, how?

A: I don’t think it will be different. The only difference we could see is that sites could be less crowded, so that people will be able to enjoy the landscape without seeing so many other people in front of them. They could also get special deals as hotels will be keen to implement promotions in order to encourage people to travel again.

Q: Will festivals will be happening in Vietnam this year?

A: Yes, festivals will be happening as usual, including the Iron Man Danang this September and Hue Festival in Aug, among others.

Marie Jacobs

Partnership Manager at Insight Guides

Marie Jacobs on the road. Photo: private archive

Q: Are you already planning your next domestic trips? Or even international ones?

A: As Vietnam did a great job fighting the pandemic, domestic tourism has been slowly returning since the beginning of May. I have been fortunate enough to travel twice since then, once to Ninh Binh and once to Soc Son – both destinations are close to Hanoi, which make them a great weekend getaway. It was nice to get out of the city and support local businesses! Unfortunately there is no international travel and I don’t have any plans to go further afield, but there is still plenty to see in Vietnam. 

Q: What are your favourite off-the-beaten-track spots in Vietnam that you think will be great spots to visit again?

A: One of my favourite places is Mai Châu, a small village amid beautiful cliffs and rice paddies. It’s a very laidback, easygoing place and there are only a few home-stays and one eco hotel. It’s a wonderful spot to relax, hike, ride a bicycle and get a feel of the local way of life. 

Another spot that’s high on my list is Hà Giang. It’s a bit more popular, especially among expats in Hanoi, but still a place I would recommend to everyone. This place is known for its loop around the mountains, which can take you all the way to the Chinese border, making it a 5–6-day driving mission (with some really tough roads here and there). Along the way you can stop at remote villages where they have a few home-stays, who love to have family dinners with you. It’s a trip where you can be completely “off the grid” for a few days. 

Hà Giang landscape with local children. Photo: Marie Jacobs

Q: What changes have there been to your daily life in Hanoi, from the beginning of the pandemic to now?

A: Hanoi closed most of their schools, bars, restaurants and gyms after TET (Vietnamese New Year) in February. As I’ve been working remotely for a few years now, not much changed for me during the lockdown period – I am used to working from home. It was, however, a weird feeling that I wasn’t allowed to go outside at all nor go to the gym or even get some lunch at my favourite restaurant down the street.

I started cooking at home a lot more, walking around a very quiet neighbourhood (a nice change compared to the normal busy streets of Hanoi), driving my scooter around town and trying out some baking recipes… yes, I also got the banana bread fever. My boyfriend and I even created a little garden on our balcony where we grow tomatoes and herbs. The pollution levels were very low due to the closure of the factories around the city, so the sunsets were beautiful and I got to see them every night from our balcony, a real treat!

But once the quarantine restrictions were lifted I was definitely ready to leave the house and to see some of my friends again after two months. Right now, it’s summer in Hanoi (with temperatures up to 40C) so it’s nice to be able to go to the pool. That said, staying inside is the norm for most people – even though we are not in quarantine anymore – it’s way too hot to go outside! My day to day isn’t very different compared to before or during lockdown, I try to work from cafés here and there, go to the gym and enjoy “freedom”, but I still try to be cautious as the pandemic isn’t over yet. 

One funny thing I’ve noticed is that in Asia it’s very common to walk around wearing a facemask, especially when you are sick or when driving due to the pollution. However, hearing all my friends from Europe complain about having to wear a mask all the time made me laugh and made me remember how different these cultures are.

Q: What are you excited for most in the upcoming months?

A: I’m looking forward to seeing my family when we are able to travel internationally again, as my brother just had a baby who I would love to meet! My boyfriend and I were suppose to travel to South Africa before the pandemic started, which we had to postpone – so hopefully we will be able to do that sometime soon as well. 

I’m also excited to see what will change in the tourism industry (regulations, rules or the general way of travel) and how quickly the world will be ready to take on international travel again. It’s been fascinating to see how the world has changed in only six months and how the tourism industry has adapted to the needs of the travel world. The shift towards sustainable travel is more apparent from both the travellers and the providers, so I’m very interested to see what will happen. Hopefully when we look back on this crazy pandemic the tourism industry will have changed for the better.

Emanuelle Meker

Head of Team, Refine Asia

Emanuell Meker. Photo: private archive

Q: As a foreigner living in Ho Chi Minh City, does your daily life today feel different to your life before the pandemic?

A: As Vietnam was so quick in reacting to the pandemic, recovery has also happened a lot faster than in other countries. Now, I hardly feel a difference in daily life here in HCMC, as I can move freely around the city to do grocery shopping, go out to restaurants or even go on domestic trips!

Q: How do you think travelling within Vietnam will change for tourists in the short to medium term?

A: We’re expecting stricter guidelines on hygiene measures (which is an essential global change), as well as perhaps limiting the number of guests to certain areas (which were prone to over-tourism).


Q: What is your favourite place in Vietnam and do you think visits to that place will be different in the future?

A: It is impossible to name a single favourite place in Vietnam. However, I believe that change will only be for the better, as limiting the number of tourists will allow for a sustainable future for tourism.

Q: For those still unable to travel to Vietnam, do you have a tip or recommendation for how to get the feeling of Vietnam at home?

A: Why not start with bringing some Vietnamese flavours into the kitchen? What I like most about Vietnamese food is the different kinds of spring rolls or “Cuons”. You decide how much and what you want to inside your roll: starting from the outer layer (rice paper or salad), the protein (meat or tofu) to the veggies inside and lastly, which sauce to dip it into (sweet, spicy, salty). The combinations are endless! For me, this “adventurous abundance” reflects Vietnam as a country – full of surprises and unforgettable experiences!

Vietnamese spring rolls. Photo: Eunizia Silva/Shutterstock