Travel Newsletter - 5 February 2021
My current life in Vietnam, my former life as a time lord in London, and maybe my future life as a lord on Lord Howe Island, the proposed new capital of Indonesia, and more travel reads.
Hello from Ho Chi Minh City. We are a week away from Tet (the lunar new year holiday in Vietnam), and one of the traditions here is for pop-up flower markets around the city. I’ll be visiting more of them over the weekend.
We’re still unsure if Tet is going to be cancelled, so to speak, after the most recent coronavirus outbreak. So far the authorities have been swift in locking down locations of known outbreaks. For example, a town of 10,000 people was closed off to stop the virus spreading any further. For some towns, Tet has already been cancelled.
In Ho Chi Minh City, one case was reported, and the travel history of the coronavirus patient was published in the news. I got my visa renewed this week at a visa agent near where the aforementioned coronavirus patient visited. That was stressful enough, so I have no desire to put myself through unnecessary travel.
Where I’m At: February 2021 – Saigon edition
My monthly summary at Nomadic Notes.
I come down with a case of shiny-object syndrome this week, where I was working on one article and then I got excited by another article and then started working on that. So maybe there will be two articles next week.
In the meantime, I did a podcast interview with friend and fellow traveller, JohnnyJet. His travel newsletter is ancient in internet years (I’ve been a subscriber since 2000!). We talked about what it’s been like to be living in Vietnam over the last year during the pandemic. The interview is in the February 4, 2021 newsletter.
Greetings from Saigon and welcome to another edition of Where I’m At – rounding up my travels from the last month, site news, and other bits that don’t really fit into a blog post.
To get updates of the latest posts, and for news not included here, subscribe to the weekly travel newsletter. The newsletter also includes the best travel reads from around the web, so you can read about travel while waiting to travel again.
Where I’ve been
If you’re just tuning in and wondering why I’m talking about travel in these pandemic times, it’s because I’m still in Vietnam. According to the Lowy Institute, Vietnam ranks second on the list of countries that have best handled the coronavirus (behind New Zealand). There have been new developments in both countries, so let’s see how we stand next month.
I was in Can Tho in December, but as you may recall from last months update I had to abandon that trip midway due to visa issues. After getting my visa sorted out I went to Can Tho again, where I visited some construction projects outside the city centre.
Can Tho is about three hours by bus, not including getting to the outer suburban bus station in Saigon. Last month it was announced yet again that there was going to be a study for a Ho Chi Minh City-Can Tho railway. That would be amazing, but as I say about most of these projects, if it happens in my lifetime it would be a wondrous thing.
I will do a post at Living In Asia of future Can Tho projects that I visited.
Long Xuyen was doing everything it could to not welcome me to the city. I made it as far as Long Xuyen last month when I had to return to Saigon to get a new visa. This time I arrived and my taxi driver couldn’t find the hotel I booked, and there were road works in the alley where I was staying.
After finding my hotel I started exploring Long Xuyen, and I soon found there are lots of things to see if you look for them. That’s the story of most provincial capitals, so I always like to spend a day to have a look around. I will do a trip report for Long Xuyen.
From Long Xuyen I planned to get a bus to Ha Tien. Most bus routes in the Mekong Delta follow branches of the Mekong river, and there aren’t many bus options that go cross-country from Long Xuyen to Ha Tien. The bus station didn’t know if there was a bus, and I couldn’t find any information online. I just lucked out and saw a bus going through town, so I made a note of the road to wait for it the next day.
The next day I found a cafe on the bus route and I staked out a table with a view of the road. I was waiting for about two hours when I finally saw a bus coming. When it came into view I saw it was for Ha Tien. I immediately jumped from my chair and sprinted across the road with my bags to wave down the bus. I missed the bus, but a guy on a motorbike saw my plight, so he gave me a ride and chased down the bus. We eventually caught up with the bus, and I gave him 20,000 dong for the impromptu taxi service.
When I got on the bike I realised I pulled something in my back, and all was not well. I cautiously got on the bus and tried to assess the damage. It didn’t feel like it was ruptured (which was the injury I had in 2016), but I knew that it was going to hinder my plans. It was a three-hour bus ride from Long Xuyen to Ha Tien, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be mobile in Ha Tien.
Ha Tien is in the southwest corner of Vietnam on the border of Cambodia. I passed through here in 2013 on the way from Kampot in Cambodia to Can Tho. When I was waiting for my connecting bus I felt that the town had good vibes, and I said to myself that I would come back to visit.
Ha Tien is also a ferry port for Phu Quoc, so it’s the sort of place that most people only pass through. My end journey for this trip was Phu Quoc, but rather than just fly I wanted to get a bus through the Mekong to visit these cities I would have otherwise missed.
Despite my back injury, I was able to walk with no problem, which suggested that a vertebra was out of alignment. I was at least able to see Ha Tien for the day.
Ha Tien was as delightful as I thought it would be, and I will have a full write-up for what to see and do there.
By the time I made it to Phu Quoc, it was apparent that I was not going to get anything done with my back the way it was. My main mission was to ride around the island and see the latest developments. While I was able to walk, riding a motorbike was not going to happen. Even though I’m a mad walker, Phu Quoc is too big to walk everywhere (though maybe that is a future challenge).
I did some long beach walks to see if my back would pop back into place, but it wasn’t happening. With that, I brought my trip forward and got a flight back to Saigon. I plan to reschedule a Phu Quoc trip next month.
I limped back to Saigon and booked an appointment with my back specialist the next day. He pretty much cracked my back into place after the first visit, and I was straightened out by the second week. One of the good things about having a home base is having someone who knows my back so well. I’m the same with getting my hair cut. I’ve been going to the same place for years, and I just sit down and they know how to cut my hair without asking.
When I got back to Saigon I figured I should recover myself and wait until after Tet (the lunar new year holiday) to begin new travels.
Another travel consideration is if the coronavirus will break out again. We enjoyed nearly two months without a local case, and then out of nowhere 100 new cases were reported in one day. The government has been quick to lock down apartments, factories, and streets where there is a reported case. The latest outbreak happened in the north, but there is already a case reported in HCMC.
Vietnam keeps making the news for its handling of the coronavirus, so hopefully, this latest round doesn’t break the run. Australia has also been doing well, and the difference between Australia and the rest of the western world was apparent with the upcoming Australian Open. Everyone coming to Australia – including tennis players – have to quarantine for 14 days. Reading about entitled tennis players complain about it (apart from Serena) made me realise how dysfunctional most western countries have handled this.
I’ve been operating on the fact that we only have a temporary reprieve from the pandemic here. It could come back with a vengeance at any moment, and we could be thrown into another lockdown. If I only get to wander around Saigon for the rest of the year then that is ok as well (though the air quality has been bad lately). I’m constantly surprised by how many new places I keep finding here, such as the 10,000 Buddha Pagoda (in the above photo), and this LA-style Mexican restaurant.
This is in a street that is turning into a cool little neighbourhood with lots of international places to eat. I will do a write up about that, so you can bookmark for future reference when we can travel again.
I have some more Vietnam travel plans for February and March, pending the latest virus outbreak. After the weather debacles I’ve had over the last few months, I’m staying in Southern Vietnam while it’s at its driest (Jan-Mar).
There has been talk of travel bubbles, and I keep getting asked when Vietnam is reopening. I think now after the latest outbreak, it’s not going to happen any time soon. The quarantine period has now been increased from 14 to 21 days, and the government would prefer a 0-count rate rather than opening up international travel. I think the same will apply to Australia, so I don’t expect to be able to go back soon. Perth has just gone into lockdown after one security guard caught it. I’m all for this, because if a global vaccination program is to work, we have to do our bit by keeping the virus under control until then.
COVID-19 and travel (or lack thereof)
“In the near future, travel may require digital documentation showing that passengers have been vaccinated or tested for the coronavirus. Answers to your questions.”
“It took Kaushik Sridhar seven flights across seven cities, four countries, intense security and two COVID-19 tests to journey to India and back to be by his father's side in intensive care.”
“In a year when a pandemic brought global travel to a standstill, and themes of racial and social injustice were thrust into the spotlight, Meera Dattani explores how we might rebuild travel as an antidote to inequality—wherever in the world we may roam.”
North Macedonia is the latest country to adopt a digital nomad visa.
Lord Howe Island is roughly halfway between Sydney and New Caledonia. The island is an unincorporated area of New South Wales, but there are limits to how many people can visit so it’s not overrun with tourism. Once this Covid bollocks is over I’m going to start working my way through the Pacific islands, including Lord Howe Island.
“Nearing the summit the native climbers grouped up – they would enter the record books together.”
“The infamous Roman emperor’s extravagant tastes included opulent marble and exotic animals.”
When I moved to London in 1999 I saw all the world-famous sites such as the Palace of Westminster and Buckingham Palace. They were already so familiar to me that they didn’t really wow me like I thought they would or should. I was blown away though when I saw that the building on the Pink Floyd Animals album cover was a real place, and that the TARDIS from Doctor Who was an actual police box.
Here I am in 1999, pre-digital camera era, which I post here as evidence that I once wore long coats and beanies before living the tropical life. And I also post this to remind myself to rescan my old paper photos in higher resolution.
Assorted travel reads
Indonesia is planning to move its capital from Jakarta in Java to a new city in East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. This may not even happen, but I put together this fact sheet in case it does.
“The airline industry has always had its ups and downs, from recessions to gas prices to coronavirus. But when things get unstable, flight attendants are the first to feel the pain.”
“Tens of thousands of people are flocking to a provincial southern temple, seeking hope in tough times.”
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