Foreigners plan return to Vietnam following Covid-19 pandemic

By Nguyen Nam   March 21, 2020 | 05:15 am PT
Foreigners plan return to Vietnam following Covid-19 pandemic
Foreign tourists cycle in Ninh Binh Province in northern Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Jimmy Tran.
Some tourists who had their trips canceled in Vietnam over novel coronavirus fears wish to come back when the virus is finally brought to heel.

French tourist Vincent Sokol wanted to visit his mother’s hometown in Son Tay Town, around 42 kilometers from Hanoi's center in northern Vietnam, but his journey was cut short in the Central Highlands.

Sokol had to wait a long time for the opportunity to travel across Vietnam with a group of 17 other Europeans over three weeks between March 8 and 28. On his recent trip to the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands, the images of women working hard in the fields, tireless workers, or the simple things he saw on the road left on him a strong impression.

French man Sokol Vincent stays at a hotel in downtown Saigon to wait until March 20 to board a plane back to France. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Nam. 

Sokol is holed up at a hotel in downtown Saigon waiting for March 20 to board a plane back to France. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Nam. 

His group was recently denied entry by authorities in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum. They were forced to go to neighboring Dak Lak Province instead, where a hotel only accepted them on the tour company’s persuasion. They canceled their itineraries to Hoi An ancient town in central Vietnam and some northern region destinations as scheduled.

They returned to HCMC on March 17 to go home on March 20.

The sudden change made him unable to visit his mother’s hometown as originally planned. However, he also understood why many tourist attractions in Vietnam were closed, and why Kon Tum authorities did not allow them entry.

"We do not feel uncomfortable. Because everyone understood this is a global pandemic. Such acts aim to protect the health of the community. Especially, we felt warm-hearted as Dam San Hotel in Buon Me Thuot [a town in Dak Lak] accepted to let us to stay one night when we could not continue the journey," Sokol said.

Sokol said he would love to come back to Vietnam to visit his mother's hometown and the tourist attractions that he had missed.

Serge, another Belgian tourist in the delegation, said he would come back to Vietnam in the near future to learn more about local culture and heritage.

He had looked forward to learning about the communal culture of northern Vietnam but his wish was not fulfilled because of the country's epidemic. Serge said the delegation met with many suspicious stares, but that locals were generally friendly.

Joining the trip, Belgian Marie Line had repeatedly contacted the travel agency in Belgium before departure, to make sure their trip would commence smoothly. At the time, the Covid-19 epidemic had not yet spread much throughout Europe, mainly affecting Italy.

For her and her husband, the journey to explore a distant Asian country was a special occasion to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. "Our friends said in Vietnam there are many unique heritages and cultural traditions. In addition, there are charming landscapes and unique cultural features," she said.

Over the past few days, the couple had enjoyed local Mekong Delta life. Her delegation visited Cai Be Town in Tien Giang Province and experienced activities such as cooking, and sleeping at a local’s house amongst four generations.

"I was quite surprised because I did not think there would be that many generations living in a house filled with laughter. I felt happy," Line said.

A group of European visitors visit a rubber forest during their trips to the Central Highlands. Photo by VnExpress/ Nguyen Nam.

A group of French tourists visit a rubber forest on their way from Dak Lak Province to HCMC on March 17, 2020 after being denied entry by authorities in Kon Tum Province over coronavirus fears. Photo acquired by VnExpress. 

Recently, many hotels and tourist establishments refused to receive foreigners, especially European tourists in the context that many were confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus in Vietnam.

Of the nation’s 78 coronavirus cases that have been detected since March 6 after the country going 22 days without any infection, 24 are foreigners. Twenty two are European and two American.

Increasing discrimination against foreigners because of coronavirus fears prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to order severe punishment against perpetrators to safeguard the country’s tourism image.

World Health Organization recently named Europe the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has spread to 186 countries and territories, claiming over 11,400 lives.

Officials around the country have been calling out discrimination to protect the country's reputation. Authorities in Hue, Hoi An and Da Nang have urged hotels and restaurants to be friendly to foreign tourists.

The novel coronavirus has slashed an estimated $7 billion off Vietnam’s tourism revenues in January-February with the number of hotel guests decreasing by 60-70 percent year-on-year, Government Office Chief Mai Tien Dung said at a meeting last week.

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