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Crowds ignore PM’s social distancing appeal, flock to beaches


Though the government banned crowd gathering as a preventive measure against Covid-19, thousands hit the beach.

Three days after Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a directive banning crowds of more than 20 people and ordering localities to close “non-essential” shops as the country enters a “decisive” two-week phase in its Covid-19 fight, popular Nha Trang Town was flooded with beach-goers, many without masks on Tuesday.

Eateries along the beaches in the popular seaside resort town in the central province of Khanh Hoa had closed down, but many street vendors were looking for customers, apparently not worried about the high infection risks.

On the shore, a loudspeaker continuously warned people not to gather in crowds, but to little effect.

Nguyen Sy Khanh, vice chairman of the Nha Trang People’s Committee, said he had sent a notice to businesses along the beach, requesting them to close following the PM’s order. “But local officials merely warned people not to gather in large crowds at public beaches.”

Local authorities said the crowds were gathering on the coast from Tran Phu Street to Pham Van Dong Street, which is quite long at around 12 kilometers.

“If we limit residents to their homes, they cannot exercise and may get sick. We are discussing the issue to find a solution,” Khanh said.

The Health Ministry on February 26 declared Khanh Hoa Province free of the Covid-19 epidemic after recording no new patient for 39 days. The ministry had declared a coronavirus epidemic in Khanh Hoa on January 1 after a hotel receptionist in Nha Trang tested positive for the virus.

In the central province of Quang Ngai, authorities Monday put up barriers to prevent residents from bathing at My Khe, the most famous local beach.

Quang Ngai has not recorded any Covid-19 infection, but as in provinces and cities nationwide, all bars, karaoke parlors, tourist attractions and other entertainment facilities have been shut down on the PM’s order.

On March 29, authorities in the central province of Quang Nam, which boasts a long coastline of 125 kilometers and is home to the beautiful Ha My, Cua Dai, An Bang and Cham Islands, closed all public beaches until April 15.

The closure followed thousands of people flooding the Tam Thanh Beach in Tam Ky Town, capital of Quang Nam, on the weekend.

Beach-goers play on Tam Thanh Beach in Quang Nam Province regardless of warnings from local authorities. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh. 

Tam Thanh Beach in Quang Nam Province filled with people regardless of Covid-19 warnings on March 28, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh. 

Vietnam is starting a nationwide social distancing campaign Wednesday, not allowing gatherings of more than two people in public, except for in offices, schools and hospitals, where the government had imposed a 20-person limit earlier.

A directive issued Tuesday by PM Phuc calls for people in the same families, villages, communes, districts and cities to stay put where they are. People should only leave home for emergencies, buying food and medicine, and working in factories, production facilities and businesses that involve trade in “essential” goods and services, the directive says.

Phuc said at a meeting Tuesday that though the government has imposed tougher measures to limit travel, including reducing the frequency of domestic flights, suspending public bus services and closing all tourist attractions and historical sites, large crowds were still appearing on many streets and public beaches in several localities. 

He requested localities to halt all religious gatherings and warned top leaders of any localities allowing the gathering of crowds would be strictly punished.

As of Tuesday, Vietnam’s total infections hit 204, with 55 discharged from hospital. Many currently active cases are Vietnamese nationals returning from Europe and the U.S., foreigners coming from the same regions and those who’d come in contact with both groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed over 37,800 lives after spreading to 200 countries and territories so far.

Vietnam has seen Q1 foreign arrivals plummet following several entry restrictions and the closure of tourism destinations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The country welcomed nearly 3.7 million international tourists in the first quarter, down 18.1 percent year-on-year, according to General Statistics Office (GSO).



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Camping out in times of coronavirus


Truong Van Vi, 44, of Hanoi seeks to take his kids outdoors instead of letting them play video games and watch TV all day. Since the novel coronavirus outbreak has ruled out travel and visit to public parks, Vi chooses suburban locations with a lake and fresh air for family excursions at the weekend.

Vi’s family of four went to an ecological park next to Dong Quan Lake in Soc Son District of Hanoi and camped there on March 15. At the camping site, Vi took pleasure in fishing while his children explored their surroundings and played games.

Vi’s family camps at the Ham Rong Lakeside (*) next to Dong Quan Lake.

Truong Van Vi’s family camps at the Ham Rong Lakeside next to Dong Quan Lake in Hanoi’s Soc Son District.

Vi said his kids were delighted to camp there after being cooped up at home for so long during the extended school break. “It’s great for the kids to hang out since the blue light emitted by electronic screens is unhealthy, especially over long periods.” 

There were only three or four families at the camp site, and each tent was set up over 20 meters apart, ensuring there was no chance of contagion. For abundant safety against contagion, the Ham Long camp site does not allow people to stay overnight.

For the trip, Vi got a tent, foldable chairs, eating utensils, lunchboxes, and medical supplies like masks and hand sanitizers for extra precaution. Barbecue grills can be rented at the campground. The trip cost VND600,000 ($26) for the family of four plus fuel. 

Vi said while it is important for people to be cautious and practice safety for themselves and their family, it should not turn into paranoia. Thus, short family trips are fine as long as they comply with anti-virus rules such as avoiding crowded places, eating out and using public transport.

In recent months, as the effects of coronavirus hit businesses, Nguyen Trang of Ho Chi Minh City and her husband decided to embark on short trips of two or three days. She chose lowland destinations near water bodies for convenience. “Since we are camping to avoid the virus, the site has to be fairly empty, rural and far from residential areas,” she said.

Their most recent trip was to the Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park at the far end of the manmade Tuyen Lam Lake in the Central Highlands town of Da Lat. Before that the couple visited Dau Tieng Lake, Vietnam’s largest irrigation reservoir in Binh Duong Province and Doi Nhai beach in Vung Tau Town, southern Vietnam.

A group of two to five friends usually accompany the married couple on their adventure. Before each trip, Trang briefly researches the features of their destination and the weather. She also carefully packs their bags with equipment such as a tent, tarp, utensils, and food. Her attitude is to stay healthy and be cautious but fearless. During the whole trip, she avoids contact with strangers other than gas station attendants and food vendors.

Trang said these trips help her fulfill her passion for vehicles and travel. Instead of staying in the city and living in fear of Covid-19, she has traveled new roads, breathed fresh air and connected with nature. “Instead of five-star hotels, we opt for the millions of stars in the night sky.”

Hoang Tuan Anh of Da Nang City also enjoys visiting natural spots. On March 21-22, with his family and close friends, he camped overnight at Hoa Bac Village of the Co Tu ethnic group outside Da Nang. He said this trip helped him explore another side of his city.

“Besides famous tourist attractions, Da Nang is also home to many other gorgeous, unexplored landscapes. At the camp site, our children can run around freely, breathe fresh air and be physically active.”

In the evening the family gathers around a small fire, grills delicious food and enjoys a completely different experience from urban life. The trip costs VND300,000-350,000 ($13-15) per person, including food and equipment rent.

Family members paddle and take a dip in the stream when camping.

Family members paddle and take a dip in the stream when camping.

Anh said to ensure safety the camp site should be fairly vacant to minimize contact with others, and the usual precautions related to wearing masks and frequently sanitizing hands should not be abandoned. He also spoke about the importance of preserving nature and being the thoughtful to our surroundings.



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Pandemic empties Da Nang’s streets


In the central city, this tunnel on Tran Phu Street, which is always bustling, was deserted on Sunday. Da Nang, a popular tourist destination, closed all bars, karaoke parlors and tourist attractions while locals stay at home for fear of contracting the novel coronavirus. 

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered all “non-essential” businesses, except for shops selling food, medicine and fuel, to be closed from March 28 to April 15 as the country enters what he said was a critical two-week stage in its Covid-19 fight.



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House of curves blurs boundary with nature




In the heart of Central Highlands Dak Lak Province, a curvaceous design employs giant doorways to erase the distinction between indoors and out.

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Vietnam Airlines brings 238 Ukrainians home


The plane, which departed from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, is expected to arrive at the Kyiv Boryspil International Airport in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, at around 3 p.m. local time.

The aircraft will fly back to the Van Don International Airport in Quang Ninh Province, northern Vietnam with 74 Vietnamese citizens living and studying in Ukraine. The return flight is expected to land at 7:30 a.m., March 30.

To limit the risk of infection, the airline will screen passengers’ body temperatures and do a quick health check before boarding. Passengers will be required to wear face masks during the flight and all crew members wear medical protective clothing covering their entire bodies.

After the aircraft lands Van Don, the passengers will quarantined and monitored for 14 days. The aircraft will be disinfected.

This is the third flight operated by Vietnam Airlines to bring citizens abroad home, after earlier flights to China’s Wuhan City and Cebu City in the Philippines.

Since March 22, Vietnam has prohibited entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin. Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners with diplomatic or official passports are allowed in, and all are quarantined for 14 days.

Of Vietnam’s 179 confirmed Covid-19 cases so far, 21 have recovered and been discharged.

The Covid-19 pandemic has spread to 199 countries and territories to date, claiming over 30,000 lives.



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Vietnam airlines reduce domestic services


By Nguyen Nam  &nbspMarch 29, 2020 | 02:48 pm GMT+7
Vietnam airlines reduce domestic services

A medical worker disinfects the cabin of a Vietnam Airlines plane, February 4, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Vietnamese carriers will further reduce domestic flights at least until April 15 to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Bamboo Airways said it would minimize domestic flights and suspend all charter flights bringing home Vietnamese from abroad from March 28 to April 15, though flights taking passengers out of Vietnam and returning empty would be considered if approved by authorities.

Vietnam Airlines will cut its domestic routes from 35 to eight and to 10 percent of the usual number of seats from March 28 to April 15.

A spokesperson for the carrier said: “A minimum frequency will be maintained on the routes to meet urgent needs with the strictest epidemic standards. All flight crews on all flights are equipped with medical protective gears.”

All passengers and flight crews have their body temperature measured and are checked, and they need to declare their health status before boarding. The airline also requires passengers to wear masks during the flight and does not transport passengers showing signs of suspected coronavirus infection.

Passengers affected by Covid-19 can change flights or itineraries or get a refund.

Vietnam Airlines has suspended international flights until April 30.

Since March 22 Vietnam has prohibited entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin.

Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners with diplomatic or official passports are allowed in, and all are quarantined for 14 days.

Vietnam has confirmed 179 Covid-19 cases. Of these, 21 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.

The pandemic has spread to 199 countries and territories, claiming over 30,000 lives.



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Lockdown of ‘non-essential’ shops empties Hanoi streets


Foreign tourists face difficulty in finding hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment. 

Starting March 22, the country has suspended entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers and halted all international flights from March 25. Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners having diplomatic and official passports such as business managers, experts and high-skilled workers will be allowed to enter the country at this time, and all entrants will be quarantined for 14 days.

Of Vietnam’s 179 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 21 have been discharged after treatment. The pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people in 199 countries and territories.



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Lockdown of ‘non-essential’ businesses empties Hanoi streets


Foreign tourists face difficulty in finding hotels, restaurants and places of entertainment. 

Starting March 22, the country has suspended entry for all foreign nationals, including those of Vietnamese origin and family members with visa waivers and halted all international flights from March 25. Only Vietnamese nationals and foreigners having diplomatic and official passports such as business managers, experts and high-skilled workers will be allowed to enter the country at this time, and all entrants will be quarantined for 14 days.

Of Vietnam’s 179 confirmed Covid-19 cases, 21 have been discharged after treatment. The pandemic has killed more than 30,000 people in 199 countries and territories.



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Kon Tum hidden charm of Central Highlands


Kon Tum Province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands adjoins Quang Nam to the north, Gia Lai to the south, Quang Ngai to the east, while bordering Laos and Cambodia to the west.

I came to Kon Tum after a 50 km journey from Gia Lai Province via the straight and convenient Ho Chi Minh Highway. Arriving in Kon Tum Town, capital of Kon Tum Province, at noon, I contacted an acquaintance for a place to stay despite the many available options.

My first destination was the wooden Kon Tum church, built entirely from shorea roxburghii wood, native to the Indochina region. Its design resembles ethnic Ba Na homes in Kon Tum. The church includes an orphanage as well as small carpentry and weaving workshops run by skilled hands from Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai provinces.

Beside the church stands the bishop’s residence, built in 1935 with a mixed architectural design. The building is currently used as a museum focused on local ethnic culture.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

Kon Tum church. Photo by Xu Kien.

In the late afternoon, I drove to Kon Klor suspension bridge crossing Dak Bla River to enjoy a sunset resplendid with the far off smoke of kitchen hearths, the occasional buffalo cart and the laughter of kids leaving school.

The following day, I accompanied my friends to Tu Mo Rong District, an area similar to Da Lat, a famous hill town in the Central Highlands, with its many valleys and dirt roads.

After traveling 60 kilometres from Kon Tom Town via 678 Provincial Route, which took us two hours due to the many twists, we were greeted in Tu Ma Rong by the ethnic Xe Dang, village elders contemplating life from their doorsteps.

After Tu Mo Rong, I hit a new milestone on my backpacking journey at Indochina Junction, where Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia adjoin.

As evening drew near, we decided to hurry back to Mang Den Town, heart of Kon Tum. Passing through chilly Mang Den Pass, we arrived half-frozen.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den township. Photo by Xu Kien.

Pine trees line along a road in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

People tend to fall in love with Mang Den for its chilly, but sunny weather. Here we snacked at Pa Sy Waterfall before visiting nearby Khanh Lam Pagoda and the Catholic statue of Maria, a well-known pilgrimage site.

We also passed through Kon Bring cultural village, home Mo Nam ethnic people, and had lunch with ethnic homestay owner Lim.

Taking National Route 24 to reach twisting and fog-covered Violac Pass, we first passed by Hieu Village with its quaint ethnic dwellings. The pass itself cuts through dense forests and offers a splendid view of Re River flowing from Kon Tum through Quang Ngai, my hometown, before reaching the East Sea.

Leaving Mang Den, I promised myself I would return to Kon Tum again one day to further explore the Central Highlands magic.

Until next time, I told myself.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den town.

Pa Sy Waterfall in Mang Den Town. Photo by Xu Kien.

*Notes to assist your journey

Transportation

Coaches: This is the method recommended to foreigners, as well as Vietnamese inexperienced with backpacking motorbike journeys. You can choose many coaches from HCMC to Kon Tum, such as Phong Phu, Phuong Thu, Minh Quoc, etc, all priced around VND300,000 – 400,000 ($13 – 17). If you travel from Hanoi, coaches such as Viet Tan, Thien Trung, or Van Nam cost around VND600,000 ($26).

Motorbike: To adventurous travelers, using a motorbike is recommended, as the routes in Kon Tum are gorgeous. But be aware, most leading to travel destinations are rather dangerous, so please do not ride motorbikes unless confident.

Lodging

Despite there being no homestays in Kon Tum, there is an abundance of hotels, including Konklor, Bac Huong, Hong My, Tay Nguyen, etc. In contrast, Mang Den has a wider variety of options, such as Sum Villa, Doi Thong Hotel, or Lim Lim Homestay of the ethnic Mo Nam.

Food

Dining in Kon Tum offers diversified jungle specialities like snail noodles, roasted pork, fried crickets etc.

Souvenirs

You would be glad to find a wide variety of souvenirs here, including the sweet wine of Mang Den, young bamboo, and pressed banana slices from Ha Trang restaurant in Kon Tum Town.

Clothing

Kon Tum’s weather is mostly hot, but if you decide to visit Mang Den, warm clothing is essential. Be wary that once you arrive in Mang Den, you will feel colder than expected because of mountainous humidity and winds.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

Xu Kien at the Indochina Junction. Kon Tum Province shares the borderline with the two Lao provinces of Sekong and Attapeu, and with Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

*Xu Kien, 28, is from the central province of Quang Ngai and lives in Saigon. She travels around Vietnam and writes books and a travel blog.



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HCMC closes all tourist attractions in Covid-19 fight


The city had already closed all bars, karaoke parlors, restaurants, and other entertainment facilities as it joined the country in trying to limit the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed over 27,000 lives globally.

The latest move followed a directive issued by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, ordering all “non-essential” businesses around the country to be closed until April 15 as the country enters what he said was a critical two-week stage in its Covid-19 fight.

Most tourist destinations have worn a deserted look after the Lunar New Year holiday (January 24-29) as a result of the pandemic, then deemed a national epidemic, with some sites reporting a 70 percent fall in the number of visitors, according to the city’s Tourism Department.

The number of foreign arrivals in Ho Chi Minh City last month fell 52 percent to 346,560, while tourism revenues dropped 30 percent year-on-year to VND8.1 trillion ($348 million), the department said.

The Independence Palace in downtown Saigon closes its door to all tourists until April 15. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh. 

The Independence Palace in downtown Saigon closes its door to all tourists until April 15. Photo by VnExpress/Tam Linh. 

Nguyen Khoa Luan, director of the Anh Viet Company that launched open top, double-decker bus services last January, said the tours stood canceled until further notice.

HCMC received more than 8.6 million foreign visitors last year, up 13 percent from a year ago. It has targeted welcoming 10 million visitors this year, 10 percent more than last year. The city raked in VND150 trillion ($6.4 billion) in tourism revenues last year.

Vietnam welcomed nearly 3.7 million international tourists in the first three months of 2020, down 18.1 percent year-on-year, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

Most popular tourist spots in Vietnam, including Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam and the ancient town of Hoi An in the central region, have closed their doors to visitors. Other famous islands, including Con DaoCu Lao Cham and Ly Son have temporarily halted tourist operations.

The novel coronavirus has slashed an estimated $7 billion in Vietnam’s tourism revenues for January-February 2020, with the number of hotel guests in this period decreasing year-on-year by 60-70 percent, according to official data.

Vietnam has 174 confirmed Covid-19 cases so far, with most of the active ones being people coming from Europe and the U.S. and others who came into close contact with them. Of these 21 have been discharged from hospitals.