Corona virus: traveling during the outbreak

Corona Virus: Wear your mask sign in Hanoi

Noelle’s thoughts on the road

Corona Virus, Covid-19, The Virus: it’s pretty much the main conversation in person and online right now. I’m writing this aboard a plane about to take off from Bangkok, heading to Hanoi, Vietnam. The announcements and instructions are complete and the pilot is moving us towards take off. I feel a little nervous, and I don’t get nervous flying. However this whole Corona Virus is creeping into all of our plans.

Making and changing plans

Last night, March 9th, we learned by email that a scheduled (and paid for) tour is now cancelled. The wording of the email leads me to believe that a recently discovered patient participated in the tour.

A Pacific Crest Trail hiker told us last summer about his trip to Vietnam with the best part being a trip to Sapa in northern Vietnam. We read about it and chose a well-reviewed eco-conscious company doing tours with the local Hmong and Dzao indigenous groups. A local woman takes small groups on long day hikes through rice paddies and across mountains. Then participants stay the night at her house, preparing a meal together and eating with her family, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Then wake up and hike some more the next day. It sounds exactly like our cup of tea and I’ve seriously been looking forward to it since learning about this opportunity last July.

Corona Virus: the uninvited guest

But then there’s this Corona virus. At first, as we traveled around Thailand, we brushed it off, not paying much attention to the media fear-mongering. Don’t even get me started with how I believe governments and media have the desire to keep citizens cowed and scared. I mean, seriously, that’s a discussion for a bottle or two of wine. I may be a tad bit of a conspiracy theorist. Just a tiny little bit. Not like freakish or anything. Ha!

Vietnam’s new entry requirements

Anyway, our taxiing and take off are complete and we’re now sailing through the air-polluted skies above Bangkok.

Starting March 7th, Vietnam began requiring everyone entering the country to fill out a health screening form. It’s a wise move on their part, but I wonder if someone who’s sick but needs to get home would be honest anyway. I guess I think they’d probably lie. Members of local Reddit forums say how empty the airports are, but BKK in Bangkok seems about the same busy as it was when we arrived in January.

Bangkok airport sees fewer crowds
Steve at BKK

We did, however, arrive then around midnight, while today we were at the airport a good portion of the day and the crowd size seems the same as middle of night. Anyway, we truthfully checked no, on the form, about fever, hives, coughing, diarrhea, rash. No, we haven’t been to any farms. Nor have we assisted any sick people. Here’s our flight number and even our seat assignments. I guess they really want to track down anyone associated with any newly identified patient.

To wear a mask or not?

I wore a mask on our flight from Koh Tao to Bangkok, but I’m not wearing it at this moment. As I look around the plane, over half of the passengers aren’t wearing one and neither are the flight attendants. I wear it to remind myself to quit touching my face. It sort of works.

A Vancouver BC traveler I talked with today told me he read that we touch our faces 90 times per day. That’s a lot! He said that some doctors think we touch them even more when wearing a mask, because the mask itself is so uncomfortable. Go figure! The masks offer the wearer little to no protection against the virus causing germs so I’m unclear of the best procedure. I’m washing my hands like a freak now. Scrubbing down for surgery before and after urinating and any other time I think about it. Taking squirts of hand sanitizer constantly.

Corona virus is THE topic of the day

Another traveler I met today, this one a world-traveling Aussie, told me that hand sanitizer actually does nothing to prevent infection, so who knows? He said there’s another chemical, of course I’ve forgotten the name, but it’s manufactured in the US by a company named Lorenzo or something. Anyway he used to work for them in the 80’s as a bio chemical engineer and he said their product actually kills germs.

He was anti-WHO, only in regards to their endorsement of isopropyl alcohol and chlorine as the only effective germ killers, while leaving out this other product. He also said the easiest and best way to kill germs is with a UV light. They make little UV pens to sterilize water for backpacking now. He said if there were UV lights in public bathrooms it would be a huge step towards safety. I had a fun day chatting with travelers. But Corona virus is certainly on all our minds. Maybe we should all start carrying around UV pens!

Flight cancellations and screenings

We did see cancellations for a lot of incoming and outgoing flights to China on the reader boards, but some ARE still flying into and out of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). The logic of that escapes me. It seems like there are so many contradictions about who can come into any country. We had zero health screening in Koh Tao prior to boarding the ferry/bus, zero in Surat Thani prior to boarding the plane, and zero in Bangkok. No temperature checks, no questions asked. Normal security checks, but nothing about health.

We spotted a couple of young women wearing full on garbage bags over their clothes, plastic gloves over their hands, face masks and something akin to shower caps on their heads. With nothing covering their legs and feet, I’m not sure that upper-body-only protection does much good. Like a nice person, I curtailed my desire to snap pictures, but that didn’t lessen the desire!

Health screenings? Where?

Anyway, yesterday we left Koh Tao, the land of swimsuits and flip flops, by ferry. The first boat took us to Koh Pha-ngan and the next took us to Surat Thani. Then we took a bus to the airport and then a taxi a mile to our hotel. Thai transportation time is different than US transportation time. Schedule says we get to the airport around 2:30. Reality was 4:00. We chose two easier days of travel instead of one long uncertain one where we may or may not have made connections. No health screenings or temperatures taken in any of our travels. A guy next to me on the bus blew his nose twice. Really? Don’t do that!

Bus from Ferry to Surat Thani Airport

Someone sneezed behind me a minute or so ago, and I literally want to throat chop them. Do not sneeze in public. No coughing or sniffing anywhere near me either. Our plane has now stopped a ways from the airport, and a bus drove out to us. Are we in quarantine? All the questions. All the communal fear rubs off. Did someone lie on their health screen?

Navigating Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport

Well, we didn’t get quarantined on the plane, but also aren’t sure why the plane was met by a bus. Maybe it’s normal here? We did get jammed into a huge queue of people waiting to provide the new health screening form. Maybe 300 people and four airport workers. Four lines separate into two groups: those with already filled out online forms and those filling out a paper copy handed to us upon arrival.

Five total workers and hundreds of passengers in Hanoi for the Health Declaration Form processing
Hanoi Airport Health Declaration Queue

A woman handing out the paper copy said, “Fill out a new one, it’s faster”. One of us in this marriage feels compelled to follow the rules, so he wanted to go into the correct line. Sure enough the paper queue moved at double the speed of the online queue. Once we got to the front 45 or so minutes later, we understood why! Two beaten down women sat in front of laptops typing in the traveler’s confirmation number as shown by our phone screenshots. As they find your name in the system, they print out a form for you to sign that the online health screen is actually yours. I can’t even begin to imagine the lengths of the lines during a busier part of the day. We came in around 8pm, so behind the bulk of the day travelers.

Five total workers and hundreds of passengers in Hanoi for the Health Declaration Form processing
Hanoi Health Declaration Crowd

The Corona virus feeling around Hanoi

Today is our fourth day here in Hanoi. A couple days ago, the hotel front desk guy to set us up with a street food tour, since ours was cancelled. He asked our nationality and then promptly heard “no” answers on his first couple phone calls. He left the room and we’re pretty sure he then ended up calling a friend, because the young man, who showed up was not a regular food guide. However he showed us around, fed us great food and was a bright spot in our day.

He also bought us a couple of cloth face masks, for which we are grateful. Yesterday we tried to buy them after seeing signs saying, “don’t come in our store without mask” or more kindly “wear you face mask, please” but everyone told us they were out of stock. Same in the Bangkok airport, everyone out of masks. I guess in the US everyone is buying toilet paper in the war against Covid-19, here they buy face masks.

Corona Virus: Wear your mask sign in Hanoi
Masks are necessary

Public places shutting down

Our previously scheduled local day tours were all cancelled due to the Corona virus as well, hence the last minute foodie tour with a non-tour-guide. Many of the museums and temples are closed. We read that hostels and hotels have been closed. Tonight we saw several signs saying foreigners wouldn’t be served in their restaurants. Other restaurant owners, however, called out for us to join them for dinner. Maybe 1/3 didn’t want us coming into their shops.

Corona Virus: Not serving foreigners sign in Hanoi
Not serving foreigners

Information is hard to get

We struggle to get clear information on what is open and what is closed. Knowing the doors are locked, we still walked to St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We lamented not being able to go inside but enjoyed seeing it anyway. It’s modeled after Paris’ Notre Dame and it immediately brought me back to our visit there! Even the area around the church reminds me of Paris. Anyway, it’s closed.

More attractions close daily, maybe hourly? We met a couple Americans at breakfast this morning who are going home tomorrow. Last night they ate dinner on Ta Hien Beer Street and as they ate, restaurants and bars around them began closing. They moved inside and the door came down (like mini-garage doors) behind them. Within two minutes, the entire street emptied as police came through closing it down.

Corona Virus: Public Health Announcement Truck in Hanoi
Public Health Announcement Truck

Gleaning Corona virus info from other travelers, Reddit and FB forums

Like many travelers, we’re leaning heavily on expat forums now trying to decide our next move. Information changes by the hour and we feel uncertain about staying put, trying to move to another country or trying to fly home. Long flights trapped in recirculated air do not appeal to either of us, but Vietnam is slowly closing down around us. We read Vietnam is now closed to entry by foreigners. A news article just popped up about Hanoi bar owners being asked to close.

In the forums, people say, “Stop traveling”, well that’s great if you’re still at home and haven’t left. Sure, I say postpone your trip. It’s different not having a “home” to return to and knowing that our home states of Oregon and Washington are closing schools and events the same as Vietnam is doing. We want to make wise decisions are planning as best we can. The largest outbreak in America is in Washington, but so is part of our family.

Read about our realities of traveling for a year here.

News from home about Corona virus

We had a health scare after learning one of our grandsons came down with a fever. The happy dances came with a strep throat diagnosis. First time I can remember feeling glad for strep throat! Our daughter informed us this morning that Washington’s governor suspended all school attendance for the next six weeks, starting immediately. Oregon suspended school attendance yesterday.

This morning we video chatted with Steve’s sister, who’s planning to join us in Bangkok in a couple weeks. The three of us decided that a postponement is in order. It’s such a bummer as were really looking forward to seeing her and relaxing with her too. However, we agree to keep health and safety first, so we’re cancelling plans.

Steve’s parents’ homes in Colorado are now both on lock-down. No visitors allowed and all excursions cancelled. There’s a new case of Corona virus at my Dad’s assisted living facility in Washington, so I’m a little glad he’s not here to go through this.

Vietnam travel
Egg Coffee in Hanoi Vietnam

Steve and I are researching and discussing our options. I don’t know how our travel plans look next week. Today, however, we’re heading downstairs to get the latest hotel scoop and then hoping to find some food and another delicious egg coffee. Hanoi is beautiful and we’ll definitely come back here in the future, but hopefully not when the world is in an uproar!


  1. Paul

    Excellent article as always. Such uncertainty. I was supposed to leave for Nepal last Wednesday for an Everest trek. Canceled. Cascading effect as I was hoping to be on the PCT next March. It will all work out.

    • mcgarveysan

      Hi Paul. Nepal is certainly on our bucket list as well. It will all work out, but it’s so disappointing as it’s happening, isn’t it. Hopefully you still come to the US for the PCT next March and we’ll hike out to meet you! It’d be fun to connect with you along the trail. Or maybe when we get back to the NW (and things settle down), it seems like you’re in Seattle. Take good care of you and yours!

  2. Gregory Fast

    I am sorry to hear that you are being affected by all of this. I do have to say it does not come as a surprise to me. Yes, I agree that it is one thing to tell people you need to just stay in place, when you’re not traveling, but when you are far from home, you don’t have that as an option. We are in Hawaii right now. We hope to be returning to Alaska tonight. Once we are home, we plan to hunker down. now, we can just make it home, without somebody with a coronavirus sneezing or coughing on us, we should be fine. The one thing I have read that is the most effective for killing the coronavirus is soap and water. I have seen a number of articles about why it is so effective.

    • mcgarveysan

      Hi Gregory, It’s good to hear from you. I hope you guys have navigated the flights home by now and are hunkered down. We’re keeping a pretty low profile, staying in our room a good bit, trying to keep a distance a way from people but that’s really easier said than done! We’re both washing our hands a LOT! We’re not sure if there is wide spread panic here, we don’t think it’s anything like the US, but we were talking this morning that there may actually be some panic and we’re just insulated from it by not knowing the language. We wear our masks all the time out of our hotel room, although over half of Westerners we see do not, which just adds to the idea that tourists are the only ones spreading the virus. I’m not sure why people don’t simply realize, when in Rome… as I can see that we’re treated better than people not wearing masks. Anyway, this reply is turning into it’s own post! Hug Kathleen for me. I hope you all stay well and travel safely. Hugs…Noelle

  3. Anonymous

    The UV pen thing sounds intriguing. And the better way to clean your hands and germs. Lorenzo?

    • mcgarveysan

      It’d be good if I could remember important shit. But I can’t. 🤣 I think that was the company name. I tried Googling it but couldn’t figure out which company and product he was talking about.

  4. Anonymous

    So you are saying that Steve is a nitpicky rule-follower, while you are more of a free spirit? Wouldn’t have called that!

    Another excellent article…

    • mcgarveysan

      Yep. That’s pretty much exactly what I’m saying. 🤣


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