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Trapped in Việt Nam: The story of a European couple

Update: May, 28/2020 - 08:15

Watch our interview with Arijana Tkalcec on their trip to Việt Nam

by Vũ Thu Hà

When COVID-19 brought the world to its knees those far from home found themselves trapped abroad.

Here in Việt Nam many of those on holiday made a desperate scramble to catch that last flight home before the borders closed for the foreseeable future.

But while many managed to make the journey, one European couple decided to stay and their decision has proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Arijana Tkalcec and her boyfriend Matej Span at Hòa Trung Lake near Đà Nẵng City. Photo courtesy of Arijana Tkalcec

Croatian Arijana Tkalcec and her Slovenian boyfriend Matej Span are thousands of miles from home with no immediate way of getting there.

But instead of regrets, the couple says they have no doubt they are in the best place to be right now.

“We were never really scared when we were here because we knew that Việt Nam knows what it is doing. Because when we came there were 16 cases that were all recovered so they already had some experience with this,” said 24-year-old Tkalcec.

“All those measures that were put in really fast helped with the situation. So we are lucky to be here.”

Tkalcec and her boyfriend arrived in the country on February 26, the second leg of their planned seven-month trip around Southeast Asia. Their initial plan was to stay here for two months.

“For the first two weeks, we explored Việt Nam normally without any problems. Then we came to Đà Lạt in the middle of March and the situation became got worse day by day,” Tkalcec told Việt Nam News via video call from Đà Nẵng City where the couple is staying now.

March 6 marked the second wave of infection in Việt Nam after a Vietnamese woman coming back to Hà Nội from the UK tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Soon after, many more cases were detected, with many of the infected people returning from abroad.

As a European couple, Tkalcec and her boyfriend almost immediately found themselves in a strange new world.

Tkalcec said: “There was one time when we were in Đà Lạt. We went to a restaurant and people refused our entry, so we left.

“Sometimes people would put masks on when we passed by. Probably because we are Westerners so they thought we had the virus right away or something.”

Arijana Tkalcec and her boyfriend Matej Span in the backyard of their rental house in Đà Nẵng.

The couple managed to get to Đà Nẵng from Đà Lạt on the last day before the social distancing took effect, and the first thing they encountered there was nowhere near what they had expected.

Tkalcec added: “At the train station, I think it was 11pm, a lot of health workers in those blue suits were waiting for everyone. I have to say that is quite scary because we didn’t know what’s happening and what they will do to us.

“But they were just checking everyone and measuring temperatures and taking information about us to make sure we are healthy and safe.

“They were really kind and that was one of the really wonderful experiences here because they explained to us everything and helped us with any information we needed.”

The following days made them more amazed by how Việt Nam could put everything in place to “leave no one behind” in the fight against the virus.

“We didn’t have any difficult time during the social distancing period. Because we knew everything that we can and what we can’t do. All the information was available right away.

“We also have the health declaration application which is a very good thing because if we felt unwell we could just put symptoms there and health care workers can react very fast.

“Here in our area in Đà Nẵng, there were officials to make sure that everyone is following the rule. They are kind.

"For example, when we wanted to go for a walk on the beach, they explained to us why we cannot do that, instead we can go to the neighbouring street.

"I think it was really nice because they make sure that everyone follows the rules but they did not force people in a bad way.”

Right now there are no immediate flights back to Europe, and no clear date of when they will begin again.

A photo of a boat operator on Ngã Năm floating market in southern Sóc Trăng Province, taken by Arijana Tkalcec.

Despite the twists and turns in their journey, Tkalcec and Span have tried their best to enjoy the time here as best they can.

The couple just extended their visas for another three months and hope they can explore every corner of the country. After the south and central regions, they are now looking forward to discovering the north with its mountainous terrain.

“Việt Nam is really beautiful. Every place we have visited so far is beautiful and we are happy. But we are most excited for the north because of hiking. We love that.

“Also we would like to explore more lesser-known places, not just the famous tourism places.”

There may well be no place like home, but for these two European travellers, Việt Nam is the next best thing right now. — VNS

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