Today is April 15th. It’s the last day (so far) of the enhanced social distancing rules that basically shut down Vietnam and isolated many of the cities from each other. Hanoi normally is a very lively place. Coffee shops and cafes do a lively business along West Lake and when you get to Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter normally buzzes with local, tourist and expat life. I have not been to the Old Quarter in some weeks. It must be a lot different. I loved a number of beer bars, pho stands and coffee shops there.
wondering about borders
Many wonder when they can move again. The borders for us old retired expats are much more than entitled millennial backpacker types. The borders for us are social and cultural things. The distance and cost from Vietnam to KL Malaysia allowed effortless and cheap visa runs or extensions of visas. We all have friends in the countries. The ties normally are based on being able to easily go to Phnom Penh when the mood strikes or to get to Vientiane for food, fun and French Bakeries.
The borders being closed means those porous and easily changed countries have shutdown. Now we are in a new reality. The old reality was all about the visa game. You knew the places with 90 day visa free stamps with a US passport. Nice places like Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. A little farther away Japan would beckon. These are like zones of relaxation and soon you established a repertoire of places but perhaps had the fallback. For me that was cambodia. I could easily get the ER extension of stay visa which gives me a year of coming and going as I want. Perfect for the old retired guy that wants Malaysia as a destination. I don’t care for Thailand. Not at all. So it never was included. They mess with visas too much and some friends on retirement visas there were harassed until they bailed to Siem Reap where the living is easier by degrees.
Now we have covid-19 and travels have ceased. I will stay in Hanoi until August and then go somewhere. It does not matter where. Will it ever be the same again I have seen asked on expat forum sites.
No. Never again. It will perhaps get easier but never the same. For those wonderful millennials, I’m sure the countries are just counters to some desired number. For us the countries are zones of life. We live in all of them. Many of my retiree friends enjoy the lives in both Vietnam and Cambodia. It may get better but it won’t go back. So it’s time again when I can to get the backup visa. Because life for us is about visas and extensions. We don’t game the system because it’s stupid but we know the rules. Here it’s stupid to overstay in any one country. Just like it’s stupid to do drugs in any one country. If you must do drugs I would recommend going to Singapore. I hear the canes are not so bad. Also don’t chew gum or smoke.
One of the other little things we do though talking about Singapore is go there for shorter times. Sometimes I need the place where traffic lights are obeyed, where the streets most often look antiseptically clean and the food is amazing. Only for a week and then it’s to Malaysia. I feel more at home for long periods there. And it satisfies the 90 day visa free thing.
final advice for those missing the going
Give it time. Check often with the embassy or consulate where you wish to go. Forget the rumor mill and FB. For now stay where you are. Take the day by day. Asian countries are doing much better in the covid-19 battle. And remember those once porous lines may be sealed up now but a new reality will come. We cannot be held down by this. We will win. But I think how we used to zip around between countries is going to be rethought. It’s only 50 minutes from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Might as well be a light year now. But that’s now. We have when. And when is rich with possibility. Kinda like if. Combined they create new wonderful possibilities. But we only have now. So make the most of it where you are. Try blogging or creating a life journal. Maybe practice meditation or take a free or cheap online class.
Stay well and strong. Borders are closed but minds can be open.