I was thrilled. With the Vietnamese Government relaxing Covid-19 travel restrictions starting March 15, I could finally fly back to Vietnam after three long years! I was already looking forward to seeing my friends and, of course, sampling the sumptuous food.
I started planning my trip back to Vietnam and the tourist mecca, Danang.
As the days flew by, with a flurry of preparation and activity—and some confusion about the exact requirements for entry into the country, I was worried I might miss some requirements and not be able to enter the country.
As the day approached, I found out that the initial one-day self-isolation requirement upon arrival, with a PCR test 24 hours after arrival, was removed. All I needed was a PCR test 72 hours before flying in, my notarized vaccination certificate and Covid-19 travel insurance and my medical declaration on the PC-COVID application.
I had planned to fly to HCMC and then head to Danang thereafter, as I thought there would be no direct international flights to Danang. As it turned out, several international direct flights to Danang were soon introduced. Either way, I had booked my tickets and was ready to go.
Upon arrival in HCMC, the Tan Son Nhat airport was barren, except for passengers from a few flights. I had prepared all the necessary documents and checked my medical declaration on the PC-COVID application. The immigration officer asked for that as well, and the entry was smooth as silk.
Danang was a sight to behold, as always. I was last here in 2019 and the breathtaking views of My Khe beach with the misty mountain views of Monkey Mountain in the far distance were magical. The only difference was the crowds—or the lack of them.
I remembered mornings and afternoons in My Khe were quite popular, with peddlers and tourists—foreign and local, families, couples, students—all soaking in the atmosphere on the main beach. You could hear Chinese, Russian, Korean and English everywhere you walked. Now, the day only saw small groups of local tourists.
As the evening set in, their numbers grew and many were sent to a designated area where the waves and undertow were less strong. All while being observed by a group of vigilant lifeguards who were quick to blow their whistles if swimmers got too far from the designated area. That was something new for me. The Danang authorities were more vigilant than before.
I rented a bike and zipped around the city streets. At a major downtown intersection on a humid late March afternoon, I saw three traffic policemen had stopped two motorcyclists. They were hard at work, taking notes, and animatedly talking to the motorcyclists. Another biker was pulling up to discuss his situation with the officer.
For me, I made sure I kept to the city speed limit of 40km/h and the motorcycle lanes on the right. The streets were clean, pavements were tidy and roads were well maintained without potholes, just like before. The Danang government is well known for that.
Before sunset, I cruised down the main beach road on Vo Nguyen Giap to take in the evening glow and see the surf in the fading light. It’s an experience I highly recommend. This time around, I noticed many vintage-looking electric cars driven by hotel staff. They were very popular and so unique. I chuckled at the irony of it all. A century-old BMW sedan was advertising the modern global movement to go Green and Sustainable.
In the evening, I went down to the famous Cau Rong or Dragon Bridge, looking to catch it spit fire. Alas, I missed it but enjoyed the changing lights on its body, especially when it turned into a gorgeous orange. I then took in the picturesque views of the Han River from the bridge; with a warm summer-like breeze and the buildings all lit up, it felt so festive. Do what the locals do and get an ice-cream or a smoothie (Sinh To) and relax on the bridge.
I was getting hungry and got a recommendation from my hotel manager to check out Banh Xeo Ba Duong at K280/23 Hoang Dieu. It’s the Danang version of the deep-fried rice flour and turmeric pancake popular throughout Vietnam. This one was stuffed with fresh Danang prawns and seafood, and you roll it up with rice paper, fresh vegetables and young sour mango. Yummy!
To end the evening, I stopped by Ut Tich Café, a lovely coffeeshop at 102 Bach Dang Street. It was decorated in a traditional style with lots of old school snacks in red lid jars, red lanterns and many people hanging out on the roadside on low chairs and tables.
The Vietnamese milk coffee I ordered was strong, rich and smooth, a reminder of one of my favorite beverages in Vietnam. And enjoying it slowly while soaking in the joyful roadside vibe by the Han River was just so peaceful. With that experience, I felt like I had really returned.
The tourist crowds and international vibe may not have been back to normal yet but the rest of this dynamic city definitely was.