You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone during COVID-19.

Living in the tourism mecca of Hoi An, with its ‘big brother’ Da Nang just to our north, has always been a useful relationship. What we can’t get in Hoi An can usually be found in Da Nang. Tools, imported foods, and unusual items are available these days in Hoi An but that wasn’t always the case. 

Although they are in different administrations, the integration between them is symbiotic and inseparable.

Packaging materials for restaurants and small businesses around our internationally famous tourist city were only found in Da Nang’s markets and large department stores. Good quality teaching and fiction books could only be sourced in Da Nang. Things for the kitchen that foreigners take for granted like potato mashers, long bread knives, and can openers used to take a day trip up the road to our big brother. You get the idea.

Online shopping, delivery services between the cities, and the flood of mini-marts improved the ‘hard to get’ situation that often stumped both locals and expats over the years to the point that we hardly thought about the problems anymore. It does help these days that you find help and directions to supplies and materials without roaming haphazardly on our scary roads.

Good proximity helps as well. With Da Nang airport just 35 kilometers away, the two-way food and tourist traffic grew into a monster of roaring buses and speeding taxis along the coastal highway linking both locations. The obvious benefits of so much money flowing though from Da Nang to Hoi An created boom economies.

Having worked in both places was a boon, as I had options for work and fun never too far away and always affordable, with the beach barely two kilometers apart and plenty of interesting company regardless of the venue’s whereabouts. It’s something that I rarely had the chance to enjoy in larger cities overseas or in Vietnam’s two major metropolises, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Of course, what’s really attractive as a standard of living are the relatively small populations of both municipalities compared to mega-massive Ho Chi Minh city, estimated at thirteen million and Hanoi, around eight million. Being coastal hubs helps keep the air pollution down while the community tend not to experience overwhelming crowds at the beach or in the city centers. I’m sure many expats might argue about that but it’s my opinion!

But then COVID-19 struck and the disconnect from commuting, shopping, socializing, and travelling is all in serious upheaval. Our reliance on the ability to fly south or north for embassy stuff, medicals, and business within Vietnam is too unpredictable for many to book tickets, let alone plan ahead appointments, meetings, and other activities that just can’t be adequately done online. Just the disruptions to overseas travel and restrictions on the tourist influx that drives Hoi An’s economy and, to a similar extent, Da Nang’s hospitality industry are shocking in impact. Too many people are closing up shop or leaving the country. 

The most lasting effect will be trying to open up again to domestic and international trade and tourism; and who knows when that will be? I’m firmly in the camp who think nothing significant will begin to grow until early to mid-2022. It has always fascinated me just how much cross-flow of workers moves between the two places. Sadly, as the work has dried up in both directions, I can’t see any method of rapidly improving this until vaccines are widespread and hopefully major lockdowns can be avoided. The strain on personal and future hopes for the young is hanging in the balance although the Vietnamese have one small advantage in being able to flee to hometowns to rough it out – something that is not so simple or even available in many Western countries. Thank heavens for the belief in families in Vietnam!

As much as I’m frustrated by not being easily able to get to Ho Chi Minh City for my passport and some medical issues, it continues to be more annoying not to do quite a few scheduled and planned trips up to Da Nang. I can wait as I’m not so heavily reliant on earning a living as others, yet I have noticed an alarming increase in people’s frustration, both on Facebook and in meeting someone passing on. Wishful thinking, ‘Why can’t they…,’ becomes such an all too frequent whine that I can’t deal with it anymore.

Whatever happens next to all of us is mostly out of our hands and up to others to decide and manage. I guess it’s a piece of wisdom when you can accept that and live with it. I’m an optimist by nature so even if the wait is long, we’ll probably all appreciate getting out and about and not taking things for granted so much.

Either way, I’ve always been thankful for ending in such a delightful part of the world where I can live in a small city with all the extra advantages of the ‘big smoke’ nearby. And soon enough I’ll be whizzing to Da Nang and relieved to get to back to Hoi An in one piece and with lots of goodies to enjoy! How lucky can I get?