Covid fears, travel restrictions and slimmer budget have made many people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City choose to visit local attractions and have fun right in their cities.
On a Sunday afternoon in December hundreds of people were visiting a canola garden on Nguyen Xien Street, simply unwinding, taking photos of themselves in front of the sea of flowers.
Some older women were in ao dai and others wore fashionable clothes so that their husbands, children or boyfriends could take photos of them.
“I am busy with work all week, so I bring my children here to relax, enjoy the views and take some photos,” Nguyen Thu Huyen, 37, said. It was an ideal weekend getaway being close to downtown but with a beautiful landscape, she said.
Around 10 km away, dozens of people were picnicking with friends and families on an islet under the Vinh Tuy Bridge, eating BBQ and catching up with each other after months of not meeting.
Hanoians camp on an islet under the Vinh Tuy Bridge. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh
Cooped up for long when stay-at-home orders were in place to curb the spread of Covid-19, many people suffer from quarantine fatigue.
So, with Hanoi and HCMC ending social distancing and resuming economic and social activities, people are yearning to travel. But amid uncertainty over when foreign travel will be allowed again, some have taken to “revenge travel” to destinations within the city or in suburbs, determined to make up for the lost days.
While the Delta variant keeps wrecking people’s travel plans, many flower gardens and public camping spaces have become havens for travelers.
In the past few weeks social media has been flooded with images of people thronging flower gardens in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan and Long Bien districts.
Bui Thi Anh, 30, and her colleagues took advantage of the weekend to visit a chrysanthemum field to take pictures in front of a stunning backdrop. To have Instagram-worthy photos, they hired a photographer.
“The chrysanthemum field makes me feel like I am in a foreign country,” Anh said.
She and her friends had discussed what outfits and accessories to take and, before starting from home, did rapid Covid tests.
“We keep a distance from other visitors and only take off our masks when photographed. Many people coming here also strictly follow Covid prevention measures”.
A group of friends pose for a photo at a chrysanthemum field in Hanoi’s Long Bien District on Dec. 5, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen
Many people also flock to the empty lands at the foot of the Vinh Tuy Bridge in Long Bien, to camp, play, eat, and watch the sunset.
“Since it is large and open and close to the center of Hanoi, it has become one of my favorite picnic spots,” Do Trung Tien said.
“The view, the weather … everything is amazing here”.
He said the need to relax in a place with open spaces and fresh air and to be in harmony with nature has become even more necessary after the recent lockdown.
Many urban dwellers are willing to pay big money, even several million dong, for staying a night in rented accommodations.
Many hotels and service apartments in HCMC are capitalizing on the growing revenge travel, weekend staycation trends.
A representive of CityOasis, a serviced apartment in District 1 that was more used by long-term and foreign guests before the pandemic, is now offering short-term accommodation amid the soaring staycation demand.
Huynh Thi Mai Thy, director of Traveloka Vietnam, said there is an interest spike in staycations and said this is a positive sign for the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sectors.
“We anticipate the ‘staycation’ trend to continue to grow, especially in major cities, as customers seek safe getaway destinations near where they live since it is still hard to travel to other localities”.
Receptionists at a hotel in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Nikko Saigon Hotel
When home is not where the heart is
A survey by leading online accommodation reservation provider Agoda in September found four out of 10 respondents willing to travel again within four months after social distancing restrictions are removed.
But as the pandemic is still raging, staycation has become a good alternative. In Da Nang City, nearly 87 percent of 3,061 respondents said they would opt for staycations after the pandemic is brought under control.
“I usually travel to Bangkok in winter, but the pandemic has prevented me from traveling abroad for two years,” Nguyen Linh Chi, who plans to rent a five-star hotel room in Hanoi to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her friends, said.
Though many localities have reopened to tourists, many Hanoians and Saigonese are apprehensive about traveling, worrying about infection risks and likely restrictions if they get infected.
In HCMC, Nguyen Thi Hoang Hoa thought about traveling to Phu Quoc Island with her four-member family, but was worried about contracting Covid on the plane or in a hotel.
“And what if we have to be in quarantine for two weeks? My husband and I cannot go to work then; too many risks,” she said. So, instead, she booked a room in a resort on the Saigon River for her family in mid-December.
Another reason for the popularity of staycations is their affordability, which allows people to get away without it costing an arm and a leg.
“People do not have to spend millions of dong for flight tickets and luxury hotel rooms; they can just find a nice camping spot in their city or a place with beautiful greenery to refresh their minds,” Le Thi Hong Yen, a tour coordinator in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, said.
With many people hit hard financially by the two-year-long pandemic and Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) being just two months away, many people opt for traveling on the cheap.
“Paying less does not mean that we have less fun,” Tien pointed out.
“Having a picnic and BBQ party like this gives us joy and peace of mind because we do not have to spend a fortune and travel [to risky places]”.
He plans to spend another weekend in December hiking in the Ba Vi National Park, 60 km west of Hanoi, amid forests and waterfalls and enjoying the fresh air.
“It has been a tough time for everyone, we were cooped up inside our houses. My family wants to be out and I want them to enjoy our vacations as much as they can without worrying about the pandemic”.