Through all the twisted and weird scenarios that I imagined for my long-awaited travel to Asia, it wasn’t one about the story of coronavirus. I started my travel in Asia at the beginning of December 2019 and I supposed to travel and volunteer there for 10 months. I invested work, time, money, and energy for this period of my life after a long time of dreaming to explore this part of the world. I started my travel very excited, willing to learn, and to contribute to the new contexts I was exposed to but until the sudden end of my journey, I became confused, lost, and afraid of never arriving back home.
Coronavirus in Vietnam. First time when I’ve heard about the virus I was in Vietnam celebrating the Lunar New Year. I didn’t pay too much attention to it because China wasn’t part of the traveling plan. Shortly time after, it was confirmed in Vietnam too and I started to doubt my plan to travel until the north of Vietnam to explore the tribal communities from Sapa. Vietnam was full of tourists at the end of January, they didn’t restrict touristic activities but they kept the schools closed and they put some restrictions at their working places. The confusion was big, they didn’t want to scare the tourists but at the same time, they were taking serious measures for the locals. In that case, I made my plan to cross earlier to Laos because there was no news about the virus. Before leaving Vietnam, I started to wear a mask because there was more and more news about tourists suspected to have the virus.
Coronavirus in Laos. I crossed to Laos on the 9th of February, excited to see more of this country that is not so touristic as Vietnam, and happy that the coronavirus wasn’t mentioned there. I spent three weeks in Laos without being afraid that coronavirus will affect my travel there. However, in Luang Prabang, I’ve met a tourist from South Korea that made aware of the increasing number of victims in his country. Since then, I started to check the daily world situation of coronavirus cases. I was aware that maybe this virus will make more difficult my travel but I wasn’t in the situation of considering going back home.
Coronavirus in Thailand. On the 29th of February, I crossed by land to the north of Thailand, a short stop on my way to Myanmar. Thailand wasn’t on my traveling plan either but I realized that it has the easiest border crossing point by land so from Laos I came to Thailand before Myanmar. The situation here was similar to the one in Vietnam, people were more afraid and confused about the virus. I associated this cloudy state with the fact that Thailand is a crowded touristic country so it’s normal that people will become more paranoic. In the hostel I stayed in Chiang Mai, the owner started already to refuse clients from some other Asian countries saying that the place it’s full. In parallel, the situation became more intense in Europe, where Italy was considered second China. I was concerned about my family back at home but my plan was to cross faster to Myanmar where the virus didn’t appear yet.
Coronavirus in Myanmar. I crossed Mae Sot – Myawadday Friendship Bridge, on the 6th of March. Everything was easy and no restrictions were at the border beside the fever check. There was no news about the virus, more than this, some locals told me that their country is blessed by Buddha that’s why the virus is not there. I was aware that even if they have cases of the virus, they hide it because of their political situation or because they didn’t start testing the population. However, I continued traveling being sure that I have a working visa for India where I supposed to volunteer so I didn’t worry too much about closing the borders.
What I didn’t understand with my idealistic traveling mind of mine was that, especially because Myanmar didn’t report any cases of coronavirus, the other countries closed the borders with it and canceled their flights. I was just finishing my trekking journey from Inle Lake to Kalaw when I was announced that my volunteering project was canceled so my visa for India was canceled too and I had to come back home. It was already 20th of March when I booked my flight back home but the flights for the next day crazy-expensive and I didn’t have any possibility to leave exactly at that moment to Yangon. So I booked a reasonable flight for the 26th of March, two days later it was canceled and all the flights, besides the one to Bangkok, were closed.
I tried desperately to get a place in a flight to Bangkok but they didn’t let me in because I had not a connection flight to Europe or I couldn’t trust anymore the online booking because they were canceling constantly their flights and I didn’t have money to waste. All the travel agencies I connected advised me to wait until the end of April better than booking something online. Shortly, they closed the airport too and I was officially trapped in Myanmar.
I started to ask for help from the diplomatic part, contacting different embassies and European Union Institutions. I was disappointed about how my country managed this situation but it wasn’t something unexpected. However, after one week of starting asking for help, the Embassy of Switzerland organized a repatriation flight for European citizens from Yangon, on the 1st of April. I consider myself lucky and grateful for reaching Europe because I’ve never imagined how a virus can alienate people. I honestly believe that for a while it won’t be as easy to travel as before. However, we should continue dreaming and planning to travel the world.