I set my alarm for 6am on Monday 6th September as I was getting picked up by the Oxalis vehicle at 7am at the junction of the small road to our place and the highway. It was day 12 of the #STFAH Directive 16 Lockdown but I was off to Hoan Lao hospital, which is about 30 minutes away and still in the same district of Bo Trach. I had my permission slip, my passport and my vaccine stamp in a waterproof bag, I was wearing Captain Caveman’s waterproof jacket and I took one of the Elements Collection umbrellas for the 10 minute walk to the roadblock and main road, in heavy rain. As I approached the house on the left before the barrier, a man shouted in Vietnamese to ask where I was going. I replied Hoan Lao and tried to show him my permission slip but he wasn’t letting me near him and just waved me away. My trainers were squelching and my feet were cold but I made it to the pick up point for 7am, everywhere was closed and there was nowhere dry to sit or stand so I just waited at the side of the empty main road. I checked with Captain Caveman a couple of times over the next half an hour if he had heard if they had set off as no vehicles had passed me at all, I didn’t want to be forgotten. Captain Caveman had heard nothing but eventually at 7.30am I heard two mini buses driving towards me, I assumed they would be the Oxalis ones and stood in the middle of the first lane of the highway to wave them down. The 1st bus told me to get on the 2nd one, so I did and there was already 6 people on, none of whom I recognised and all seated, nicely spaced out and wearing masks, some of them were double masked!
When we got to Hoan Lao hospital it had almost stopped raining and we had to queue up with social distancing measures that were actually strictly enforced. We had to sanitize our hands and then stamp ourselves with the stamp on the table. I watched and copied everyone else as there didn’t seem to be anyone who spoke much English and then we all went to a designated outdoor area with a roof over and lots of plastic chairs, I was still confused as to why I needed a quick test to go to pick up my negative PCR results but if this is what it took to get out of here, then so be it. There was a small queue where we sat on red plastic chairs 2 metres apart until we got to the first desk which had 4 attached pens and lots of copies of forms to complete. I asked a girl from our bus if this was a form for the quick test, using Google translate, she said yes. I started to fill one of the forms in, having sent a copy to Captain Caveman to help me translate both of the pages, at the next desk were 6 fully covered, masked and shielded nurses so I asked them if I had the correct form and they said yes. It was at that point that I realised I was not in the queue for a quick test, this was the queue for vaccinations!

I had been waiting to get my 2nd vaccine, which would be 12 weeks since the 1st one in 2 days time and that had been one of the reasons I still hadn’t left Vietnam yet, hoping to be fully vaccinated before taking a flight or travelling through any major cities. I was so excited to find out that I was in the ‘wrong’ queue at Hoan Lao hospital and I hoped that there was perhaps some confusion over me being told that I needed a quick test and me getting a 2nd vaccine. I continued with the form and handed it to the nurse at desk 2, desk 3 was in clear sight and that consisted of doctors taking blood pressure and completing some details on a form, up the steps from there were 2 tables but I could only just see one and it had health workers waiting to jab people – they didn’t even have anyone waiting so I was even more giddy. At that point Captain Caveman had managed to get in touch with his colleague who had located the Marketing guy from Oxalis, Trung, to come and help translate for me. This was fortuitous as the nurse was asking me questions, which of course I didn’t understand, and he’d just had his 2nd vaccine. It was at this point that I wish I’d acted differently but I didn’t realise what was happening; Trung asked if I had already had my 1st vaccine and so I said yes and got out my receipt paper from that jab. I was next in line to get the jab, I’d even taken my coat off. That’s when the first bit of bad news came; they could not give me the vaccine because they were injecting Moderna today and my first vaccine was Astra Zeneca, which is not considered compatible in some countries, including Vietnam. No!!!! Captain Caveman then let me know I was in the wrong queue and I should be getting a quick test so off we went to another part of the hospital. It took 45 minutes from getting there, paying the 238,000vnd (£7.62), having the more brutal test than last time and then waiting for the result (so not that quick really). While waiting for the results we walked to the pharmacy to buy Captain Caveman some Diclofenac pills because he had a bad foot, I had to walk through a massive puddle in the rain and they were really cheap so I bought 4 strips at 6,000vnd a strip (£0.19) and then we went back to wait for my results. We walked past the bus and apologised for the wait and then got chatting; Trung lives in Dong Hoi but had come by motorbike today, he had had to have a quick test this morning to come to Hoan Lao, which he had at the CDC and took less than 5 minutes – that was useful to know.
Eventually I got my negative quick test result, stamped on the back of my payment receipt, and headed back to the bus where everyone was waiting, there was one more passenger to come and that had been the guy I sat next to on the way there – he got the vaccine and the quick test and was really excited about it! The drive back was quicker as the checkpoints didn’t seem to be as lengthy on the return, a couple of them just waved us through. When I got off the bus on the highway, just past the Lake House, the weather was sunny and very humid, as I approached the checkpoint to our road home there was a few people about and shouting. The guy I saw this morning was there and stood up to ask how I was, I shouted over in Vietnamese ‘I’m negative’ and they all got really excited and let me through. On the way some builders (who weren’t wearing masks and shouldn’t be building) told me to go back and asked where I was going, I told them home and that I was negative and all was good. I was very hot, thirsty, sweaty and hungry when I got in the house! It had been a busy 3 hours out of the house, not observing the #STFAH rules and now all we needed to do was to ask Oxalis to book us the car to get my negative PCR test results (for flying) in Dong Hoi after 2pm this afternoon.

Captain Caveman offered to make me some mushrooms on toast when I got back home after my exciting outing to Hoan Lao hospital but I just had some buttered toast and water, while he got ready for an online meeting with 2 of the managers at work. I had a shower and tried to relax but my nose was hurting after this sample, the nurse was brutal and my nose felt very sore – how the delivery drivers and health staff were coping having it done every few days, I didn’t know. Captain Caveman’s meeting finished and we decided to have a swim in the pool because we were still waiting until after 2pm to be told we could go to get my ‘proper’ PCR test results. I also had a friend waiting on standby to do me a massive favour, Oxalis had told us that my certificate would be organised for pick up at the CDC in Dong Hoi after 2pm and that all the required details for Singapore Airlines, we had listed to them, would be on the paper. I had also organised for my friend to pick up my certificate, send me a photo of it and get any details that were wrong changed. There was no point me trying to get to Dong Hoi, in a lockdown, if the certificate wasn’t acceptable for my flight and my friend has a shipping company so was confident she could send me the paperwork, even if we had to send it in a food delivery. At this point we were one step ahead but I was still nervous as I had a feeling it was going to go wrong, despite everyone trying to do their best to help me.
The first thing to go wrong was that we didn’t receive communication to let us know the document was ready, it was my friend who found this out for me as she was already on standby and at the CDC. She had got there earlier than expected, got a hold of both mine and Captain Caveman’s negative certificates and sent photos to me. They were wrong, so I sent the correct info to her and Captain Caveman called Oxalis to let them know. The 3rd thing to go wrong was a biggy and it turned out that nobody could rectify the situation. My document was incorrectly dated therefore they needed me to go there immediately to get another PCR test this afternoon and I would get the results tomorrow. I was almost in tears and we asked Oxalis to sort me out transport to go immediately – after all, I had my negative quick test from this morning. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be arranged for me to do this as there were no cars available and I was told I could drive myself (I don’t have a motorbike, or a licence, I have a bad leg and probably wouldn’t make it as a passenger either)! Once again we asked Bich if she could help and if she could find any way to get me to Dong Hoi, it felt like complete pandemonium over the next hour or so as I went in to a bit of a melt down and Captain Caveman calmly took charge of the situation. I decided to warm up some beef stew from last night as it was 4pm and I was so hungry and upset that things were going wrong. We tried every avenue we could think of for a driver and car, Captain Caveman still had a negative PCR result and could drive me, in a car. Bich submitted another permission request to the People’s Committee for Captain Caveman to drive me in Tham & Tony’s car (from the Lake House) to the CDC in Dong Hoi first thing tomorrow morning, as it was too late tonight, to have another PCR test, then come back here and then tomorrow afternoon get the results and correct paperwork needed to fly, shipped to me by my friend in Dong Hoi. This would just be in time (hopefully) for me to get my car to Hanoi, as long as everything went according to this new plan –  I started eating my beef stew and we waited for agreement from the People’s Committee. Day 12 of the #STFAH lockdown was certainly becoming the most stressful day I’ve had here!

I had hardly touched my beef stew when Bich called with more bad news, permission for us to leave the district had been denied. We needed to leave Bo Trach to enter Dong Hoi, get the test and then reenter Bo Trach, none of these stages were acceptable to the People’s Committee and we were refused. Bich had an alternative suggestion but she needed to look into it and it would have to be tomorrow, just me and I probably wouldn’t be able to come back from Dong Hoi either. Once in Dong Hoi I could get the test and then just sit and wait all day for the results, when I had them I would have to get   me and my luggage to the border to meet Danny, the driver, and then I’d be on my way to Hanoi airport, 500km away. Danny, the driver, was already on his way to pick me up tomorrow but because he had to drive 10 hours here then 10 hours back, was planning to sleep for 8 hours between journeys.
Unfortunately this last resort didn’t work out and so there was no other options – I couldn’t leave!
Bich had already called immigration, who’s  solution was to extend my visa for 1 more month in the hope that lockdown would be lifted within that time and I would be allowed to leave the district. By this point I was in tears and couldn’t speak to Bich, even though she was doing everything she could to help me, so Captain Caveman had to take over the phonecalls. I ate my beef stew with tears rolling down my cheeks, utterly pissed off with the whole situation. It was arranged for my passport to get sent tomorrow morning and I would stay here a bit longer, until I was allowed to leave. I messaged Danny, the driver, who couldn’t believe the mess of the situation, he only had permission for me and him to go directly to the airport and I had to have the PCR test to get in the car with him. So now we had to pay him the full amount for a journey I wasn’t taking. Day 12 of the #STFAH had certainly been one I wouldn’t forget easily, both Captain Caveman and I were not happy about the whole situation. Captain Caveman made dinner of chicken, peppers and rice which he ate most of as he was very hungry, I had lost my appetite. Today had been expensive beyond belief and the biggest waste of a day.

One thought on “Phong Nha – 6th September

  1. I feel for you so much Jo. It took me 19 months to get back home to Thailand and see my family. It’d a nightmare, but Chin up. X David Burnett

    Liked by 1 person

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