diaries of a journey in times of Covid-19

diariesof of a journey i times of Covid-19

After a month of self-isolation in Luang Prabang, we eventually found a routine that suits us and the situation. At dawn, we are often awoken by the monks from the temple next door. During Buddhist celebrations, the monks wake up at 4 am to play the drums. Later on, at around 5 am we leave the house to watch the almsgiving ritual, another Buddhist ceremony that happens every day.

Apart from that, we also leave the house to go to the market (or supermarket) and to do some physical exercise. In Laos the population is allowed to be outside, as long as there are no big agglomerations. Therefore, we always take the chance to have a walk or a bike tour along the Mekong river… and watch the sunset.

Watch our video below, or read our diary…

March 17, 2020

We entered Laos more than one month ago from Cambodia. At that time, Cambodia was only just registering its first case of Covid-19. We must admit that, by then, we were really not worried about the situation, and we even thought there was a lot of overreaction in the media…

Today’s statistics show that there are more than 7,000 deaths worldwide. In Laos – a country that shares a border with China – there are still zero cases of infection with the new Covid-19. A few days ago, we got the information through a custom’s official that the WHO, which is working here in the field, had tested 59 patients with suspicious symptoms. The results were all negative. How is this possible? Is it pure luck or is it a miracle?

Some say there are no cases in Laos because the country is too hot; others say it has to do with the country’s rural demography or the scarcity of public transportation. So far, the government in Laos has not felt the need to take any drastic measures to restrict the spread of the virus, except, of course, the shut down of the border with China. While the neighbour countries, such as Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have already closed borders to nationals of specific countries severely affected by Covid-19, in Laos we haven’t found any information in that sense.

So far, the government has not taken any drastic measures to restrict the spread of the virus

Life in Laos looks almost normal. Some people do use masks, but those of you familiar with Asia know that the use of masks in Asian countries is nothing new (they use it mainly because of pollution). So we don’t know if those who wear masks today, do it because of the new virus or out of habit. We haven’t noticed that they use more masks now than two months ago.

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The markets are still full of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Particularly, we haven’t noticed any insane search for toilet paper. Laotians are not hoarding food nor toilet paper. If one day the Lao government decrees a state of quarantine, we don’t think the population will ever hoard. In rural areas, many houses don’t even have a fridge, let alone a freezer.

But there is something that has changed and is affecting the population. We feel a kind of desolation behind the genuinely friendly smiles. Covid-19 has reduced tourism dramatically. First, the Chinese tourists disappeared, then the Koreans, the Japanese, the Australians, the Europeans, the Americans. They are all cancelling their trips and staying home.

Yesterday we left Vang Vieng, one of the most touristy cities in Laos. Although this month is the peak of the tourist season, we saw a large number of hotels shut down. The terraces of restaurants along the margin of the Mekong river, once full of life, are now deserted. Devastation is also stamped on the faces of local handicraft sellers, whose entire families (sometimes even communities) depend on tourism.

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This is one of the reasons why we feel some comfort in staying here. What we spend here goes directly to the small families, who are likely to be the ones who most feel the side effects of this pandemic. The other reason we stay in Laos is because we are here for work, and we are still collecting material so that we can present Laos (a country which has immensely surprised us and warmly welcomed us) in our next magazine.

What we spend here goes directly to the small families, which are the ones that need the money the most.

In fifteen days our Lao visa will expire. How we will get out of Laos, we don’t know. As you know, we are travelling with our motorcycle and therefore we have to leave the country with it. With the neighbour countries shutting down their borders things get a bit complicated. Our original plan was to travel through Thailand and leave the bike in Malaysia (the only country in the area where we are allowed to leave the bike for a couple of months) before returning home. If Thailand closes its borders in the next few days, we will have a problem to solve. But that will be a luxury problem, given all the difficulties that the whole world is going through…

Dear friends, please stay safe and stay home if you can. To all our friends working in fields where they need to go to work – especially the health professionals – thank you for your efforts and for risking your lives for all of us!

April, 1, 2020

In the last fifteen days a lot has changed here:

  • 9 people have been tested positive to Covid-19
  • the government has imposed a lockdown from the 1st to the 19th April
  • all international borders have been shut down
  • provincial borders have been limited to essential travel

We have also noticed a huge change in the behaviour of the population. Now it is very obvious that every single person in the streets of Luang Prabang (mainly deserted) is wearing a mask. No one is allowed in supermarkets if not wearing one. Besides that, the temperature is measured and hand sanitation is required. We were happy to see that everyone is taking this rather seriously.

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We were also much impressed with the regional government, when two days ago a committee knocked on our door. They were making a census to find out who actually was staying in the city (locals and tourists), for how long we had been travelling, and if we had any symptoms. We were advised to stay indoors, not to receive guests and inform their services if ever our health state changed.

A committee knocked on our door. They wanted to know for how long we had been travelling, and if we had any symptoms.

In the meantime, we have had our visa extended until the 2nd of May. As things don’t seem to be improving much before that, our plan is to stay in Luang Prabang until then. For the time being, we are renting a very small but beautiful French colonial house and we are slowly finding a routine that includes working on the next magazine, eating and feeding our new friend, the cat. She is coming every day to ask for food and we are obliging to her wish…

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Afterwards, hopefully, the situation will have improved worldwide, and we can move on to Malaysia, where it is possible to leave the motorbike for a couple of months before returning to Europe.

For the time being, all that is left for us to do is to stay at home and be safe.

May, 1, 2020

Let us give you a small update of the situation in Laos:

  • There is now a total of 19 Covid-19 cases
  • Laos has been for more than 16 days without any new cases
  • There has been no death caused by the virus
  • Lockdown is due to be lifted on the 3rd May (fingers crossed!)

We were very much looking forward to the lift of the lockdown in Laos which should happen soon. Unfortunately, neighbouring countries are not due to lifting their own lockdown soon. This will probably translate into: we could leave Laos, theoretically, but we could not enter any of its neighbour countries, so we are pretty much still stuck! Without any changes in the horizon, we will keep working and feeding the cats (there are two of them right now)!

June 1, 2020

Update of the situation in Laos:

  • Laos has been for more than 50 days without any new cases
  • There has been no death caused by the virus
  • 3 persons are still in hospital
  • Lockdown is due to be lifted on the 30th June (fingers crossed!)

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We are still in Laos, and apart from the fact that the lockdown is slowly being lifted – children are back to school, monks can do the almsgiving again, businesses are opening and social gatherings are seen a bit everywhere – the international borders remain closed. This means that we have no choice but to stay a bit longer…

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7 Comments

  • Nice to see you’re OK! And going through this period in a quiet place, together.
    Take care and (keep) look(ing) after each other.

      • Sorry for late reply.. Hope you’ll find your way back soon to check on your loved ones and that things would have eased a bit here so that you can make the most of it! We’re all OK, thank you.
        Cheers

  • Hi Anabela and Jorge and the cats 😉 nice to ear that you are fine and just wayting to continuing going with your trip, but like world-wide we all waiting to see where this world goes, hopefully to a different/better direction than before! Stay safe and enjoy your time there, beijinhos Zé Monteiro

    • Dear Zé
      Many thanks for your precious feedback, we appreciate it!
      We hope all is well with you too, and that you are safe at home.
      We hope we will all be soon coming back to normality but in a better world, more caring and solidary with each other.
      We hope our ‘coffee’ is only postponed to very soon… 🙂 🙂
      Take good care & beijinhos

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