Update: 10:01 | 28/05/2020
When Covid-19 brought the world to its knees those far from home found themselves trapped abroad.
Here in Vietnam many of those on holiday made a desperate scramble to catch that last flight home before the borders closed for the foreseeable future.
Arijana Tkalcec and her boyfriend Matej Span in the backyard of their rental house in Da Nang.
But while many managed to make the journey, one European couple decided to stay and their decision has proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Croatian Arijana Tkalcec and her Slovenian boyfriend Matej Span are thousands of miles from home with no immediate way of getting there.
But instead of regrets, the couple says they have no doubt they are in the best place to be right now.
“We were never really scared when we were here because we knew that Vietnam knows what it is doing. Because when we came there were 16 cases that were all recovered so they already had some experience with this,” said 24-year-old Tkalcec.
“All those measures that were put in really fast helped with the situation. So we are lucky to be here.”
Tkalcec and her boyfriend arrived in the country on February 26, the second leg of their planned seven-month trip around Southeast Asia. Their initial plan was to stay here for two months.
Arijana Tkalcec and her boyfriend Matej Span at Hoa Trung Lake near Da Nang City.
“For the first two weeks, we explored Vietnam normally without any problems. Then we came to Da Lat in the middle of March and the situation became got worse day by day,” Tkalcec.
March 6 marked the second wave of infection in Vietnam after a Vietnamese woman coming back to Hanoi from the UK tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Soon after, many more cases were detected, with many of the infected people returning from abroad.
As a European couple, Tkalcec and her boyfriend almost immediately found themselves in a strange new world.
Tkalcec said: “There was one time when we were in Da Lat. We went to a restaurant and people refused our entry, so we left.
“Sometimes people would put masks on when we passed by. Probably because we are Westerners so they thought we had the virus right away or something.”
The couple managed to get to Da Nang from Da Lat on the last day before the social distancing took effect, and the first thing they encountered there was nowhere near what they had expected.
Tkalcec added: “At the train station, I think it was 11pm, a lot of health workers in those blue suits were waiting for everyone. I have to say that is quite scary because we didn’t know what’s happening and what they will do to us.
The following days made them more amazed by how Vietnam could put everything in place to “leave no one behind” in the fight against the virus.
A photo of a boat operator on Nga Nam floating market in southern Soc Trang Province, taken by Arijana Tkalcec.
Right now there are no immediate flights back to Europe, and no clear date of when they will begin again.
Despite the twists and turns in their journey, Tkalcec and Span have tried their best to enjoy the time here as best they can.
The couple just extended their visas for another three months and hope they can explore every corner of the country. After the south and central regions, they are now looking forward to discovering the north with its mountainous terrain.
“Vietnam is really beautiful. Every place we have visited so far is beautiful and we are happy. But we are most excited for the north because of hiking. We love that.
There may well be no place like home, but for these two European travellers, Vietnam is the next best thing right now.