Vietnam has started taking baby steps in reopening its borders for international travel. From November, the government will allow vaccinated travellers from selected low-risk countries to visit the resort island of Phu Quoc. December onwards, it is expected that UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay, the well preserved ancient town of Hoi An, highlands town of Dalat and beach destination Nha Trang will also be opened up.
From November to year-end, The Vietnamese government is looking to first open up to visitors from countries where the pandemic has been contained and have high vaccination rates. This would include China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Russia, France and Germany. Australia, USA and Canada are also being considered for the phased opening however a definitive list has not been finalised yet.
As per the government, safety is a prerequisite to restarting tourism in the context of the new normal. This is when the country plans to open up its borders fully, possibly from June 2022 onwards.
The steps and protocols being laid out by the Vietnamese government are similar to the plans and procedures implemented by the Thai government under the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ model of leisure travel. 90% of the local population of Phu Quoc would need to be fully vaccinated. Travellers will need to demonstrate that they are fully vaccinated by furnishing digital vaccination certificates. The second dose of vaccine would need to have been administered at least 14 days prior to arrival in Vietnam. A negative Covid test certificate would be required at entry. Travellers will need to install the Vietnam Safe Travel application (Vietnam Safe Travel – VST) on smartphones for health declarations.
Travelling under Phu Quoc’s pilot plan
The Kien Giang Province’s Phu Quoc pilot plan will allow tourists to stay in any of the 19 hotels and enjoy the seven entertainment areas across the island. There will be specific routes designated for international travellers to travel between Phu Quoc Airport and these select areas.
The province’s government has granted permission for a range of services to resume operations, including casinos, amusement parks, hotels, restaurants, safaris, and cable cars.
The Kien Giang Province has recently been classified as a ‘green zone’ under Vietnam’s pandemic classification system. However, in an attempt to reduce risk, non-essential services such as beauty salons, theatres, massage parlours & spas, indoor sports facilities and gyms will remain closed.
Luxury hotels in Phu Quoc include JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, Intercontinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort, La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc and Salinda Resort Phu Quoc. For golf enthusiasts, the Vinpearl Golf Club Phu Quoc is a unique 27-hole IMG designed golf course in the northernmost part of the island, surrounded by greenery, streams and reservoirs.
Some of the best beaches in Phu Quoc include the 20km long Bai Truong (Long Beach), Ganh Dau Beach, Ong Lang Beach, Cua Can Beach, Vung Bau Beach, Bai Dai Beach, Bai Thom Beach, Bai Sao Beach (Star Beach) and Bai Khem Beach. In addition, the Phu Quoc Marine Park and the Ganh Dau Coral Gardens are excellent for diving or snorkelling.
Will travellers head to Vietnam right now?
There is doubt being expressed by some on the success of this tourism resumption, given the low vaccination rate in Vietnam, currently at 17% of the population fully vaccinated as per local sources. The current vaccination rate of the Covid-19 vaccine is not uniform; there is a significant difference between localities. Some provinces and cities have achieved high vaccination rates, such as Kien Giang, Quang Ninh, Khanh Hoa, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Any new infection wave could trigger overnight lockdowns and cancellations. Any delays that lead to a slower than anticipated rollout of vaccinations for residents in the specific regions could result in the postponement of this pilot tourism programme.
International travellers will currently be required to spend days in quarantine in their home country upon returning from Vietnam, given that there are no bilateral green travel lanes with other countries. Tourists may thus avoid travelling to Vietnam and put off leisure travel till the national fully-vaccinated rate is close to 70%. ◼
© This article was first published online in Oct 2021 – World Travel Magazine.