‘Help me get home safe’: Young traveller’s desperate plea
A YOUNG woman stranded in Vietnam during a terrifying global pandemic is pleading for help to find a safe way home to Australia.
Sunshine Coast fitness professional Emily Cook says all she wants is to "kiss the ground of the beautiful country we live in" after two weeks of desperately trying to find a safe harbour in a locked-down country.
The 26-year-old left Australia with her boyfriend in January for the digital nomad trip of a lifetime. When COVID-19 started gaining international headlines, the couple travelled from Hanoi to Da Nang to get away from city crowds.
"If we were going to be isolated anywhere for a few months, we thought this was a smart and safe option," Ms Cook said.
But after an unexpected relationship breakdown, she was left heartbroken and with nowhere to stay.
"After a day of searching, I found out the hard way that literally everything in Vietnam had shut down overnight," she said.
"Hotels and accommodation were no longer allowed to accept any new guests that weren't already staying there."
Ms Cook said booking accommodation online meant "nothing", leaving her begging locals for help.
"I climbed on balconies to knock on windows, I banged on doors, I cried. Nobody could help," she said.
"I tried to sit on the steps of corner shops, in the reception of a hotel lobby, or in the gutter of a closed cafe, desperately trying to connect to their Wi-Fi … But I kept getting kicked away by locals, as they didn't want to get in trouble themselves by having a foreigner on their steps."
Scared, desperate and alone, Ms Cook found a piece of paper and a pen and posted a selfie on Facebook saying "I need your help".
After more than 1000 people commented on her post, a couple from the Netherlands who were staying 30 minutes away in Hoi An with two Vietnamese sisters offered her refuge.
"After spending a night on the street, desperately in need of help, I couldn't even explain the emotion I felt when these two sisters just gave me the biggest cuddle and told me I'm now their new 'family'," she said.
Now, with a safe place to stay and access to Wi-Fi, she's been hunting around the clock for a safe way home.
"The country is on lockdown and it is now illegal to travel between states without a medical certificate, which will take days to process," she said.
"Even if I somehow could get to one of these cities (to get a flight), how will that help?"
Ms Cook said there was a chance she could get on a final flight from Hanoi, but it would only leave if it had enough passengers.
"I'm willing to risk finding a way to Hanoi, and take this chance of getting home, however, being roadblocked on the way or being stranded in Hanoi with no hotels accepting guests could only lead to a whole new story," she said.
"So right now, attempting to go anywhere could get me home, but it could also lead me to bigger trouble …"
She said she'd been overwhelmed by the support she'd received so far, but didn't need financial support.
"The one thing I need help (with) is finding a safe and legal way to get home, that won't leave me stranded in a worse situation than I'm in now," she said.