We spend Christmas day hiding in our cozy hotel room in Con Son. Somehow we had been (kind of) surprised by the approaching typhoon Tembin despite checking the weather forecast every day. Google weather does not explicitly mention typhoons, hence we were a bit surprised when reading about the coming tropical storm on orf.at of all places. The locals had of course known days in advance and prepared. They kept asking us slightly bewildered why we even came to the island in this weather?! Good question. Anyhow, it is not every day that you get to experience a major tropical storm on a small island in the Pacific, so we were curious about what would happen.
The islands and Vietnam in general see quite a lot of tropical storms. Still, the approaching Tembin had the islanders on their toes. It had already wracked havoc in Mindanao, the Philippines, and was headed to pass Con Dao sometime in the afternoon and night, albeit with slightly diminished power. We only found out the next day that it was prognosed to be one of the most potent storms in the last century to visit the island.
Wherever you looked the locals and the military were securing corrugated roofs with sandbags and strings. The sandbags were filled mostly with the help of the military. Even the day before the storm no one was allowed in the water or near the more remote beaches anymore. With the exception of one early morning flight all planes and ferries were cancelled. All shops and restaurants were closed. People taped the bigger glass windows with cardboard and tape to protect it from flying debris. People who lived near the waterfront had all been evacuated to stay further inland. Our hotel was completely full for the night with “refugees” from seaside resorts or homes close to the sea. The island was on lockdown bracing to sit out the storm.
We were told that water and power might go out for a good while, so we charged all our gadgets (yeah power bank – yet again!), filled up empty bottles with tap water and stocked up on food and water (we might have gone a bit overboard for a one and a half day typhoon).
The mountains on the island are about 500+ meters and were shrouded in thick clouds. Constant loud speaker warnings were giving updates in Vietnamese all through the night. We did hear sirens several times in the evening going past our window. Wind and rain were thrashing against the walls of the hotel.
Meanwhile we had a good time in our hotel room. The only small issue was that our window was leaking in water. Despite their best efforts our hotel could not fix it in the rain. So we mopped up quite a bit of water from the window sill with our towels. The power went out only for a short time as a security precaution when the wind gets too strong. Our really nice hotel owner brought everyone a candle. The lights went back on 20 minutes later.
In the end the island was lucky. Tembin had unexpectedly changed direction a few hours before hitting the island and slowed down considerably. The next morning we woke up to unbelievably clear blue skies with only a slight wind. Nobody had reckoned the storm would pass so mildly and peacefully. The museum in town had preventively closed down and stayed closed. The luxury resort Six Senses had planned to keep their guests evacuated for two nights, but moved everyone back to their beachfront bungalows by lunchtime.
Only some of the fishermen were less lucky. We saw one boat that had been split in two when it crashed into the concrete pier during the storm. According to a news crew the government will take care of the damage.
So thankfully the storm mostly missed Con Dao. We were quite cozy in our fairly new concrete building. In fact, as a tourist it felt like a bit of an extra-special travel experience (yes, in all earnesty, I feel silly admitting this). The people getting hit the worst by tropical storms generally are the ones who have the least and live in substandard or improvised housing in high risk areas. Plus the storms seem to be getting worse due to global climate change. Life as usual is just not really fair.