It’s been another eventful week on the road towards Saigon. I’ve managed to covered 106kms in 4 days and given myself 3 full rest days in beautiful Hue. I’ve not even had to deal with any rain!
After waving goodbye to Mikey, over a glass of red wine in Dong Ha, I was back on my own again. He got to Hue airport in around 2 hours, I ran past it today, 7 days later!
My week started with a short 16km into Quang Tri (whoever thought I’d ever refer to a 16k run as short!?). Quang Tri was the site of a huge 81 day battle during the Vietnam/American war. The number of lives lost in this battle was catastrophic (I cannot find an exact number) and is still occuring today, due to unexploded landmines in the province. It is calculated that there has been 8,500 casulties as result of these unexploded devices. Fortunately, there are a variety of NGO’s working to find and safely destroy these terrifying remnants of war.
Taking pride of place, in the centre of the tiny city is a vast citadel. As this is such a significant place I assumed it would be full of tourists. I was utterly wrong. I waited at the ticket office for a while but soon realised it was just me. The place was empty, not a soul in the entire complex. I wandered around the beautifully manicured sculpture gardens but due to my appalling Vietnamese was unable to read any of the signs. I decided that it was a peace park and I approved of that.
In the centre of the citadel was a memorial that had the remnants of incense sticks and flower arrangements at the top. I like to imagine that the local people come here to reflect upon the past, to remember loved ones and appreciate how fortunate most of us are to never have experienced the realities of war.
Over the next 2 days I made my way towards Hue. The sun finally made an appearance after being missing for about a fortnight. This means that I’m back to very regular drinks stops but also that I’m not shivering at night and wearing all of my clothes to bed anymore.
As well as the sunshine returning, I was also glad for the return of regular food stops. I’ve not had a pot noodle or chocopie dinner all week! The go to lunch in this area is a huge plate of rice. You get to pick from a selection of random, unknown dishes to accompany your white carbs. I’ve been working on my Vietnamese and have so far managed to actually get what I ordered! No more green soup for me!
Another speciality in this area is Banh Loc. I’d spent almost an entire day running past old women waving tiny bamboo leaf parcels at me, so I decided to investigate what was in them. For 10,000VND, the equivalent of 30p, I was handed a bag of 5 bamboo parcels. As I unwrapped the parcel I found a white, sticky lump. Inside this lump was a shrimp, some onions and chilli sauce. The lady who had sold me them was delighted when I said it was tasty ‘ngon, ngon’. It was not delicious, I lied. I gave the remaining parcels to an old man a few 100 metres up the road. Although, I can see that they would be very good for energy food to power me though the kms. I would have given anything to find these when I was further north and surviving on chocopies!
As I approached the ancient city of Hue, I ran the final part of my journey along the Perfume River towards the giant citadel. It was a beautiful way to enter the city and it felt calm and well organised. People were actually stopping at traffic lights to let me cross the road!
As I had previously visited Hue, with my parents a couple of TET holidays ago (Vietnamese new year), I had already visited the citadel and many of the tombs of ancient kings that surround the city. I therefore spent my rest days mainly eating pasta. I was staying in the main tourist area of the city and was surrounded by all sorts of great food and coffee places. At weekends, this area becomes a walking street so is great for people watching. On my third day, I decided to hire a scooter and venture out of the city to visit an abandoned waterpark located at the Thuy Tien Lake. After paying the 20,000VND (60p) “entry fee” to cross the gate, I walked through a beautiful forest for about 15 minutes, this soon opened out onto the lake with a huge dragon in its centre. I spent the next couple of hours exploring the abandoned waterpark. There were hardly any other people there apart from a few men fishing in the lake. The park had a really eerie feel about it, with different slides looming out of the shadows of the trees. A great setting for a horror film!
During my rest days, I was contacted by Luke, a long term Hue expat who was interested in my journey. We had a lovely chat over coffee and he is currently in the process of writing up my story for his blog. Luke explained he is in the initial stages of setting up of a variety of tours that will show different sides to Hue. Watch this space for more details. I will definately join one of his art history or foodie tours the next time I visit.
I also met up with Graham, another Hue expat. Nick, a running friend from Saigon had put us in touch due to our shared interest in the importance of education and health care.
Graham works with Hue Help, an NGO working to reduce child drowning in Vietnam. Shockingly, drowning is the leading cause of death in children in Vietnam – over 2,000 a year, which is more than any disease or infection, and higher than any other country in South East Asia. Check out their website for more information on the important work being done: http://huehelp.org/
One of my charities, Friends for Street Children, also has a swim and water safety programme so we shared success stories over yet more coffee.
Earlier in the week, I had approached the ‘Expats of Hue’ Facebook group to see if I could convince anyone to come and join me for a few Kms when I ran out of the city. This morning I was joined by Leah, an avid long distance runner, who has worked all over the world and even started a running club in Burundi in Africa. Graham (who said he wasn’t a runner, he definately is!) also joined us. We ran and chatted for 8 beautiful, countryside Kms before waving goodbye as they jumped into a taxi back to civilation! It was wonderful to have Leah and Graham join me and to share a little bit of this insane journey with them.
As always, thank you so much for reading. I am now almost 2/3rds of the way to my target fundraising goal. Please donate as little or as much as you can. Any amount will make a huge difference to the lives of kids and women in this beautiful, friendly country. Click on the donate tab on the website http://www.namrunsnam.com