Before arriving in Mui Ne, the kite surfing capital of Vietnam, I had not been in a town or city that catered for western tourists since celebrating my birthday in Nha Trang, about 300km before. So upon arrival in Mui Ne, I headed straight for a Turkish restaurant that I had been to on my previous visit a few years ago. Full of kebab and hummus, I felt revitalised for the weeks running.
Finally, after about 800km of hills, I was now running on the flat again. The quiet roads ran parallel to the ragged coastline, where I was able to watch the impressive skills of the kite surfers whilst being cooled by the crisp sea air. Bliss! There are plentiful oppertunities for drinks and food stops all along my route now. Such a contrast to the chocopie days of the northern districts.
This week I am running through the Binh Thuan Province, which is famous for growing dragon fruit. To start with I thought the spiky plants, growing in fields along the roadside, were aloe vera. On closer inspection, I noticed the pink fruits growing on the plants and the many stalls selling them on the side of the road. My fruit intake this week has consisted of purely dragon fruit. Sitting on tiny plastic stool, munching on a juicy fruit, just picked from the tree, and chopped in front of me has been a common event this week.
Due to Corona virus paranoia, the schools in Vietnam have been closed for the previous month. My friend Grant, who has previously run with me, was given a last minute holiday from work. He is a keen cyclist so decided to hop on his bike and pedal the 180km from Saigon to Ke Ga for a beer and a catch up. I ran south to Ke Ga and arrived just in time to have a shower and wash my clothes before Grant arrived. We had a fantastic evening catching up on the events of the last few months and continuing to order ‘one last beer’. The next morning, after a couple of banh mi’s, I ran alongside Grant for about a km and then waved him off for his 180km journey home. An impressive distance to travel for a beer! This time, up a great example of the kindness of friends!
The heat is really ramping up in this area of the country and the sensible thing would be to be on the road by 5.30am to get a cool start to my running day. However, this has yet to occur. It is as hot at 8am as it is for the rest of the day, so I have decided that sleep is more important and I will just run in the heat. Luckily, in this part of the country, there are no shortages of hammock stops and I’ve been taking full advantage.
On Thursday, I arrived at coco beach camp in La Gi. I treated myself to beach hut style accomdation as I was taking a rest day on Friday, before the arrival of friends from Saigon. I spent my day, swinging in hammocks, sitting in the quirky coffee shop, eating piles of fresh seafood and too many cakes to mention!
Friday evening saw the arrival of, Jon, Sarah, her daughter, Casi, Maria and her daughter’s Winnie and Daphne, as well as taxi driver extraordinare, Tan. Maria has run with me before, achieving her distance personal best but this was the first visit for the others. Sarah is on a fitness drive, having signed up for the ironman sprint triathlon in May and having just completed her first 10km race. The girls are all outdoorsy and would be experiencing road running for the first time. Jon is also on a fitness campaign and can often be spotted walking around the Saigon streets, with his fancy camera.
After a hearty breakfast of pho and banh mi, our entire group hit the road, including Tan the taxi driver, who was super excited to be part of the team. We spent the first 3kms doing running/walking intervals. All the while, Jon taking some great action shots (I will publish these once he has finished editing). After 3km we waved goodbye to a tired Tan, who jumped on the back of a motorbike, when he thought we weren’t looking!
Our merry crew continued our intervals for another couple of kms until Jon and his flipflops had had enough and he headed back to chill by the pool with Tan. The rest of us covered a total of 15kms, a personal best for everyone (apart from myself and Maria). I was so so impressed with the girls and the perseverance and grit they showed, even when they were tired, achy and hot.
That evening, we waved goodbye to Maria and Winnie, who were heading back to Saigon. The remaining members of the team walked down to the beach, through local villages to splash in the sea, climb sand dunes and find dinner. This put out daily distance to 21km and Sarah achieved her goal of covering a half marathon distance!
We stayed in a road side home stay for the night. This is the norm for me but was a new experience for the others. Both Sarah and Maria mentioned they thought it was important for their girls to experience all sides of Vietnam, not just their fancy expat lives down in the city. (I won’t mention the drama that leaving your passports in Saigon causes…)
Sunday started with sleepy faces and tired legs. However, Casi and Daphne were determined to cover as much distance as they could that day. Using Tan as their support vehicle, the girls ran through the heat with me for much of the day. All the while chatting about the new sights and experiences of the weekend. It was great to see them buzzing with pride at their accomplishments.
For the final few kms it was just myself and Daphne. She has been bouncing all weekend as she ticked off achievement after achievement. She ran her first continuous km, then her fasted km and finally 1500ms without stopping, in the heat of the day, after running over 25kms in two days!
“Ms Naomi, I’ve seen so much more of the real Vietnam this weekend and I love it. The people are friendly and happy, even through they don’t have much. Maybe money isn’t the best thing for people, as I don’t think if people in Saigon are this happy…” (Daphne, 1st March, 2020)
Before heading back to Saigon, we decided to hit the beach for an ice cream. We found a delightful, hidden beach located on the other side of a pine forest.
As I was waving the team off, disaster struck! The taxi got stuck in the sand! After much digging, pushing and team work (the kindness of strangers in action again). Tan and his taxi were free to hit the road back to Saigon.
Taxi gate ended the week in dramatic style, I found a hotel and fell asleep the earliest I have in a long time. Having kids around is full on! But utterly worth it for the pride I saw shining out of them after every achievement and high 5!
As always, thanks for spending the time reading about my adventures. Saigon and the finish line is looming and I’m no sure how I feel about it!
As much as this journey is an adventure, it is also a mission to end human trafficking and improve education in this wonderful country.
Here’s the donate button: https://namrunsnam.com/donate/
Thank you, love you
Naomi (aka Nam) XXX