Healing in Hanoi

I’m writing this from the beautiful note cafe, next to Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and feeling very lucky.

I have come full circle and instead of being frustrated, angry and upset about my extended stay in Hanoi, I now see it as a very well disguised blessing.

Over the last two and a bit weeks I have received only kindness from all I have met. Many of my existing friends have been in constant, daily contact making sure I am doing ok. (Special mentions go to Paul, Gareth, Emma, Helen and Ellie). After his weeks holiday in industral Vietnam, Guy made sure I went to the hospital and continued to speak to me, even after his beloved NZ lost to England in the rugby! I was thrilled that Jules was able to change her flight and spend a chilled weekend with me in Hanoi. Emily suggested the idea of ‘daily gratitude’ and has now begun her own. Chris and Fiona from The Fitness Village have been keeping me strong by feeding me healthy food. My mum has been checking in daily and has been my cyst guru! The list goes on…

It has been an an absolute pleasure and honour to spend the week volunteering at Blue Dragon. Everyone at the centre has been so friendly and welcoming. I now have a much clearer insight into the invaluable work that the foundation are doing and am in awe of their commitment to the cause. Not only have I been spending my days editing documents at Blue, I’ve also moved into a house share with some of the women who work at the foundation. It’s been great to come home to chats and netflix and feel a sense of belonging. Thank you!

Whilst here, I was invited to spend an evening at Blossom House, another of my chosen charities based in Hanoi. Blossom House offers a safe home for vunerable girls, ensuring they get the paperwork they need to access education. The house was full of love and fun and the girls asked lots of great questions about my challenge. Some of them took a little bit of convincing that I wasn’t secretly riding a motorbike!

My time spent at these two charities has made me even more focussed and determined to complete the 2200+km run and raise as much money as I possibly can. It really will change so many lives!

On the injury front, I’m definately on the road to recovery. After two weeks of daily hospital visits, pain and antibiotics I have been told that I can clean the wound and change the dressing myself. I did it for the first time this morning and managed not to freak out too much! The doctors have prescribed me 3 more days of antibiotics and say I can begin to exercise within the next 10 days. This is perfect timing as I fly to Australia tomorrow, for 10 days, for a pre planned trip to see one of my oldest friends get married. I will also get to see my mum and dad!

I will be back running from where I ended, just north of Vinh on the 22nd or 23rd November and I cannot wait!!!

Thank you so much for reading and please donate as little or as much as you can.

Love Naomi (aka Nam)

XXX

Week 4. Down but not out in Hanoi.

I’m currently writing this from a hospital waiting room. A view that has become very familiar over the past 4 days.

After deciding to come to Hanoi for a rest weekend to watch the rugby, it has now turned into a possible 2 week stay. Serves me right for being so cocky that I was ahead of my target.

Last night I had an operation to remove a massive cyst that I had somehow managed to grow on my upper thigh. Due to its size, the recovery process means daily hospital visits and that I cannot currently leave Hanoi.

I am massively frustrated and upset that this has happened. I’d managed to reach 35 with no issues and 3 weeks into such an important journey my body rebels. Whilst at the hospital, I experienced yet another random act of kindness. On the way out of the ward, a Vietnamese nurse, who had had nothing to do with my treatment asked if I was ok (I must have looked traumatised). Instead of the usual British response of “Yeah, fine thanks”, I cried. For those of you who know me, this is not something I do. The nurse sat me down, gave me a cuddle and sent her friend to get me a cup of tea. The kindness of strangers.

I wanted to share this with you all and promise that I will get back on the road as soon as I can. After the tragic events in Essex, it is even more paramount that I do this. Once I’m in a little less pain, I will hopefully be able to volunteer at Blue Dragon until I fully recover.

As a friend just said to me, “It will make an exciting chapter of the book”

As always, thank you for reading.

Love Naomi (aka Nam)

Week 3. Hai Hoa beach to Vinh

The week began on a super high as I had my travel buddy Guy with me for the week. We began our first day on the road along the beach, sadly having to avoid rubbish, dead fish and tires littered across the sand. We soon headed inland into a forested area where we scrambled up rocky hills and navigated through the tightly compacted trees. Along the way, we passed two men on a bike, one holding the biggest gun I have ever seen. Luckily, we are greeted with the usual shout of “HELLO” and a friendly wave.

My travel buddy for the week.

After we exited the forest we found ourselves back on the coast trudging through fishing villages. Under the intense heat of the sun, fish were drying on the streets and vast pots of fish paste lined the pavements. Quite an assault to the senses!

Guy enjoying his beach holiday.

Another reason it was great to have Guy on the road with me was that he speaks Vietnamese! I’d say pretty fluently, he’d says just a little bit… Either way it was a luxury and I was very impressed. With this in mind, we decided to try and cross a river that didn’t have an official ferry stop. We made our way to the riverbank and within a couple of seconds Guy had found a local willing to take us across. All for the whopping charge of 70p for the both us us. We may well have been charged more than the locals, but who cares! We were intrepid explorers… (Well sort of!)

Unofficial river crossing.

Once we had crossed the river, we entered what Guy described as Mordor. As I am not a film buff, he had to explain the ‘Lord of the Rings’ reference. We were surrounded by huge industrial plants, cement works and a huge tower with giant flames leaping from the top. We spent the remainder of the day navigating around Mordor and finally ended our journey in a lovely hotel where we were the only residence not wearing boiler suits.

Unfortunately, Guy had picked up a calf injury whilst in Japan (he is a teacher at the international school of Hiroshima) and had agreviated it on our trek around Mordor. We consulted our map and decided to attempt another unofficial river crossing 17km south of our fancy hotel. Guy would go by taxi, negotiate the crossing and drink coffee, whilst I completed the Kms on foot. The run took me through more heavy industry, passed dozens of cement trucks and up and into the hills. They was the first real hills I have faced on the journey but I felt strong (ish). As I shuffled my way up the hills, to my right were continuous lines of factories and refineries but to my left were forests and rushing rivers. I especially enjoyed running down the hills with the cooler air in my face.

Upon meeting Guy, at our planned meeting point by the river, we drank a cafe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk) and marvelled at the power of Google maps. The tiny village we were in, didn’t even have a name but we had found each other! Another successful unofficial river crossing and we were back on the road. Guy joining me for the final 10k of the day.

Being ridiculed for my selfie skills.

We seemed to have left Mordor behind but it was evident that the area we were moving through was anything but affluent. We were in the province of Nghe An, which is known to be amongst the poorest areas of Vietnam. As always, the people we saw all greeted us with friendly waves and huge smiles, often reaching out to touch our white skin as they were worried about us being out in the sunshine.

The rumours are true. We investigated and were shown a large cooking pot full of boiling cat. We were told we were too early to eat it as it is only for the afternoon. A lucky escape!

Over the course of the week we stayed in many of the cheap hotels (Nha Nghi) that are everywhere in Vietnam. We spent our evenings drinking a few beers, playing cards and attempting to find food. The ‘highlight’ being, random seabugs which I inhaled after a 32km day.

As we approached the end of our week on the road, I realised that I was on my seventh consecutive day of running and was in desperate need of a rest day. Guy’s calf had magically recovered and we ran 18km, along the highway, to reach Vinh. I realised I was well ahead of schedule, so decided that instead of staying in Vinh for my rest days, I would head back to Hanoi with Guy and watch England play the All Blacks in the rugby world cup semi finals. We jumped on the train and treated ourselves to a cabin with beds. As we traveled the 7hrs back to Hanoi, we rumbled through many places that I have run through. I even saw two of the highway hotels where I had stayed on my ‘3 days of highway hell’ section of the trip. It gave me a real sense of how far I have come so far.

England reach the final of the world cup. Kiwi Guy, not best pleased!

As we reflected on our week, we read the news story about the 39 victims discovered in the lorry in Essex. It is suspected that many, if not all, of the victims are Vietnamese. These young people pay up to £30000 to reach the UK, often via China. Many Vietnamese who choose to undertake the journey to the UK and other European countries, in search of income for their families, are from Nghe An province where we had been running. The blue dragon foundation, one of my chosen charities, are working tirelessly to bring traffickers to justice and stop this modern day slavery. This heartbreaking situation must be tackled.

I am writing this from a beautiful, lakeside coffee shop but have itchy feet and am ready to hit the road again. Unfortunately, I am having an extended stay in Hanoi as I have developed a nasty cyst that has needed treatment by a doctor. I am currently on antibiotics and hope to be back on the road by the end of the week in time to meet my friends Jules and Fiorella in Vinh. Watch this space!

Thank you so much for reading. Please donate as little or as much as you can. It will make a huge difference to the lives of many.

Love Naomi (aka Nam)

XXX

Week two! Tam Coc to Hai Hoa beach.

I always knew that getting back out running after a couple of rest days in beautiful Tam Coc, Ninh Binh, was going to be hard but woah! It was really tough! My legs felt like they had forgotten how to run. Luckily, it didn’t take too many kms to get back into the groove.

I ran along many tiny tracks, through green fields. I’ve cleverly avoided capturing the many cement factories that dotted this landscape!

After a lovely countryside run on the first day, I knew I was going to face 3 days of highway hell running. There were no other routes so I was just going to have to get my earphones in and sing myself down the mega roads. Over the next 3 days, I managed to cover the distance I needed to and only took about 3 photos. Not much to see apart from trucks, trucks and more trucks!

And a few trains!

I eventually exited the highway and reached the town of Thanh Hoa for a well needed rest day. The town was a total dream!!! Quiet streets, amazing food (so so many carbs!), coffee shops and really friendly people. I treated myself to a slightly nicer hotel and spent a lot of time lying down on the soft, clean bed binge watching netflix! I also took myself on a date to the cinema, to watch ‘Joker’, it was the first time I’ve done this and I loved it. Especially as there were only 2 other people in the whole screening with me! Seems like I am now brave enough to go to the cinema alone as well as attempt to run a country.

Feeling well rested after two days off and wearing lovely new socks, I ran towards the sea! The run was an absolute stunner, 20kms of running alongside rivers and along the coast. I was in such high spirits and everyone I met was so friendly. I’m continually being offered lifts on the back of bikes but am still managing to resist! When I eventually ran onto the sand I had a moment of pride. When speaking to the kids in schools, I’ve said that as an adult you don’t often get to feel proud of yourself. But I’m managing it and it feels great!

Sam Son beach

Sadly, my elation was short lived, the beach I had arrived on was a bit of a dive. It reminded me of England’s many dying seaside towns before they’ve been gentrified. Think Margate pre-2015! I had the worst nights sleep so far on the journey with karaoke, door knocking, sweeping and drilling all being the soundtrack of my night!

The following day I had images of running down the beach with the sand between my toes. Again my dreams were dashed! I hit my first big mental wall and it was the 30km day from hell. I trudged through deralict villages with stinking fish scattered over the roads with my bottom lip dragging along the floor, feeling utterly sorry for myself. I’d absolutely lost my mojo and was having a very difficult time locating it. I sent out a social media SOS and received an outpouring of encouragement and advice. “I’m strong, I’m healthy, I feel great” (thanks Jill!). At the 20km mark, after a stop for a coke sugar rush, I plugged my headphones, listened to a podcast and pushed out the final 10km. It was a really tough day, especially hard after the elation of the previous one. However, I did it! I made it to a random highway hotel and was coincidentally greeted by a teaching assistant who works at BVIS Hanoi (one of the schools I spoke at before the start of my trip). It was great to speak English for the first time in a week and a great morale boost to hear that people in her school have been following my progress.

Smiling because I’m so pleased I’ve only got 5km to go!

After a lovely nights sleep, I woke up with a spring in my step, I only had 14km to run until I was meeting my travel buddy Guy. What an absolute motivator to get myself moving! The run itself was really pretty and people were, as always, friendly. I met a family at one tiny shop, where I stopped for a drinks break. Via the power of Google translate, the father explained to me that his youngest son had downs syndrome and he was worried about him being allowed to go to school. He said he would work hard to make sure he could. This is why I am running!

I reached Hai Hoa beach around 11am, found a beach cafe and ordered a coconut. At 12.30pm I saw a white dude in bright red shorts wandering down the beach. It could only mean one thing. I have a friend!!! I’m so excited for Guy to join me for the next few days and experience this crazy, wonderful journey with me. For now, we are having a few beers and watching the rugby. Happiness.

Thank you so much for reading. Please donate as little or as much as you can. It will really make a difference to the lives of kids.

Love Naomi (aka Nam)

XXX

Week one done! Hanoi to Tam Coc (Ninh Binh)

What an amazing 7 days it’s been since I started my challenge to run 2200km from Hanoi to HCMC. In reality, it’s going to be more than the 2200km I initially calculated as I’ve spent a lot of time dodging muddy puddles and using smaller countryside roads to avoid using the highways as much as possible. So far I have covered 146km.

This has meant that my first week on the road has been full of incredible people. I’ve lost count of the number of lifts on the back of motorbikes that I’ve been offered. I promise ive said no, even though it’s been tempting! Everywhere I go, from tiny road side drinks shacks to hotels to farmland I’ve been waved down by people wanting to know what I’m doing. Their reactions have always been the same. Total shock and confusion but then an expression of happiness and thanks for my mission. As my Vietnamese is woeful, a lot of these conversations have been through Google translate and showing my website. Which the talented Jay Nguyen of BIS HCMC designed and translated for me! Although I have learned that the Vietnamese for run is ‘chay’ and am now using it continuously whilst pointing at my legs!

Van and his dad (in the boat below) rescued me when the ferry no longer sailed to cross the river.
Son invited me into his house for a water break and my first conversation in English in about 6 days!

If I were to take one thing from this week, it would definitely be the kindness of strangers. They have helped me cross rivers where ferries no longer exist, they have handed me cold drinks, taken me into their homes and donated massage fees to my cause. When travelling I have often found that people get cynical and think that everyone is out to make money from them, while in some more touristy areas, this may be true, I have found the total opposite. I am blown away by the support I have received from strangers, who themselves are not necessarily ‘rich’ but are willing to offer what they have and most importantly an enormous smile.

Ann chased me down on her bike and handed me ice cold green tea.

I have spent the last 2 days resting in beautiful Tam Coc, the area where the film ‘King Kong’ was filmed. I’ve cycled along tiny paths whilst being dwarfed by huge rock formations. They call Tam Coc, the inland Halong Bay and I can see why. I’ve been on a stunning boat trip along the river to see the formations from the water. It’s been a great blast of expat/traveller reality and I’ve eaten more than my fair share of pizza, burittos and cake. However, I am excited to hit the road again tomorrow for more random adventures. My body and mind are both in good shape and I’m literally running towards my first running visitor. I cannot wait for Guy Dormer to experience this with me!

View from my homestay in Tam Coc
Possibly the best chocolate ever made!? Chookies hideaway.

My main fear on this trip is loneliness, so far it has yet to hit me. Although I’m absolutely sure it will find me. I’m finding social media is like a job and really appreciate the amount of support I’m recieving from friends, family and strangers. I’m also so glad I packed my kindle, it’s full of book recommendations from people interested in the run and I can’t wait to read them all. The ‘Namrunsnam’ Spotify playlist has also helped when the runs have been tough. Remember, if you donate you can add as any songs you like and I promise not to skip any!

Thank you for reading and please donate as little or as much as you can. It will make a huge difference to the lives of children here in Vietnam.

Love Naomi

(aka Nam)

Pre run visit to BVIS HCMC

It seems a lifetime ago that I visited the British Vietnamese International School (BVIS), in reality it was just a week ago!

The school were hosting a community day and I was invited in to share my story and take part in activities with the children.

The morning started in the large assembly hall where I stood in front of a sea of children, ranging from 4-14 years old, all wearing their house t shirts (Hanoi, Hue, Dalat and Saigon), I will be visiting 3 out of these 4 places on my run. I will only go to Dalat if I get very very lost!

The amazingly confident community leaders gave an overview of the day to the huge audience and then introduced me. I was so impressed with the standard of public speaking from these young teenagers.

I started by getting all of the kids up on their feet for a morning wake up aerobics session. I recruited some children to join me on the stage as well as some of leadership team. Who participated with gusto!

After completing the warm up I explained my running challenge and my reasons for wanting to try and make a difference to the lives of some local children. Following this, was the BIG NAM RUNS NAM QUIZ! The children competed in their house teams, worked beautifully together and really enjoyed banging the buzzers! I was really pleased that the children were able to answer all of the questions and reflect on what they had heard in my presentation.

I ended the assembly by asking the children to guess what I had in my running backpack. There were some really great guesses including, medical kit, hat, water and a map.

Before I left the assembly, I was presented with ‘Viet’ the water buffalo. Viet is the symbol for ‘Vietnamese Perspective’ which plays a huge role in the ethos of the school due to its duel language curriculum and the fact that the majority of the students are Vietnamese. Viet is now safely stored in my backpack and is enjoying the journey so far. Here he is enjoying his morning Pho. Expect to hear more from him soon!

Following the assembly, the children continued to work in mixed age group houses to complete community based challenges including; making a giant city out of scrap materials where they had to ensure they included all the necessary amenities. When speaking to the children during their learning, they described how all children should have schools, parks, hospitals and homes. I absolutely agree with them!

Through donations from this community day, BVIS children and staff raised an amazing £1380 (39500000 VND). An outstanding total for a fabulous cause!

A huge thank you to all the staff (especially Rosy, Ollie, Nga and Georgina) and, most importantly, the children at BVIS for letting me talk to you and join in with your community day, I had a great time!

Thanks for reading. Please share my page and donate as little or as much as you can.

Love Naomi (aka Nam)