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
It’s been another great week on the road to Saigon. Moral is still high and my fitness is back, although my pace per km is getting slower and slower.
This week started with a couple of rest days in Dong Hoi. I’d met Kelly a couple of days previously, on his cycle journey around the world, and we met up at a hostel and propped up the bar on Monday evening. Mikey, a friend from Saigon flew up on Tuesday and we spent the day wandering the empty city streets and visiting the local museum.
It’s been a really interesting running week, Mikey and I found ourselves having to run a 38km day, my longest yet, to find accomodation as there are long stretches of desolated landscape in this part of the country. Sadly, the people of Quang Binh and Quang Tri Provinces, which I have been running through are still discovering unexploded bombs dropped during the war. There are a few NGO’s working here clear the areas but I was informed by Vietnamese journalist, Tao Huong, that people are still being killed by these devices. We had a really interesting conversation over a strong coffee and I learned more about the rural education system in Vietnam.
On our penultimate day running together, we unexpectedly reached a really significant point in my journey (as well as the history of this awesome country). We ran from north to south Vietnam over the Hien Luong Bridge.
In the recent past, battles were fought on the river banks as propaganda was blasted out over the loud speakers. In the museum we saw beautiful photographs of north and south Vietnamese reuniting after the war and many quotes and monuments celebrating peace. The heritage site was empty and we were able to explore and recognise the significance of where we were. I am so pleased to have been able to share this specific experience with Mikey as I found it quite emotional and was able to chat about it with someone. Doing the majority of this journey solo is teaching me how much I value shared experiences.
On Saturday afternoon we reached Dong Ha and celebrated and warmed up with a bottle of delicious red wine (thanks Mikey!)
I am now over 700km into my 2000+km journey and feel like I am making real progress. I love looking at the map and seeing how far I’ve come. By Christmas, I hope to be in Da Nang, which is the half way point of my challenge. I count myself really lucky that I am able to take time out to complete this journey and hopefully make a significant difference to the lives of children and women in Vietnam.
I am over half way to reaching my fundraising goal. This money means that more children will be able to attend school and get the education they deserve. It will also help to support the end the existence of human trafficking. Education and personal safety is something that I have always been lucky enough to take for granted. This is not always the case and together we can end this injustice.
Thank you so much for reading and please donate as little or as much as you can. As little as, 600k VND/ £22/ $30 is enough to feed a street kid for an entire month. This is a small amount to most of us but literally life saving for some children.
You can also sign up to come and run with me. I promise I will be slower than you! The link is on my website http://www.namrunsnam.com
Love Naomi (aka Nam)
I’m writing this from my cheap hotel bed after a long, tough, 180km week. Today is a rest day and I intend to do nothing but lie down and eat as much food as possible. Although I did notice the bar downstairs sells strongbow cider!
The days have almost rolled into one this week. Lots of highway runs, too much rain and grim hotels. When planning my trip I looked carefully at the weather to avoid the rainy season, as well as it being too cold. However, this week I have been joined by a typhoon that’s travelling up the country into Hong Kong. On the plus side, it means the weather has been a lot cooler, I’ve even had to wear my long sleeved t-shirt in the evenings! However, it means that I’ve been running through puddles, muddy fields and driving rain for much of the day and my poor feet aren’t liking being in wet socks and shoes for up to 8 hours a day. I’m hoping my rest day today will give them a chance to really dry out as well as my running gear, which hasn’t been properly dry all week either.
Despite the pretty horrible weather, my spirits are still high and I’m pleased to report that my fitness has returned and I am feeling strong! On a rare sunshiny moment I stumbled across the most wonderful coffee shop I’ve ever been in. It was called ‘Happy Cottage’ and if you ever happen to be in Ha Thinh I thougherly recomend a visit. As well as brightly colored lanterns and flowing water falls, there were Santa’s in blossom trees! I may have stumbled into the cafe but I definately skipped out.
A few days into my rainy week, I re-entered Mordor type scenery. This time I was navigating around huge steel works. After the fishing industry in this province was devastated by an accident that poisoned the sea, steel is now the main industry. Due to low employment opportunities, many people from this region choose to leave for work elsewhere. Often this means venturing abroad and sadly sometimes into unexpected jobs or situations. The lack of younger Vietnamese people is noticeable when running through towns and villages in this part of the country.
On Friday morning as I was trudging up a steep hill to pass through a mountain range, I noticed a figure hunched over a pedal bike at the side of the road. On closer inspection, I realised he was a westerner, the first I’ve seen since leaving Hanoi (apart from my visitors). I’m usually pretty shy when it comes to talking to strangers but I couldn’t pass up the oppertunity to have an actual conversation! (My Vietnamese is vaguely improving but I’m definately not at conversation level!) As it turns out, Kelly from Canada, is cycling around the world for Canadian Cancer Society and has been following a very similar route to me, although covering somewhat more ground each day! As his bike needed some attention, we spent the rest of the day chatting, drinking coffee and pushing the bike to a highway hotel. I found out that he too, is sometimes surviving on chocopies! You can follow Kelly’s epic round the world adventure here: https://tatarynk.com/
At the weekend, I was joined by BIS power couple, Sarah and Ian Battersby. After managing to find me at a road side Pho shack, we left the highway behind us and set off into the local villages before arriving at the beach. The sea was wild and reminded us of being back in the UK. Fortunately, the rain held out for most of the day as we navigated a pretty huge 33k. This was Ian’s longest ever run, almost double what he has done before and he absolutely smashed it! Sarah was supposed to be tapering for the marathon next weekend…
At 11am after a couple of hours of running, Sarah produced three pain au Chocolat’s which we ate with our coffees. What an absolute treat! It was lovely to be able to catch up with Saigon life whilst running through paddy fields with buffalo’s wandering around us. At lunch time, whilst crouched under a highway bridge, sheltering from the rain, Sarah once again delighted us by producing cream cheese bagels from her bag! I miss processed carbs so much!!! After about 8 hours on our feet, I found yet another highway hotel and waved Sarah and Ian goodbye as they jumped onto a bus back to Dong Hoi. It was an utter delight to spend the day with them and give them an experience of what I’m doing.
I had intended to stay at Nhat Le Beach, just north of Dong Hoi, for my rest day but due to being off season it was a total ghost town that seems to be being ruled by stray dogs. I quickly decided to run straight through and am now in Dong Hoi City. It is also very quiet and the rain and wind is rattling my window but I know there is a pasta bar just around the corner!
As always, thank you so much for reading this. Please donate as little or as much as you can. My trip is 100% self funded and every penny, cent, dong will go towards helping young people go to school, be fed, have a safe place to sleep or be reunited with their families. Together, we really can make a difference to the lives of people here in Vietnam.
Love Naomi (aka Nam)
I’m absolutely delighted to be back on the road! After almost 4 weeks of recovery and no running/exercise at all, it’s such a relief to be restarting my challenge.
After an inspiring week volunteering at Blue Dragon, I flew to Australia to go to a friend’s wedding. This trip was pre planned but timed in perfectly with my recovery. Without the trip, I think I would have hit the road again too early and probably have done more damage. The Aussie trip was especially amazing as I got to hang out with my very understanding and supportive parents for 10 days. We were tourists in Sydney (where dad smashed his fear of heights by climbing the harbour bridge with mum), hiked in the Blue Mountains (this helped to keep some of my quickly dwindling fitness), chilled out in the vineyards of Orange, watched my oldest friend Adam marry the lovely Penny and played beach games in the sand at Nelson Bay. I also talked endlessly about my challenge and raised some money too!
After a gruelling 36 hour journey back from Aussie (Nelson bay- Sydney- KL- Hanoi- Vinh) I decided that I wanted to get straight back on the road. So jumped on a bus from the airport and headed back to my last running point, which was about 20km up the highway north of Vinh. The bus driver was very confused when I jumped off at a truck stop next to the highway. I ran a slow, noisy 10km before finding a highway hotel before the sun went down.
I only had one full day back on the road before my friend Ellie flew in for the weekend. (Ellie is the inventor of the ‘Race to Saigon’ game- let me know if you would like to purchase a copy!) Her visit couldn’t have been better timed as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and massively unfit! I arrived in Vinh mid afternoon on Friday and Ellie joined me around 7.30pm. We caught up over a few street beers and planned our route for the next few days.
And what a great route it was! After battling our way out of Vinh city, we soon hit quiet roads and beautiful countryside. It was apparent that this side of Nghe An Province was more affluent than where I had previously been running, just a few Kms north of Vinh. We were able to find coffee shops, drink stops and food opportunities along the way (I was finding any excuse for a rest as I’d apparently lost my fitness somewhere along the highway!)
After refuelling at lunch, with a huge portion of fish caught from just outside the restaurant, we journeyed on hugging the coastline. After 20kms we began searching for accomodation for the night. We located a hotel on Google maps and made our way there. No hotel. We found a second option on the map. No hotel. After three failed attempts and 24kms covered we decided to head back to where we had had lunch as there were a few hotels in that area. A friendly cafe owner organised his friend to drive us back to where we had been a few hours previous. It is definately low season in this part of Vietnam as we seemed to be the only guests in the place.
We awoke early, on our rock hard mattresses, ready for another day on the road. As we had covered more Kms than planned on the previous day we knew we didn’t have to rush too much to cover the 18kms to my hotel for the night and where Ellie would jump in a cab and head back to Vinh to catch her flight back to Saigon. After a few Kms of very sweaty running, we found a coffee shop and ordered double drinks (cafe su das and orange juices). We were invited to join a group of friends who were enjoying their Sunday day off. A few of the guys had worked abroad and were proud to discuss their experiences. Ellie experienced a “kindness of strangers” moment, as we tried to pay our bill, only to be told that it was being covered by one of the men at the table. It really is the overarching theme of my trip.
The remainder of our journey was full of breath taking lush, green mountains, turquoise seas and herds of buffalo. We chatted and reflected on how lucky we are as the Kms ticked away.
Roughly 3km from our final stop, we came across a vast resort in the middle of nowhere. We wandered in for a drink and found we were the only people on the huge site. We enjoyed our overpriced drinks on a terrace overlooking a beautiful pool and private beach. Next to the complex was a massive waterpark, it looked like lots of fun but was definately closed for low season.
Fortunately, the hotel we were aiming for was open and I checked in for the night. After a quick shower, Ellie jumped in a cab and headed to the airport. I wandered off in search of food and reflected on a perfect weekend, whilst drinking an ice cold beer and eating fresh fish, veges and lots of rice! I only have five days before my next guests, Sarah and Ian, arrive!
Thank you so much for reading. If you would like to join me please sign up on the Google doc, that is linked to this website. If you don’t want to run, then come and join me for a walk or a rest day! If none of that appeals, please donate as little or as much as you can. It will make a huge difference to the lives of many.
Lots of love
Naomi (aka Nam)
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)
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)