Vietnam Adventure 2013 – The Full Blog

Vietnam

This blog is taken from my adventure in Vietman in June 2013 when I undertook a 235km sol, unsupported run from Denang to Bong Son. (Please excuse the spelling)

The starting line beckons… no turning back now!

So after many months of training, major disappointments, a few injuries and extensive planning, I finally find myself in Da Nang, Vietnam, making my final preparations for my solo 240km run south.

Tomorrow will be my first day of running with  the beautiful town of Hoi An as the target destination. I will need to get up at about 5.30am (midnight ish in  UK) to try and avoid the mid morning heat. I have been down to the beach today and it looks like it will be a  beautiful 30k run along the beach. Will also mean lots of water availability…All I have left to do is a small bit of final packing and then away! Pack will weigh in at about 12kg..
Can’t wait…
p.s. Sorry for any spelling or grammatical errors. Typing this on a HTC mobile is tricky…
DAY 1: A long hard run…
First of all today was fantastic, difficult but fantastic. The Louis Hotel in Da Nang let itself down a little by changing the
time of breakfast and leaving me with a choice… Either wait an extra hour and eat or skip breakfast and maximise time in the relative coolness (still talking 30 degrees).  I choose the later and made do with a energy bar… While I am glad of my decision, i am going to have to adjust my organisation a little… So tonight i will sort out an early breakie and get up even earlier.The run itself was really beautiful. I followed the coastline south from Da Nang, passing the marble mountains and then arriving in the beautiful town of Hoi An.

Amusingly, while passing the marble mountains i was stopped by a lady on a bike. She couldn’t comprehend while i wouldn’t agree to stop and climb them (despite it being a beautiful climb – she reassured me!)

Running in this heat and with the heavy backpack was a real shock to the system.. The first 10 km fly by and felt great then as the sun rose it all got a lot harder. Anyone who has looked at the SPOT map will notice a slight drop off in pace… By km 18, I’ll admit i was struggling. The back pack seemed to get heavier with every metre. However, with a little determination, a couple of rests and some refueling i managed to struggle to the finish – the beautiful Japanese Bridge in the centre of Hoi An.

In Hoi An i met an chap from Australia who was determined to help. And i am glad he did. He introduced me to the local food market where i had a late breakfast (pho) and lunch (pork and rice). He then took me to a cheap t-shirt shop so i could get a clean t-shirt (his friend owned it) and then set about finding me a hotel. I was determined to keep the budget low but when he got me a 40% discount at a really smart hotel i thought i would splash out…

Tonight i am carb loading on locally brewed beer and chicken and rice. After being left carb low today i am determined not to let that happen again.

Last mission for the day is to find somewhere that sells anti chaffing cream… You’d be amazed where the heat affects you.

DAY 2: Today days merged to create a 50km challenge
Today’s plans were slightly altered and saw me combine today’s planned 26+ km joined with day 3’s 24km stage. This was due to a number of reasons. 1) I left Hoi An at 5.30am and had finished by just before 9 which meant i had a lot of time to kill. 2) to be honest Ha Lam is not the most attractive of places… 3) i felt pretty strong and relished the challenge of running a 50k day with a 12 kg pack. To be honest i started thinking about it as soon as i saw the km sign saying 39km to Tam KY. 4) there was a little cloud cover and a slight breeze which meant it was marginally cooler..The run itself was really nice. The first 5 km were the best as it saw me venture away from the main road. I meandered through local villages with fish markets, paddy fields and real rural countryside. Sadly after that i was on the equivalent to the M1 in the UK. Luckily there was a path down the side for the whole journey.

Key parts of the day include being overtaken by a British couple who has cycled, on a three wheeler, from Ireland…. Very impressive! Seeing pigs being transported on motorbikes in wicker baskets. And seeing the rather sad transportation of dogs on the way to somewhere i would guess not great… They were all in crates….

On arrival in Tam Ky i was pretty tired and sore.. I won’t go in to details! I had a quick call with my brother in Australia and asked if he could find a hotel for me as i didn’t have internet… All i am going to sag is “thank you.. Awesome choice and great massage!” (hotel Le Dung). The Karaoke is a little suspect!!!
We’ve had a bit of rain tonight so hoping it will be cooler tomorrow. Plan for tonight is to patch myself up and get a good night rest…. I think i need it.

Now just 5 days to go….

DAY 3: A hot and humid day three… melting
Today was by far the hardest. This was probably an accumulation of a few factors. Firstly, I was probably a little fatigued after yesterdays 50km run. Secondly i had bad chaffing around my belt line and in other areas… And thirdly because it was immensely hot and humid. All these combined meant that there were a few more breaks and a little more walking… However, omitting the rests, I managed to average about a 7.5 minute km.The scenery today was beautiful with the hills looming to the west and large paddy fields in front. Its awesome to watch all the workers in the fields using machines I’ve never really seen before. Not entirely how rice is grown but it looks a pretty long drawn out process for such a simple food.

When running along what is essentially a highway you see some pretty random things. Today’s especially random observation was the cabin with a lady to service any likely driving who may have “urges”. She seemed hurt that i didn’t stop in…

At one of my 3 breaks i was lucky enough to enjoy my best Pho so far on this trip. Such a simple dish but made correctly it is absolutely delicious.

I had to alter my route today due to some minor miss calculations. By the time i got to my hotel it was about 3km further than I thought meaning today equalled about 30km. Tomorrow will now only be 40 km but it looks like it may have the added hurdle of rain.

As mentioned earlier today wad difficult. The actual running isn’t too bad its the backpack that is proving difficult. Due to having to carry all my kit for the whole holiday there is a lot of additional items i wouldn’t need to carry if just running. Tonight o spent the night going through my kit and taking everything down to a bare minimum – spare towels, book, pills, additional bandages etc all gone. In total, I think I have lost about 1-1.5 kg.. Hopefully that will make a difference tomorrow…. The owner of the hotel seemed very excited when i said i was throwing it away…

I have spent most of this afternoon relaxing, stretching and hydrating before tomorrows big run. A rather crude observation but one that highlights a point. On every stage i have been drinking about 5-6 litres of water, not once have i been to the loo… Shows you how dehydrating it is!!!

For supper i had my second portion of Pho in a cafe next to the hotel. I shared a table with a 79 year old Vietnamese chap who was very eager to chat and share salad etc despite not being able to speak much English. Definitely warming to the people more this trip that last time i was here.

I would normally feel a little nervous the night before a marathon. Tonight i am trying to fathom what it is going to be like with all the normal consequences of a marathon before i start…

DAY 4: Done and dusted…
After a long lazy afternoon resting and tending to sore bits I was up at 5am this morning and on the road by 5.30am. The further south i come the more trees seem to be around. The land is a lot lusher and there is more of a jungley feel to it, although it is not proper jungle.As it was cooler i decided to try and get a good section of the distance out of the way as quickly as i could. I set myself a half marathon time trial and managed to complete this section in just over 2 hours. The back pack felt a lot better today after last nights clear out and with a few Nurofen and a generous helping of Vaseline my sores didn’t cause to many problems.

By complete coincidence I managed to finish my first stage run at a nice little road side cafe manned by 2 girls (probably 5 and 10 years old). Here I had my first fresh coconut milk drink. Unlike most places that purely put a hole in the nut and stick a straw in, these girls teamed up to make a delicious refreshing drink. After pouring out the milk they added ice, salt, sugar and then the soft flesh of the coconut. Best I’ve ever had. After a quick 10 mins in a hammock i decided to do the next stint.

After another 6km and about 3 hours since I started I decided to stop for breakfast. I ordered Pho but was told that I’d be having Rice and Chicken. The little old lady seemed to bring a continuous supply of different pieces of unidentifiable meat and put it on my plate. In the end i had a stupid amount of food, especially with more running to come. After a quick collapse in a hammock and with a growing interest from various lorry drivers trying to listen to my iPod, I decided it was time to move on.

As yesterday had been so difficult with the heat and had ended up with quite a bit of walking, i decided that today was all running. I set a nice slow pace of about 7-8km/hour and finished the rest of the day. Nothing much else to report. In total just under 40km completed and feel remarkably fresh… Still going to have an early night.

Quang Ngai is certainly a bustling town. The main street is lined with shops selling everything from shoes to car parts and the is a constant 2 directional flow of scooters buzzing back and forth. Outside each shop there seems to be a representative from each generation sitting on the step. Slightly worryingly there are also chicken and mice running straight up the middle of the road. Its just rained here (and when i mean rained it poured, really poured) so the streets are full of overflowing gutters and rain drops drip from the trees lining the street. But into this jungle i had to go to complete my next mission… Find Vaseline.

While training back at home it was impossible to train for the effects that the heat have out here. Every day i am covered in sweat soaked running clothes and the relentless sun just adds to the problem. Every line of stitching, label and strap on my ruck sack takes its opportunity to rub… And each day it gets worse as the rub rubs the previous rub. I am now sporting sores around my waistline, belly button (never had that before), between my legs, under my arms and even on my collar bone.

So into the urban jungle I delved. I have not seen another westerner since I left Hoi An and as a result i have not seen an English sign or really met anyone who knows more that “hello” and “where you from” in English. Trying to describe what you need can lead you into strange conversations… “you want condoms?” when trying to see if they have any “lube” (sort of close to Vaseline) in the safe sex section…. Anyway after a few interesting misunderstandings you’ll be glad to know that i have Vietnamese Vaseline.

Another small incident that made me happy was being able to help and old lady hang a sign on a tree… Not many times i have the height advantage but here in Vietnam I am a giant…

DAY 5: A short update
Today is going to be a very short update as i don’t have any WiFi.I left Quang Ngai at 6.30 this morning with the intention of covering about 22km to Mo Duc. However, my legs were surprisingly fresh today and i managed to exceed this target and achieve just under 24km in about 2h 40..  While i was in good form i thought i would kick on to Duc Pho where i am at the moment.
I have had a really annoying day with technology… First my SPOT tracker and safety tracker has not been tracking me or send OK messages. Secondly, my running watch ran out of battery after the first stint. Luckily having a solar charger i was able to stop and recharge it while having some food. I think i missed about 7-10km of tracking. A mistake i am keen not to repeat.

On arrival in Duc Pho i stopped at the cafe and tried some sugar cane juice. Pure nectar…. 2 of them and a bottle of water went very quickly – i had just run 40km..

While at the cafe i met Tam. Tam lives in California but has had to return home due to his mother falling ill and dying. He has very kindly offered me a place to stay so no random cockroach infested hotel tonight..

Will give a fuller account when i get to better reception….

DAY5: A great homestay experience
Day 5’s running was pretty uneventful. As mention in last blog I managed to squeeze 2 days into 1 giving me the option of splitting the last day and getting a little time on the beach.However it was when I got to Duc Pho that the day got interesting. Having sampled the fresh coconuts I thought i would stop and try the fresh sugar cane drinks that are available all along the roadside. Essentially it is the juice pressed from sugar cane mixed with lemon and sugar. When you have just run about 40km it is like nectar from the gods.. Having polished off 2 of these and water I was introduced to Tam. Tam was a very young looking 59 year old Vietnamese man who had returned from San Hose to be there with his mother for her last days. luckily for me Tam spoke English and enabled me to have my first proper conversation in a while.

After talking for a while Tam suggested i stay in his late mothers house with his brother and sister l who had come up from Saigon for the funeral. This was an offer that was hard to turn down and is something that is hard to arrange and gives you a real insight into the local lifestyle.

We wandered back to his house and it became apparent that his mother had passed away quite recently as there was a shrine to her in the living room. Tam introduced me to his family and showed me to my bed. It turned out that i would have the only bed in the house… Tam is turned out would sleep on the floor and his brother and sister (both retired) would sleep in the kitchen. Feeling a tad guilty was an understatement but they insisted. After a quick shower local style (bucket of water and a ladle) and a nap i was offered a plateful of fruit with the rest of the family and neighbours. During this i learnt that Tam did manicures in the US. He then proceeded to gives a foot and calf muscle massage with “medicinal” oil.

Tam very kindly offered to give me a tour of the local area and we left on his bike. Our first port of call was that of the graves of his parents…  Slightly awkward start. The graves themselves were very grand and ornate.

We then set off to the beach. The drive took us through some of the local countryside which was beautiful. Paddy fields forest covered hills behinds. The house were more open than those i had seen on the main road and had all manner of items strewn round the yards, cows, junk and even family graves.

On the route Tam slightly worries me by saying that not all Vietnamese were nice. For reassurance I checked he was in the minority of nice people, he answered that he thought not….

When we finally got the beach i went for a quick dip. As i have accustomed to i was the only westerner and from the stares was the first for quite some time.

I was slightly uneasy to see Tam videoing my emergence from the water but let it go.
Tam organised a few beers and ordered me some fresh squid. Now when we think of fresh squid we think it was caught recently. Here is was even more fresh… It had literally been fished out of the see and boiled… No gutting no cleaning just a  whole squid. With an option of chili mixed with fish sauce and lemon and salt i devoured the lot. Tam was unable to join as apparently he is not allowed to eat fish or meat for 49 days after the death of his mother.. Never quite got to the bottom of that one but it meant more for me…

After the sun started to set we headed back to the house. After another quick shower we sat down for dinner.

Tam’s sister had created a feast of spring rolls, rice, noodles, soup, vegetables and various other dishes. The neighbours joined and we all tucked in. They were very eager i try everything and i was willing to oblige. It was a little disconcerting that i was clearly the centre of attention and every mistake i made with chop sticks was greeted with laughter from around the table.

An amusing comment from the neighbour was that when he first went to the UK he thought we all looked the same…

After dinner (7.30) i was ushered to bed because Tam needed to pray for his mother in the afterlife. Having been told they wake at 4am i went to bed armed with my ipod. Tam came over and set up the mosquito net and the put on a ceremonial robe for his prayers which were to take place in front of the shrine and about 1.5m from my bed. It was at this point it dawned on me that i watch way to much Dexter… I had been ordered to bed by a man who zipped me into a netted box, slipped on a robe and then prayed out loud for 1.5 hours… Was i going to be part of a ceremonial sacrifice… Of course this was not the case but it did make it hard togo to sleep.

There were also other concerns… Firstly i had just eaten a massive feast of local food and my stomach wad starting to rumble.. And secondly, i had just had a few beers… To get to the loo i would have to push past a man praying for his recently deceased mother and then step over his brother and sister in the kitchen… This was the end of the worry… If i had managed to  complete this obstacle course I would have to then work out how to use their loo… No flush and no loo paper…. This certainly was a dilemma and as you can imagine it made sleep a near impossibility.

However, the hectic day had obviously taken its toll and despite the heat, sweat and disco lights surrounding the shrine, I managed to grab an ok nights sleep with no need to undertake the obstacle course to the loo.
On waking they were eager I get underway while the temperature was low (or they just wanted me out). Their generosity didn’t finish until i had finally left. Tam’s sister prepared me a pack lunch and Tam offered me money to help me on my way…

This was a great experience and highlights what a great people the Vietnamese are. Kind and generous. Thanks Tam and the family.

DAY 6: Ends in a deserted resort
It’s amazing how some days are easy and some are difficult… It’s not dependent on weather or distance just how your body feels. After 5 pretty tough days (3 of which were marathons and all the others over half marathons) today’s 26km was a toughy.. I managed to complete the first 16km in relative ease but then things got tough. I had not prepared as much as i needed to because of last nights homestay (normally that would include major rehydration etc). There were also long, slow hills. Not what the body needs just before you finish.. All that aside, and with a little bit of walking (quickly), i managed to get to the end.The actual run was pretty uneventful. One little bit of frivolity occurred when a road worker decided he would take me on for a 100m dash. Him is work boots, overalls and a hard hat and me with rucksack etc fought a hard race down the hard shoulder much to the amusement of his co-workers and the local village. Obviously i would only be telling you this story if i won… Took its toll though.

I have managed to get within a stones through of my finish line (7.5miles ish) but decide to cut the day short for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the short strip of coast at km 26 was the only bit since i left De Nang. And secondly, i wanted to finish on my last day with a good time not stumble across the line a day early for the sake of it.

As I looked for hotels I found 2 rather ropey looking places and was determined to push on a little and see if there was something better. Fueled by a Pepsi, I struggled over the next hill and found the Sa Huynh resort.. As it is out of season it is basically a deserted hotel with a empty swimming pool and no frills. It is however clean and i can properly relax and catch up on blogs… I even appear to have my own security guard!

DAY 7: Its the final day and that makes me sad…
Today is my last day and I wake with mixed emotions. I know i should be relieved but there is a niggling feeling of  disappointment. For the last 6 days i have had a routine. I put the back pack on and i set out on the road. Each day brings new challenges, new experiences and new senses of achievement. After today it will all be over. I’ll just be on holiday. I have to battle these emotions to make sure i don’t  ruin today.After another breakfast of Pho, I fill the water bottles, strap my pack to my back and head on to the road once again.

As i have travelled south i have noticed a big change in the scenery. In the north the land is more sparse with wide open plains. As i travel south the roads have become lined with coconut trees and hills punctuate the horizon. This is the Vietnam people think of when they dream of holidays here. Rivers, paddy fields with people working is traditional hats, dense forests.

Each day i have come across many different things. Farming techniques, large industrial estates and deserted hotel resorts. To me each area has its own identity. Today’s region is all about mats… The roads are lined with reeds drying under the strong sun. As they dry, dyes are added and the road becomes a beautiful array of yellows, reds and greens. Every few km there are little huts full of ladies weaving the mats under whirling fans. I really want to buy one but sadly they seem to only make them in a large size… Not great for the runners of this world!

After about 2 hours and 15 km completed i finally arrive in Tam Quan. This is the finish line. This is where all the training and  effort is meant to come to an end this is meant to be the end. But i can’t let it stop so soon. Over the last 6 days i have done 3 marathons and 3 half marathon plus days… I can’t end on a 15km day…. These thoughts were already forming last night and I’ve done mu research… There js another town 13 km south of here… This has to be the end, the new finish line! I suck down another sugar cane juice and move on..

I am so glad I do… Each day i have found the first 20km pretty easy and dare i say it enjoyable. You are seeing new things, lorries and cars toot you and children shout hello… Its the second half of the day when things become harder. You are tired, your muscles are sore, the sweat makes your sores scream and the back pack seems to grow in weight. Its now you have to switch your brain to endurance mode. Its now that it becomes a challenge.. The perverse thing is this is what i enjoy… Pushing yourself as far as you can… Many people have asked why do it. The answer is just that.. How far can you push your body and mind? What is the limit?

After another 2 hours i finally arrive in Bong Son. The new finish line.. The end of my challenge. As i reach the final km i pick up the pace. I speed up as the town centre approaches. There is no welcome party, no family, no friends but that doesn’t stop me giving a Andy Murray style fist pump and “Come On!!”

So that’s it… 7 days, 235km run and it all comes to an abrupt end in a little town in the middle of Vietnam. I sit down in a small street cafe and slowly drink a few cans of Tiger beer and reflect on the journey. Was it worth it? Definitely. Did it answer the question? Sort of, but not conclusively. The only thing that springs tl mind is… C is the next challenge…? Swimming from Spain to Morocco sounds interesting….

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