Young hiker embarks on penniless road of self-discovery

By Diep Phan    December 9, 2020 | 06:42 am PT
Young hiker embarks on penniless road of self-discovery
Duy Hoan helps fishermen in central coastal Khanh Hoa Province and in return, learns how to dive. Photo courtesy of Duy Hoan.
Duy Hoan commenced his penniless hike along 2,300 kilometers of road stretching across Vietnam for purposes of self-discovery and personal development.

Hoan's plans to journey from southernmost Ca Mau cape to Lung Cu flagpole in the north during February were postponed until October 21 due to Covid-19.

"Everyone can travel with money. Though it's convenient, I thought it would be an amazing experience to rather work or have a meal with locals," Vu Duy Hoan, a 20-year-old undergraduate tourism student at Hai Phong University, said about his "zero dong" trip through the country.

The young man, born in northern Nam Dinh Province, added at first, he had wanted to travel in this manner to explore his youthful spirit.

Hoan initially embarked from Ca Mau Province at the end of February, but enjoyed a brief sojourn in the southern province of Hau Giang when the pandemic struck. On October 21, Hoan continued his 2,300-km journey that would take him around 100 days to complete.

The initial plan was to have fun but along the way, he had decided to share his story on YouTube while spending his hard-earned money to help the poor.

"Now I have another motivation, which involves helping the community," Hoan explained while taking a short break on a hillside at Deo Ca Pass in the central Vietnam at the end of November.

Hoan kept his personal belongings to a bare minimum, only carrying some clothes, glasses, a hat, a raincoat, a water bottle, a phone charger, and a stick. He gets up at 3:30 a.m. every day to edit videos to upload and then start walking from 6 a.m. At dusk, he would drop by a local's house to ask if he could stay the night.

"I used to assist a friend on many tours, and finished a 42-km marathon so I'm always in good shape. I still remember on the second day heading to Ca Mau, after walking for over 30 km, it was nearly 9 p.m. and I couldn't manage to find a place to stay or fill my empty stomach," Hoan said.

After walking a few more kilometers, Hoan was welcomed into a street vendor’s home.

His father Vu Dinh Mui, 55, said: "I often tell him to not only focus on academic skills but also other things. Walking across Vietnam could offer him a chance for self-discovery."

Hoan helps rice farmers plough their fields. Photo courtesy of Duy Hoan.

Hoan helps farmers mow the field for rice crops. Photo courtesy of Duy Hoan.

Along the road, his hunger was once sated by a southwest farmer offering him a cold bowl of rice and very salty dried fish. "I frowned at the first bite but the more I chewed, the sweeter it became. That was a unique kind of sweetness to me," he recalled. The next day, he joined the fisherman on his boat to help him cast his net on the river.

In the central provinces of Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan, the man for the first time felt the scorching heat there. He sometimes drank six liters of water a day.

In over a month, he has worked as a waiter, fisherman, diver, rice paper maker, and even a pineapple picker to repay their kindness.

On November 29, he left central Phu Yen Province on his remaining 1,500 km trek to northern Ha Giang Province. Starting to experience the cold morning rains, he swapped his old shoes for a pair of brand new sandals given to him by a stranger.

"The weather is not on my side but I don’t think I would ever give up. This journey is like a slow motion video, you may miss interesting small details if it’s fast-paced," he said over the sound of a trekking pole touching the ground.

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