Crossing Vietnam on foot with $5, a guitar and a smile

By Vy An   March 19, 2018 | 03:29 pm GMT+7

2,300km is no walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.

At first sight, Ho Nhat Ha doesn’t look like a professional athlete. Ha doesn’t have an impressive, muscular build, and most people don’t have to look up when they talk to him. Ha is one of the least likely people you would think could walk 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) across Vietnam in 113 days.

But he did.

Ho Nhat Ha with a sign that says: Im walking across Vietnam. Would be happy to write you a song. Please support me! Photo provided by Ho Nhat Ha.

Ho Nhat Ha with a sign that says: “I’m walking across Vietnam. Would be happy to write you a song. Please support me!” Photo courtesy of Ho Nhat Ha.

The 31-year-old, based in Ho Chi Minh City, had been thinking about his unique trip for quite some time before actually doing it. There are plenty of options for someone who fancies a Vietnam experience: flights are not expensive, cars are popular and motorbikes are fun, but walking is the last thing that would spring into most people's minds. It’s kind of crazy, they’d say.

That’s what Ha faced a year ago when he decided to walk across Vietnam. Despite opposition from his family, Ha started to plan and prepare for his ‘crazy’ journey. Ha quit his stable job to do freelance work, and started to train for the task. He walked 70 kilometers to a neighboring province, and on another trip, climbed and spent the night on Black Virgin, a 996-meter mountain northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

The time was right on October 18, 2017, when Ha set off with three sets of clothes, 20 hardtack bars, a hammock, some medicine and a guitar. He began at the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, and headed for the north of Vietnam in Ha Giang Province.

Ha at the north pole of Vietnam. After finishing the trip Ha made a new friend and they headed off together to Ma Pi Leng, one of the the most dangerous mountain passes in Vietnam. Photo provided by Ho Nhat Ha. 

Ha at the northern tip of Vietnam. After finishing the trip, Ha and a new friend headed off to Ma Pi Leng, one of the the most dangerous mountain passes in Vietnam. Photo provided by Ho Nhat Ha. 

As if walking the length of the country wasn’t enough, Ha decided not to take any cash with him on his journey. He kept VND1 million ($44) in his bank account just in case, and made money along the way by busking and writing songs for the people he met.

Every day, Ha walked around 30 kilometers, starting at 7 a.m. and finishing at 6 p.m. He only upped his pace in order to reach his hometown in time for Tet, Vietnam's traditional Lunar New Year. To save money, Ha ate bread and instant noodles, and slept wherever he could find shelter, be it a market, a construction site, an abandoned house, or in the jungle.

Ha recalls one night in a market when he feared getting robbed. 

“I was just falling asleep when the sounds of motorbikes and people shouting woke me up. The junkies had arrived to use drugs. The most valuable item I had at that time was my phone, and I was ready to lose it,” he said. Fortunately, the addicts left and Ha went back to sleep, but not for long because the market he was resting in opened at 4 a.m.

The only time Ha had to withdraw money was the VND100,000 VND ($5) he took out as a last resort in Quang Ngai Province in south central Vietnam. “I planned to busk that night because I had run out of money, but a friend really wanted to show me around, and I couldn’t say no. Eventually I had to withdraw VND100,000 to stay at a homestay,” Ha said. That was the only money Ha spent from his emergency fund on the entire journey.

Ha poses with one of the people who helped him along the way. Photo by Ho Nhat Ha

Ha poses with one of the people who helped him along the way. Photo courtesy of Ho Nhat Ha

Ha did not expect to do everything on his own during the trip. In fact, one of the reasons he walked was to find out if Vietnamese people still had compassion and kindness for one another. He didn’t have to wait long for the answer. Many strangers talked to him, offered him meals and introduced him to friends and relatives for the next stage of his journey. It turned out he was not alone.

“There were times when things didn’t feel right, but I taught myself to smile and to say hello to people in new places,” Ha said. “A smile helps you to overcome the most challenging situations. It gives you the boost your heart needs to conquer any difficulties.”

 
 
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