How to run around the Indochina Loop
“My first tip is to either head out early just before dawn, or at dusk when the sun takes its final rest. Early morning or late in the day the temperatures are often more bearable, plus it’s a more peaceful hour to pound the pavement.
Starting in Bangkok, head away from the hustle and bustle of Khao San area along the quaint artists’ road of Phra Arthit. Stop for a rest with a quick look over the busy Chao Praya River and then it’s up along Sanam Luang Park, past the many local vendors. Wave hello to the Emerald Buddha in the spectacular Wat Phra Kaew, jog past the Grand Palace and finish with a few laps of Sararom Royal Park. If you’re too tired to run back, you can always hail a tuk tuk to return to the action and music of central Banglamphu!
Whilst in Chiang Mai, it is easy to run around the moat and remnants of the historic old city. And if you’re feeling really energetic, it’s a steep incline up to the famous Doi Suthep Temple, but a peaceful rest at the top awaits you with the chanting of monks at sundown.
Time to rest in Houay Xai and Pakbeng, ready for a beautiful run around the UNESCO Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang. Start at the Red Cross Massage end of the Nam Khan River, follow the river around to the mouth of the mighty Mekong and continue along the beautiful river front, glancing to your left at the coffee houses, art houses and market stalls. Need a bit more of a challenge? Try climbing the 328 steps up Phousi Mountain to catch your breath and a glorious view over the city.
Vientiane has many options, due to the large, straight tree-lined boulevards designed by the French. A nice route is along the Fa Ngum boulevard, chasing the Mekong again, turn up to the colonial Presidential Palace and past the Emerald Buddha’s previous home Wat Phra Kaew, then past Vientiane’s oldest temple Wat Si Saket and up the main Lane Xang to Patuxai. Then take time to stop and admire this building’s resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe and catch a light spray from the dancing water fountains.
Again, take a break for the Homestay, Ninh Binh and Halong Bay, then it’s back to working off those extra calories gained from the relaxation of the last few day.
Keeping close to Uncle Ho, join the many Vietnamese in Hanoi strolling and sprinting up and down the carpet of grass in front of the mausoleum in a regimented fashion. If this is not your style, then try some laps of the historic Hoan Kiem lake in the centre of this capital city. Or if it’s a more relaxing run that’s the order of the day, head to the peaceful West Lake just outside the 36 streets of the old quarter, where motobikes are exchanged for swan boats.
Both UNESCO Heritage cities of Hue and Hoi An are easy runs. In Hue, cross over the Perfume River, by the famous Tran Tien Bridge over to the old city, to circle the citadel. If you need a bit more of a calorie burn, carry on along the river for a further 5km and you’ll reach the historic Thien Mu Pagoda.
Then in Hoi An, head 4km out of town to Cau Dai beach, a few lengths on the flat golden sand and back to town; for a freshen up before hitting the tailors for a new wardrobe, indulging in a cake at one of the many coffee houses or maybe a cheeky glass of Sav Blanc while unwinding as beautiful young Vietnamese ladies swish past on bicycles and old ladies scurry along wearing conical hats.
Ho Chi Minh is a bit more challenging; as you need to master the busy motorbike-filled roads. But it’s escapism to get to the Culture Park, to join the locals circling the park, you could even join the many martial arts classes freely as you pass by. To enjoy this vibrant city, leave the park and carry on past the Reunification Palace and up to the historic Notre Dame Cathedral and old Post Office; then it’s down through the park on Le Loi passing the busy Ben Thanh Market and back to the backpacker district to enjoy the entertainment in Pham Ngu Lao.
Take a breath, it’s the last leg and into Cambodia…
One of my favourite runs in Indochina is along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, running and being surrounded by local Khmers taking a break from their daily routine along the Tonle Sap river. Passing the beautiful architecture of the National Museum and Royal Palace, head up to the Independence Monument for laps of the park on Sihanouk Boulevard, darting between the gatherings of many Khmers playing Sey – spring shuttlecock (a national sport) and Sey Doc – a bamboo ball. The art of the games is the same, don’t let the Sey or Sey Doc touch the floor! With a bit of fuel left in your tank, run through the grounds of the Friendship Monument, bypassing the many aerobic classes and you will finish at the garden of peaceful Wat Phnom.
With a sprint to the finish in Siem Reap, it’s an early morning or sunset run around the amazing temples of Angkor; but if it’s more of a local experience you are looking for, follow the Siem Reap River and head off down the backroads through local villages. Come back and meet the main road for some laps of the old market, then it’s up to the Royal Independence Gardens and maybe a celebratory cocktail at Raffles!
With a little bit of spirit and stamina, running the Indochina Loop is not only good for your body and mind, but also for experiences that you may otherwise not have stumbled upon!”
Photo: Cambodia by Susan Blick