Over the past 10 weeks in Southeast Asia I’ve run over 500km across 5 countries (Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia). I couldn’t even begin to count the number of kids that have said hello and given me high fives, the villages I’ve passed through, the number of sunrises I’ve watched, or how many dogs have chased after me. I usually ran first thing in the morning, and how different a place can be at sun up; locals are heading into work, monks are walking the streets, food stalls are prepping breakfast (aka turning a live chicken into the meat skewer you’ll be buying when you stumble out of bed). Most of my runs we’re really hot, and I didn’t always want to lace up my shoes, but there isn’t a run I wish I didn’t do.
1. Beware of dogs
The dogs you come across in SE Asia aren’t like the cute little house pets you come across back home. Most dogs are either wild or they’re guard dogs; either way you need to be careful. A wild dog is essentially a wild animal. Sure it may look similar to your neighbours pup, but it isn’t. A wild dog is very territorial, as well as a scavenger. A guard dog is slightly more domesticated than a wild dog, but don’t expect him to sit and roll over on command. A guard dog is there to protect property. There was rarely a run in Asia where a dog didn’t bark at me. I’d say at least a third of my runs I had a dog chase me, but there were only a couple times where I really felt threatened. In those instances I put trust in my legs and took off, the dog always gave up inside 100m. In talking to a couple other runners over here some run with a rock in their hand and if a dog chases them they stop, hold the rock up ready to throw and make a loud grunting sound. They claim this would always stop a dog in its tracks. I never gave this a try, I have more confidence in my legs than my arm, and besides, it’s basically just an unplanned interval!
2. Cash and ID
When I run I always carry cash and my ID (drivers license). Cash is king, and with a couple of bucks in my pocket I could run knowing I’d be fine in most-any situation. I only ever had to use the money if I got thirsty and needed to stop for water, but I also had it incase I got lost and needed to get a tuk tuk, or if something happened and I needed to be bandaged up. The ID was incase something more catastrophic happened, I’m not at home and barely anyone knows me or would know how to find out who I am, so an ID would be useful in that scenario.
3. Out and back
Almost all of my runs were an out and back. If I wanted a 10k run I ran 5k along a road, turned around, and then ran 5k back. It helped prevent me from getting lost. If I was somewhere that had easily identifiable landmarks (the moat in Chiang Mai, or the statues in Phnom Penh) I might run a loop, but otherwise it was my foolproof way to not get lost. I tried running with my phone to follow a route a couple times but I found I spent more time looking at my phone to ensure I was on track than I did taking in the run.
In most places the areas tourists keep to are remarkably small. Sure people my take a tuk tuk or bike to a place of interest, but they don’t wander more than 500m from the main street where they’re staying. On a run you quickly run outside this area, and life can look very different. English quickly disappears, and reality of local living is quickly apparent. Restaurants with wifi are quickly replaced by humble huts with a cook fire or hot plate. I’m sure the economic impact of the tourist centres skew local life from what it would traditionally be, but getting outside of the main street bubble lets you see what life (and their struggles) are really like in the areas you visit.
In SE Asia there aren’t many people that run. For most locals it’s just not a productive use of their time. This means that when they see someone run (especially a white guy) a lot of people look and point. There are also kids that will run alongside you. Don’t forget to smile and enjoy all of this. Many of the kids will wave and say hello, and a hello in return can put a big smile on their face. Take it all in, some things are just more important than hitting paces on your intervals halfway around the world.