Vietnam is a really great place to live. It has great weather, good food, interesting history and culture, beautiful buildings and tourist spots. But despite all these multiple advantages, there are one or two constraints involved when living in this country.
One of the most common issues encountered when living in developing countries such as Vietnam is being able to buy goods that would normally be plentiful at home. And one of the types of goods I always need to buy is running wear.
The problem is that I’m really fussy about running gear.
I want gear that fits perfectly, has the right fabric and feel, and has little cool features such as internal pockets and mesh sweat ventilation and perfectly functioning zips. If I wanted an ordinary cotton girls t-shirt or an oversized polyester man’s vest, then I’d have no problem finding these in Hanoi. These normal outfits abound in Vietnam. In fact, if I wanted any sort of equipment for badminton, basketball, or ping-pong, then Vietnam is the place to be. But if I want the latest synthetic Salomon or North Face trail running T, then I’d be wasting my time. Running is not a hugely popular sport here, probably a result of the hot and sweaty climate, so finding the right gear to run in is like looking for aircon systems in the Arctic.
I’m particularly fussy about my shoes and have become a loyal support of Asics Gel Nimbus over the years. However, though there are branded Nike and Adidas stores here in Hanoi, it is impossible to buy new Asics shoes here. This is despite the fact that Vietnam actually manufactures many of these technical shoe and shirt products that wing their way into stores at home. But what makes it worse is that Vietnam’s climate is an automatic shoe killer, so a new pair that I brought out here in July has already disintegrated. They have died from all the sweat, dirt, and sun that constantly assail my shoes on their run.
I asked around all the running groups here in Hanoi to find out where I can buy a new pair. I found out that most ex-pats who live in Vietnam pick up new running shirts and shoes when in transit or on business in neighbouring Singapore, Hong Kong, or Thailand.
Fortunately, I knew I was heading to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, in October for the pan-Asia Gaelic Football Games of all things. So whilst the Gaelic players were busy playing, I was combing Bangkok, looking for a pair of Asics Nimbus.
After a series of unsuccessful searches in various department stores such as MBK, I eventually found a small wall of Asics shoes in the snazzy Siam Pentagon just beside the Siam Skytrain stop. I never thought that a pair of shoes could make me so happy. I didn’t care that they were the same price as at home (when you’d expect that all these goods would be cheaper seeing that I am buying them in the area that they were made). Fortunately, what with Thailand trying to promote tourist shopping, I could get my VAT back at the airport, so received a 7 percent discount instead.
Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived. I went for my first run in the shoes last week, and have suffered ever since from the worst, deepest blister on my heel. The problem is that I’m back now in Vietnam, so I have no other choice. I have to just suck it up and wear them in… unless I want to fork out for another 100 USD to get me to Bangkok and buy a bigger size.