Besa Kim has finished a 2,358km marathon from Cà Mau Province to Hà Nội in 70 days. — Photo courtesy of Tô Hiếu Trung

Besa Kim, a 55-year-old man from Busan, South Korea, has captured the hearts of the Vietnamese people with his incredible feat of endurance.

In just 70 days, he has run an astonishing 2,358km from Cà Mau, the southernmost province of Việt Nam, all the way to Hà Nội, and he shows no signs of slowing down as he embarks on the return journey.

What's truly remarkable is the outpouring of support and affection that Kim has received from the locals along the way. Their encouragement and kindness have inspired him to consider making Việt Nam his second home.

It all started with a glance at Việt Nam's map during his month-long stay in January 2020. The idea of running the entire length of the country took hold of Kim, and he's been working tirelessly ever since to make it a reality.

“I was staying in Việt Nam on the occasion of my son’s winter holiday. Seeing Việt Nam’s map, I found some similarities with Korea,” he recalled.

“As you know, Korea is a divided country, so every year, in the hope of unification, a cross-country race is organised from Mokpo to Seoul, but the distance is short because runners cannot race to North Korea.”

“Việt Nam is a country where you can run from Cà Mau to Hà Nội freely, so I had the desire to give it a try.”

At the end of May 2022, Kim went to HCM City and began to train his adaptability to the local climate by running 10km a day for four months.

He then returned to South Korea in September, started to learn Vietnamese and prepared the necessary equipment for his journey across Việt Nam.

His marathon began on January 1 from the Cà Mau Province. Every day, he aimed to run at least 30km while carrying a 10kg backpack that consists of clothes, nightwear, medicine and other necessities.

Kim usually started running at dawn when the weather is cool to maintain strength. He only ran along Highway 1 and did not drop by famous attractions on the way.

He was impressed by the landscape of Hải Vân Pass and the clean, beautiful Thanh Hóa City. But what surprised him the most was the support and affection of the locals.

Kim has received much support and encouragement from locals. — Photo courtesy of Besa Kim

“All the Vietnamese people I met are always willing to give me water, drinks, food and even money.

“Even the security officers offer me bottled water and cheer me up when I pass by, even when it's their busy working hours,” Kim said.

One of his most unforgettable memories was the help he received from a lorry driver while both were moving up a slope.

“The driver stopped the vehicle along the slope to give me a 1.5l iced bottle of water.

“However, he could not get going again after pausing on the slope and had to roll back down to the bottom, which he might have been unaware of.

“I was touched by his kindness and felt that the iced water he gave me tasted the best in the world,” he recalled.

Kim said the most difficult part was finding a hotel to take a break along the highway.

“If you ride a motorbike or a car, you can travel quickly on long distances to find a hotel, but it might be too tiring for me after running continuously for ten hours a day. However, I have to endure the pain to find a place to sleep and get re-energised for the next day’s running.”

At the beginning of the run, he weighed 74kg, but has lost 19kg since then.

“My weight has decreased, however, I feel healthier and more active,” he said.

Kim has 20 years of experience running marathons. He said the secret is not smoking and regular exercise.

Besa Kim with Tô Hiếu Trung. Along with members of the Vietnamese marathon community, Trung has assisted Kim with water and presented him with new backpacks and running shoes. — Photo courtesy of Tô Hiếu Trung

Tô Hiếu Trung, a businessman from Hà Nội, said he met Kim by chance and was impressed by his durability.

He and many members of the Vietnamese marathon community have assisted him with water and presented him with new backpacks and running shoes. They are also ready to support Kim on his way ahead.

"Kim is running alone while carrying a backpack of 10kg, which is too strenuous. Only when we are trekking in the forest do we carry such heavy backpacks," Trung said.

His 2,358km run from Cà Mau Province to Hà Nội ended on March 11, after 70 days.

Taking five days off, he immediately embarked on his journey back on March 16. The 55-year-old Korean man said there are 101 ways to return, but his ultimate goal is to end his journey at its starting point.

Besa Kim in front of Mỹ Đình National Stadium after finishing his marathon from Cà Mau Province to Hà Nội. — Photo courtesy of Besa Kim

"A lot of Vietnamese people have supported and encouraged me on this journey," Kim said. "It's hard to write it all down in a diary.

“As soon as I return to Cà Mau to complete the marathon, I will return to South Korea to visit my son.

“I am also thinking about moving to Việt Nam to live for good.” — VNS