When visiting Phong Nha-Ke Bang caves in northern Quang Binh Province in April, wheelchair-bound Anh threw caution to the wind and proceeded across the increasingly ragged terrain on his knees.
No one would ever have thought the 33-year-old osteogenesis imperfecta patient to be as passionate about exploring new lands and cultures, regardless of method or obstacles.
Once, he even embarked on a trans-Vietnam journey using savings accumulated over five years.
“Bound to a wheelchair all your life, the only desire you experience is to get up, run, walk and look at life from a completely different angle. Though my legs are weak, my dreams are powerful,” he maintained.
In February 2016, on his knees, Anh scaled 600 steps to the top of Fansipan, the highest peak in the Indochinese Peninsula, in northern Lai Chau Province
“A capable person could leisurely climb 600 stone steps to reach the top. But you can image the challenge of doing so on your knees,” he said.
During the journey, he received lots of strange looks from passersby, alongside some encouragement, one stranger calling out, “Only 10 more steps ahead, don’t give up brother!”
Anh en route to conquering Mount Fansipan. Photo courtesy of Anh.
When he finally reached “the Roof of Indochina,” Anh was drenched in sweat, the fabric of his jeans worn away, his skin swollen and red. Brimming with joy, he told himself: “This is wonderful! Thanks to my hard work and people’s encouragement, I made it to the top.”
“I often considered quitting, but I kept my determination strong. When others went fast, I slowed my pace and tread carefully. I wanted to rely on myself alone to fully enjoy the experience.”
On another occasion, while visiting the eastern most part of Vietnam, Anh tried to traverse a bumpy 2.5 km route through a forest.
“I had to rest a total 30 minutes along the way, wrapping grass around my knees to reduce the wear and pain,” he said.
Over time, the ardent adventurer has explored the country’s most northern province of Ha Giang, central Khanh Hoa Province, southern Ca Mau Province, northern Dien Bien Province, besides visiting Thailand, South Korea, and Japan, among others.
After setting foot in 42 Vietnamese localities and 10 Asian countries, Anh decided to temporally halt his travels at the end of 2016 and return to Hanoi to care for his sick father. Only in April this year did he resume his quest, heading straight to Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
200 bad breaks
Anh sitting next to his wheelchair. Photo courtesy of Anh.
“There is a saying that you will succeed in something if you spend over 10,000 hours on it. So, I managed to beat my fear of broken bones,” he joked.
At eight months old, he broke a hand and a leg for the first time. Since then, his bones have broken nearly 200 times.
At 21, he asked his parents to let him move from northern Hai Phong City to Hanoi. At first, they did not agree, but later gave in on the condition he call home twice or thrice a day and his father would check up on him every few weeks.
In his 10 years living in the capital, Anh has worked repairing phones and computers to doing graphic design. Recently, he opened his own company focused on shipping goods from the U.S. to Vietnam.
Anh next plans to conquer the northwestern region of Vietnam, while continuing his focus on a charity project providing wheelchairs to those with disabilities.