My husband spent 2 and a half years walking from Estonia to Vietnam
By Hoe I Yune, Feb 21, 2019
This is a story of how Sâm, a Vietnamese, met her husband Meigo, an Estonian. Told from Sâm’s perspective, it’s a heartwarming love story of how two people from completely different sides of the world got together, and shared a largely long-distance relationship before getting married. She shares how she supported his dreams of travelling the world by foot (her husband Meigo walked through 22 countries) and how they overcame the physical distance as he went about chasing his dreams.
My name is Nguyễn Thị Sâm and I’m 29 this year. I work at Samsung Vietnam’s R&D Center. Born and raised in Vietnam, I‘ve always been interested in travelling and have travelled almost all over Vietnam. The mountains in Northern Vietnam and the beaches in Central Vietnam especially are my favourite spots. They’re such beautiful places and I love the outdoors.
My husband Meigo and I first met in December 2016 at a tea party hosted by a mutual friend. It was his farewell party before moving back to France. At the time, Meigo was volunteering to teach English at a new English language center in Vietnam, which I helped kickstart.
At the party, I noticed Meigo immediately - he looked very kind and had very beautiful blue eyes and a warm, friendly smile. Also he danced very nicely and differently.
The first time we met, we only chatted for a bit. I did not know about his long journey and plans to walk around the world then. He seemed very respectful, humble and kind. I noticed it in how nicely he treated other people.
It was just before our second meeting that I read about him in the newspapers and magazine for having walked from his hometown in Estonia to Vietnam. I thought - wow! It took him two and a half years, walking over 13, 000km to arrive from Estonia to Vietnam. Not stopping for any buses or cars, only getting onboard boats, ferries or ships to cross rivers and seas. It struck me as physically demanding and I thought he was really brave to have done all that!
I was impressed by his unconventional approach - how by walking rather than relying on modes of transportation, he went from not just one tourist attraction to another, but trekked through remote villages tucked away in the hills.
There were people who exclaimed that he was the first westerner they saw out of their TV screens. By then, he had stayed and slept in almost 200 different homes with local families. It sounded so enriching, seeing what life’s like for locals from the inside.
It turned out that Meigo was in Vietnam because he had to take a break for a month while he applied for a visa for China. He had already travelled across 19 countries by then.
I’ve always wanted to run from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and it has been my dream too to travel around the world. When I was a student, I would exercise in a park near my university (University of Science and Technology of Hanoi), but I had never attempted anything quite like what he had done.
I wanted to find out more from him. Like how was it possible that he started out with only 8 euros in his pocket and a tent to camp in. (He eventually sold his house and attention from the press led to donations by people from many countries.)
Feeling inspired and motivated by the news, I asked if I could join him.
He tried to convince me that it is not easy to walk many days with a heavy backpack. Undeterred, I showed him photos of my everyday running and told him how just the week before, I had completed a 21km half marathon. I was sure that I could walk at least a few hundred kilometers.
I was curious and organised a group walk in the city with some friends. My friends had read about Meigo and wanted to meet him too. We planned it one weekend when we wouldn’t have to go to work, walking around West Lake - the biggest lake in Hanoi. It took us four hours to cover the 16km.
Meigo kept saying that a short walk might be nice but to continuously walk hundreds and thousands of kilometers in an unknown territory is physically and emotionally taxing.
I really enjoyed being together with Meigo. We naturally grew close. It was as if we somehow already knew each other from a previous lifetime and finally got to meet again in this life.
He seemed like someone with a good sincere heart. It was in the way that he moved and talked. I could just feel it.
Meigo was stuck in Hanoi waiting for his Chinese visa to be approved, so I wound up spending half of my free time with him. When I told him that I normally ran 5 km every morning, he asked to join me. He told me that he too loves running and eating all that rice and tofu, and resting so much in Hanoi, would make it very hard for him to continue with his walk if he doesn’t look after his fitness. Running at 6am became our routine for three weeks.
I knew that he studied music and was a musician himself, so I took him to a local concert. We also caught movies at the cinema, and on Kitchen God Day, we released fish back into the lakes and pond while saying prayers for them. We were both interested in learning about each other’s cultures. We respected and admired each other a lot, and that mutual respect and admiration only strengthened over time. We also felt very comfortable and totally free while being close to one another.
It was really like we knew each other in a past life and our relationship is continuing in this one. It was like we were fated to meet.
Travelling on foot, Meigo wanted to keep his backpack very light and carried few clothes. I planned to buy him new shoes because as a runner myself, I know how important a good pair of shoes are. But he just bought new ones himself. I wanted to support him and show my affection so I got him a pair of trousers instead. That and a copy of “The Little Prince”, a thin little book that he particularly enjoyed.
On January 4, 2017 – a little after we became a couple, Meigo prepared to leave Hanoi. Together with two other friends, I walked with him over 20km to the city border. We spent the night camping in a park on the way. The next morning, when it was time to part ways, we both cried a lot as we said our goodbyes. Later, Meigo told me that he thought we might never see each other again. But frankly, I had already planned to meet him on the road!
He’d send photos, videos and voice messages. Since he was travelling on foot, he moved very slowly. So after two days on foot, the distance between us could’ve been covered in one hour by bus. We both missed each other a lot and Meigo invited me to meet him, so I looked up bus tickets to join him.
It was also the weekend, meaning I had time off work. That Sunday, we walked together for an entire day from dawn till dusk - over 60km. It was his personal record. I also knew that as he journeys further away, it would’ve become more difficult for me to just join him on a whim.
The days spent walking and travelling with Meigo have been some of the very best days of my life. I really loved walking through the small remote villages where people are so relaxed and easy-going. There were people who had never encountered a foreign tourist before. It was amazing how kind people could be, stopping us to give us tea, coffee and food.
That time aside, I met Meigo four other times by plane in different parts of Vietnam, then I flew twice to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In one year, I met him exactly 10 times - two times by bus and eight times by airplane.
Meigo kept in touch almost every day, sending voice messages and videos. We texted and spoke on the phone as often as we could, but there were times when he’d walk through dense mountain areas or jungles without mobile signal and internet service.
I’d worry because he could have no internet for a few days, and I knew he was walking under extreme heat and heavy rain, and he camped a lot - staying in remote forests where the wildlife can be dangerous. But I also trusted him, knowing how strong and experienced he was as a solo traveller.
His big dream to walk around the world has always impressed me and it is one of the reasons why I fell in love with him. I want to do my very best to help him to achieve this dream. Even back then, I definitely didn’t want to hold him back by asking him to stay with me.
Being in a long-distance relationship, I felt very thankful that we live in a time when we could instantly connect. I loved getting updates from Meigo - where was he walking, what’s the nature and people there like, and seeing the photos and videos. It’d feel like I was travelling with him.
I think communicating while apart came very naturally to us because we accepted being in a long distance relationship from day one and learned to enjoy every aspect of it! But of course I also looked forward to our next meetings. I’d make plans to meet him in the next big city along his journey and counted down the days.
Our relationship developed very naturally. Everything happened as a next logical step. We never pushed anything, never hurried or held something back. And we both feel very strongly that our meeting and relationship is because of fate.
By Vietnamese cultural standards, you’re no longer considered young when you’re unwed at the age of 26 or 27. So it was normal that my family and friends would ask when I was getting married. Especially around the new year holidays - they’d ask a lot! “When will you get married?” “You should get married soon!” “Do you have someone already? Why not get married?”
My family’s pretty easy going and supportive in that they never questioned me dating a foreigner. They respect my choice. And they really love Meigo because he is so kind, nice and humble.
Marriage was something that Meigo and I talked about but we were also wary of the challenges, having heard from married friends how hard it can be to keep things positive and fresh. Still, it felt right.
Tying the knot
After more than five months of knowing each other, Meigo proposed at the top of Lang Biang Mountain in Da Lat. We had talked about Da Lat being a great place to propose - since it is the love capital of Vietnam, but that didn’t stop me from feeling surprised and touched by the romantic gesture.
Meigo waited until the other people had left from the top and there were only two of us there. Then he pulled out two beautiful rings made from bamboo, which he spent the night before crafting himself.
We were engaged for a year or so before our wedding ceremony took place in October last year in my hometown Đông Sơn (it’s about 95km Southeast from Hanoi). I might’ve been sleep-deprived and in pain from having traded in my usual sport shoes for high heels, but I felt thankful that relatives and friends came to celebrate the occasion with us.
It was a bittersweet moment - my mother passed away three years ago and my father was ill, so I was a little sad that they weren’t there to witness the moment. I was however proud to have worn the traditional Vietnamese dress Ao Dai.
Both of us are vegan so we had 15 different kinds of vegan dishes made by Buddhists.
Seven members of Meigo’s family flew over from Europe and after the wedding, we rented a minibus to travel around the islands and mountains of Vietnam. I learned that there’s an actual word for spending the honeymoon with a family - a famimoon.
Meigo and I are currently based in Vietnam. He’s taking a break from his walk around the world. His backbone is a bit bent and he is recuperating from nerve and breathing problems - having carried a heavy backpack for over four years on his journey. He is doing different exercises, sports, massages, and is resting on doctor’s orders.
But he has also been paid to write about his travels and has been updating his YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/meigomark). Most recently, he was approached by a publishing company that wants him to write a book.
Meanwhile, I am pregnant and scheduled to give birth to our baby girl next month! But we definitely have big plans to continue travelling together by the end of the year. All three of us. Meigo will continue travelling on foot but I’ll be with our daughter, closeby in a camper van.
It’s my dream to help Meigo fulfill his dream of walking around the world, and I want us to travel around the world together. I’ve already travelled to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Cambodia, and can’t wait to see what’s next.
Photos provided by Nguyễn Thị Sâm and Meigo Märk.
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