Now, here’s my story…
“What fun activities are there in Vietnam?” I ask my silent class.
We’ve already had three English lessons and conversation with my studious pupils hasn’t exactly been free flowing.
One hand rises tentatively before a barely audible whisper emerges from the timidest female student.
“There’s ostrich racing.”
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“Excuse me? Did you say ostrich racing?” I ask, mimicking a riding action in the language of international charades.
A chorus of giggling runs through the class.
It seems I’ve heard correctly. A short drive from Ho Chi Minh City is an animal park, which actively promotes this fascinating pastime.
By the end of the lesson, I’ve persuaded the students to take me to the park on a field trip. Even if they don’t want to practice their English, I’ll selfishly get to check off one of the more peculiar items on my bucket list.
In my previous ostrich racing daydreams, I’ve never given much thought to the actual mechanics of the sport. The animals are huge and appear a wee bit rebellious, maybe in response to being ridden in a way Mother Nature never designed.
Just mounting the twitching beast is a feat of acrobatic proportions.
Unlike my former research (cue Prince of Persia film), where riders are secured by way of a saddle and reigns, Vietnamese ostrich racing adopts a far more DIY approach.
The handlers instruct me to balance precisely on the apex of my steed’s knobbly back, using its wings for support and to change direction.
Unsurprisingly, my feisty charge doesn’t react well to a fat Westerner scrambling onto its back and tugging its wings.
Before I’ve even had time to interpret my Vietnamese instruction manual, the handler lets go and we’re off like a lightning bolt.
There’s little opportunity to even think about direction as the ostrich sprints in desperate circles attempting to unseat me.
Naturally, before long I end up in a heap on the floor with a huge rip in the crotch of my trousers and searing pain in my groin due to a pulled muscle.
My wily foe prances about victoriously, an annoyingly smug expression on its beaky face.
The students roar with laughter, clearly enjoying having reduced their teacher to an angry gibbering mess.
Humiliated, I resolve to tame my spirited opponent. On my next attempt, I stay the course for longer and even make a left-hand turn with some panache before being ejected face first into the dirt.
Luckily I even manage to roll away from the retaliatory kicks of my angry bird.
Meanwhile, my lithe and supple Vietnamese counterparts are performing turns on a sixpence and parading around the arena as if competing for marks in a dressage competition.
Having narrowly avoided an eye pecking by my increasingly frustrated adversary, I mount stylishly for a third and final attempt.
Just when I think I’ve mastered my ostrich, Phil, as I’ve chosen to name him, unleashes his secret weapon. Accelerating worryingly fast towards the fence at the end of the track, he hits the brakes spectacularly, leaving momentum to do its cruel work.
As I somersault over my feathered friend, hanging onto his neck for dear life, he takes off again, dragging me through the mud until I deem it advisable to let go.
Phil trots back to his pen happily, clearly having forgotten about me already. I dust myself down, defeated.
Despite falling repeatedly, ripping my trousers, tearing my groin and bruising my ego, I’ve had a whole lot of fun.
What’s more, my students laugh and joke happily in English, while recounting one of the most unaccomplished ostrich riding performances they’ve ever witnessed.
I’ll get you next time Phil, I swear.
Other activities at the park
As well as riding ostriches you can also sample their meat in the BBQ style restaurant, there is crocodile to try too if it takes your fancy. There are other animals at the park, such as the aforementioned crocodiles, as well as a host of other rough and tumble activities. Dry tobogganing, rowing on the lake, paintballing and general strolling around the lovely grounds are just a sample of the other delights on offer.