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Surfing in… Vietnam
From the white-sand beaches on Phu Quoc Island to the bustling narrows street in the Old Quarter district in Hanoi, I was able to see so much of Vietnam that I would have missed without the hosts and locals I met through Couchsurfing. I was blown away by the storied history of the country, the generosity of my hosts and other locals, and, of course, the food!
Safe to say, it’s more fun to travel like a local.
I’ve wanted to travel to Vietnam since a good friend visited there a few years ago, and raved about the bustling markets, the tasty meals from street vendors, and incredibly hospitable locals.
In my week there, I tried to fit in as much as I could! Between visiting the fascinating Women’s and Hỏa Lò Prison museums, and riding a motorbike through both crowded city streets and more peaceful rural ones, it was definitely a trip to remember!
In Hanoi with Giang
Giang was my host while I was in Hanoi, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one! Giang was so accommodating, friendly, and thoughtful – in many ways, your typical Couchsurfing host.
Her house was located in a maze of relatively quiet and narrow city side-streets. When I first arrived, I got myself a bit lost trying to navigate to the address.
I must have looked pretty confused, since an older woman insisted I tell her where I was going, and proceeded to walk me the 15 minutes from where we stood to my host’s doorstep. Can’t beat Vietnamese hospitality! I was greeted by Giang’s roommate, Sam, and his girlfriend, Teesta, and we shared a cup of tea over conversations about our travels.
People from Australia, South Africa and India all lived in Giang’s house. My last night there, they hosted a traditional South African “braii,” or barbeque. We all contributed different portions of the meal (Giang’s housemate Emma and I collaborated on a watermelon drink) and enjoyed conversations about politics, life as an “expat” versus a local, and more. Perhaps the most surprising snack: bananas wrapped in bacon, grilled. Surprising, but tasty!
In Phu Quoc with Dory
Anna, called Dory by her friends, lived in Phu Quoc, a small island off the south coast of Vietnam. Dory is full of life: bubbly, goofy, and overall a ton of fun. Similar to Giang, she lives down a maze of side streets –though her neighborhood was a bit more rural than Giang’s. Though it’s hard to tell with the multitude of resorts now on the island, Phu Quoc didn’t have electricity until about 4-5 years ago! With much quieter streets than Hanoi, I felt confident renting a motorbike to explore the remainder of the island (don’t tell my mom!). Besides a few detours down muddy, bumpy roads, all went well, and I successfully made it the 45 minutes or so to the white sand Bin Sao beach that Dory had recommended.
Dory had hosted Nick and Stacia, two Couchsurfers from Colorado, just a few days prior. They were still on the island, and they joined Dory and I at the infamous night market in Phu Quoc. The highlight was grabbing some yoghurts from a local shop that we’d easily have walked right past without Dory’s local intel. Though we intended to try a flavor each, we ended up with about 15 flavors on the table when all was said and done.
Meeting other Travellers and Locals with Hangouts
Besides my hosts, I was able to find other Couchsurfers to meet up with using the Hangouts feature on the Couchsurfing app. I was able to meet up with Alex, on a several month travel adventure after a few years working in Zurich, to check out the Women’s museum in Hanoi before enjoying a beer at a local joint near the west lake in Hanoi. I was also able to meet up with Jek, who’s from the Phillipines and currently works on a cruise ship. We went for a short walk along the lake and participated in an impromptu interview about the weather and food from college students for one of their assignments. After, we met up with two other surfers: Lexa, from Romania, and Brian, from Hanoi.
Brian offered some fascinating perspective on his job as a tour guide, his upbringing, politics, and more. Later in the week, Brian invited me to come check out his hometown (about an hour outside of Hanoi) and do a hike nearby and check out some historical pagodas. After getting a snack at his house and chatting with his parents (Brian served as the translator), we were on our way. The views and the company didn’t disappoint!