Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 13 - Meeting Couchsurfers in HCMC/First Day On My Own

So this is it...the first day travelling on my own! I woke up to have breakfast with my family before saying goodbye as they left for the airport. I spent last night researching hotel/hostel options for today, before deciding that I would just walk over to the tourist section of District 1 and find a place to sleep on the spot.

I walked over to the area for the first time, and it was just like all the other tourist areas in Bangkok and Siem Reap – lots of massage parlors, bars, hotels, travel agencies, and convenience stores. Seeing that I had my backpacks on while walking around, a couple of hotel receptionists yelled out at me to see if I wanted to room with them. One of them offered a room for $10 USD, and after thinking about it, I opted to go to a different hotel that I read positive reviews for and had recommendations from friends for. I figure I could always find cheap places throughout my trip, but I wanted my first night alone to go without a hitch, a conservative move on my part.

The hotel was a good experience. The women who worked there were extremely friendly and helpful, and the room was clean and the air conditioning worked perfectly. The only negatives were that I didn't have a window, the room was like a box, and I had to walk up 8 flights of stairs each time I left and came back to the hotel, but for $16, it was a good deal and worth it. I'll splurge once in a while when I feel I NEED to relax in comfort.

No touristy sites for me today. I ended up talking to some people and getting really diverse perspectives on all sorts of topics. I met my first two couchsurfing buddies and had lunch and dinner with them.

My first buddy picked me up on her motorbike and took me to a good vegetarian vietnamese restaurant. It was my first time on this trip that I rode on a motorbike in the dense traffic. It was scary at first because cars and bikes are going towards you in all directions, and as a passenger, you don't have any control of the direction of your bike, but after a while, it became exhilarating to be able to experience all the chaos and action first hand.

My couchsurfing buddy was Austrialian and has been living in Vietnam for 7 years, spending most of her time teaching English to people of all ages. She has recently taken a break from work to just relax and actually see more of the world. She recently came back from Bangkok, and showed me some of the new tattoos she got from a teacher there, and it kind of sparked my interest in getting one. We talked about some of her experiences travelling to other SE Asian countries and her favorites were Burma and Laos. I asked her why she decided on coming to live in Vietnam, and she said that she just fell in love with the people here because they are all so friendly, despite all the poverty around the area. She travelled to other SE Asian countries, but for some reason, there was something special about Vietnam. I asked her if she ever planned on leaving the country, but at least in the near future, she doesn't see herself leaving. I thought it was very exciting, but also brave of her to be able to leave her home country to live in another country for so long. Many people travel to other countries to teach English, but I think those are only temporary plans for people who want to travel, but for her, it was more than that. It was the love of the culture and the people.

Despite being in Vietnam for seven years, she said she hasn't quite mastered the language yet. The Vietnamese people are pretty lenient on someone who is learning the language for the first time, but after maybe four years, they expect you to be able to speak fluently. I got her perspective on the political opinions of the people of the country and her experiences teaching English. We also shared stories about our lives and she offered me tips on staying safe while travelling. A very good first experience with CS!

After being dropped off at my hotel, I walked around the area to check out the travel agencies to see what I could book myself. On the first day, I already broke my intentions of taking things slowly and doing things spontaneously. I booked many activities for myself in Vietnam over the next 2 weeks... I ended up booking a 2 day/1 night tour of the Mekong Delta, with its famous floating markets, for tomorrow. I also planned on taking a bus ride to Rach Gia and then taking a boat to the Phu Quoc islands. I booked a flight from Phu Quoc back to HCMC. I booked an open bus ticket from HCMC to Nha Trang to Hoi An to Hue to Hanoi. I booked a 3 night/2 day trip to Sapa, in the Northern part of Vietnam, and I booked a 2 day/1 night trip to Halong Bay... I already feel tired just thinking about the next few weeks!

After all this planning, I met up with another couchsurfing friend for dinner and Boba milk tea after. Again, he picked me up at the hotel and we rode on his motorbike to a Hue-influenced restaurant where I had some of the best spring rolls I've ever had! The restaurant had many tourists, but it seemed authentic. Afterwards, we rode on his bike through the rain to a tea house. Again, pretty scary riding on a bike while it was raining and at night, but again, it felt so good and free riding the streets with the rain falling from the sky. This buddy was born in Nha Trang and now resides in HCMC for work. It was fun talking to him about his opinions of Americans because he did the whole couchsurfing thing a couple years back, visiting New York, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, and California. He also did a work/study program for almost half a year in the U.S. He said his favorite place in the U.S. was Chicago. He spoke of living with a bunch of college students near the outskirts of Los Angeles (he didn't remember the university) and was shocked at how dirty we students were. I laughed at this as I would agree with him on that. He told me about his experience with the “weed” and party culture of college, which again, I laughed at. I asked him what he usually did on the weekends, and he said that most Vietnamese people don't really go out to dance or drink beer like Americans do. The most popular thing to do is drink coffee at a coffee shop or maybe watch a movie in the theatres. He told me about a Beach Festival that is being held in Nha Trang in a couple weeks, and I hope to be able to visit.

Already a jam-packed and tiring day, I met another friend late at night for a drink at a bar in the tourist area. Part Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese, he was in Vietnam for work. We met up with his other two friends, who both taught English. One was originally from Pennsylvania, while the other was Part Chinese/Part Filipino, originally from the Phillippines.

Already such an enriching trip, meeting many different people, and learning about many diverse cultures.

Riding on my first motorbike in Vietnam with my first CS friend

Lunch - Vermicelli made with Cassava and Vegetable Soup

Dinner - Grilled Meat Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce


  1. I wont be surprised if u come back with tattoos then...

    I look forward to reading your posts every day!