Friday, March 25, 2011

My First Couch Surfing Experience in Hanoi

Announcement! I had just submitted this page in the run for a travel blogging competition, if you like my post, please also facebook like it at the end of the article by following this link.

Another submission is here, like it to support me so I can continue on my traveling journal. Thanks!

I recalled it was one of the most anticipating year end short get away trip that I eagerly awaited.

This was also my first solo backpacking trip couple of years back, decisions during travel was always easy to make though not all were perfect like deciding to avoid the desperate taxi drivers and to walk 30 minutes to Hanoi Old Town from the train station 5am in the morning with the weather well below 20 degrees wasn't really pleasant. But that's what made the experience so exciting!

It was a nine days trip Hanoi trip, research on budget hotels and packages to Halong Bay and Sapa trekking were all done before hand, and booked locally when I was there.

The legendary Turtle Lake, where the keeper of the sword is a Giant Turtle at Hoan Kiem Lake. This was where I took time leisurely walk around

How it felt to be first timer?

It was a little nervous at first, about everything, you know, like not able to book things in advance, not able to go according to plan, decisions were so impromptu and last minute changes were normal no matter how much planning I had. Unlike any other trip I had before, it was absolutely the sweetest experience ever!

The budget hotel rates range between $8-15, the better appearance from the look the more expensive it is, and always easy to get a budgeted hotel in Old Town near Hoan Kiem Lake. Be sure to check the room condition before you commit.

I had to stay at Dr. Tuyet’s, the arrangement with Dr. Tuyet was quite last minute as my other Couch Surfer, Fred said she couldn’t host me on the first night at the very last minute before I left for Vietnam. Unexpected things just happened, that's quite normal.

Dr. Tuyet, my sweet host during my backpacking trip in Hanoi. She loved the roti canai I brought from Malaysia.

What is Couch Surfing?

CouchSurfing is a hospitality exchange online network and the renowned website is supported by an enormous 2.6million members from 245 countries and territories, where travel enthusiasts can choose to host guests or being hosted when they visit specific countries or places.

The arrangement between the host and guest is solely based on merit, and early arrangement. To date, there are 3million successful host and surf, and operating just relying on donation from its advocates.

CouchSurfing's mission is quite inspiring quoted as:
"At CouchSurfing International, we envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community."
There were a few considerations before I made my embarkment to Hanoi to stay with my host, these are usually the considerations from both parties such as the background, spoken language, condition of resting area, preferred gender, distance from tourist hotspot, pets, smoking.

Another consideration for me was the status of the host, whether they were parents with kids or students or working adult like me. Mostly parents would apply stricter rules for such I had to get home by 11pm staying with Dr. Tuyet where some would pass you the key so you won't need them if you come home late.

You might have more flexibility on arrangement with younger adults as some might stay up late, but my advise is to get home earlier, try to be considerate to repay the host's generosity of the free hospitality.

The Couch surf experience was rather unique, my hosts were generally very kind and helpful with a lot of insights about Hanoi and trip recommendation.

Make sure you do what I did, I brought roti canai and durian kuih for my host as token of appreciation. It's the greatest way of showing gratitude to your host by giving some food, snacks, or other souvenirs that symbolize our country. It's not necessary to be expensive items.

Dr. Tuyet is a half retired psychologist, a Vietnamese who's married to an ex-US diplomat, having two children who now live in the States. She spent 2 hours rescheduling my itinerary, cooked me breakfast she didn't have to, I couldn't have asked for more from her!

We had great time exchanging our stories from our own cultures and countries.

The weather was just nice, it was probably around 23 degrees with the Sun poking in and out in the cloudy sky.

Taking the cab from Hanoi International Airport to town was easy, with standard rate of $15. Look around and you will likely to find some Europeans to share the ride to town like I did.

Dr. Tuyet's apartment

Dr. Tuyet's apartment was situated at Kim Ma Street, the streets were getting busier as I passed the Old Town. It was an overwhelming experience to walk the busy streets, I wasn't surprised by my travel book's recommendation to readers to sit down at the restaurant, downing a beer and watching the world goes by... It's simply magnificent!

Oranges @ Hanoi old quarter street

Tien, my motorbike driver took us off for one of the famous local food in Hanoi, Bun Cha. The experience on the bike roaming in the busy Old Town streets wasn’t particularly comfortable with the excessive motorbikes and didn't help by the confusing traffic system.

Tien, my trusted driver

I was quite uneasy at first, but had quickly adjusted to the mind blowing traffic condition in Hanoi, anyone would be easily blown away to see how the locals mobilized around the town at such rate, they probably had developed their own traffic system.

The bikes would avoid and go around me when I crossed the street, like ants surrounding me.

But don’t get fooled, watch where you are heading and always pay 110% attention to the situation on the road, especially when you travel a lot on foot.


  1. have you tried Works for me every time!


  2. I did, it's a another fantastic site for free couch =) but my network is more on CS.

  3. Yes! CS rocks! Hey add me on CS, i didnt knw ur on CS too!

  4. How did you bring roti canai, I thought it would become soft(not tasty) when you arrive in Hanoi. Did you buy it from the supermarket?

    1. Nope Steven, I got it hot from the Mamak restaurant near my home. The host can always re-heat them =)