Couchsurfing the south of rainy Vietnam

Rain, rain, rain… First time I’ve seen rain in one month. It feels refreshing though.
After a sleepless night on the airport from Beijing, a silent flight to KL, and a plane filled with beautiful Vietnamese girls, I arrive in Saigon.
Seeing christmas decorations while it’s 30ºC still messes with my brain. It just doesn’t feel right.
Besides this, every 10 minutes I’m falling in love with the beauty of the Vietnamese people!
Vietnam: where the girls are pretty, coffees are yummy, and the beers are cheap.
Vietnam: tasty food, 1.000.000 motorbikes, and smiling people who speak English and love cute dogs

Saigon

When you ask people if they know Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City is the actual name), they either love it or hate it. I’ve never seen so many motorbikes together in my life!
This gif shows nicely how it is to cross the street in Saigon:
(maybe even more motorbikes)

I was staying at the Saigon Central hostel, a small family hostel in the center of the city.
Every morning, Moon (english translation of her Vietnamese name) would make you a nice omelet served with some fruit and bread. Maybe it was because of the size of the hostel, but it was really easy to talk with everyone!

War

Unfortunately, Vietnam is also known for his war background. For more than 20 years it has been in war.
As WW2 and the Vietnam war are a big interest to me, I was eager to learn more about this.
In the centre of Saigon, you’ll find the War Remnants museum, a museum dedicated to the history of the Vietnam war.
You’ll learn more about:

  • Torture techniques for interrogation
  • Living and surviving in prisons
  • American weaponry and war vehicles
  • Testimonials of journalists and photographers with the USMC (United States Marine Corps)
  • Exhibition of Agent Orange victims

Agent Orange is the name of a chemical mixture the U.S. Military used to eliminate forest cover.
They sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres.
The effects on the Vietnamese people and US Veterans were horrible:

  • Skin irritations
  • Miscarriages
  • Psychological symptoms
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease
  • Prostate cancer
  • Leukemia

When you visit the centre of Saigon, I recommend you visit this museum first. You’ll feel miserable after visiting the War Remnants museum, but you’ll feel much better after visiting the other parts of the city.
Even writing this down, one week after I saw the pictures, makes my stomach turn up-side down…

Some other nice places to visit are:

  • The Post office
    Lovely building that still functions as a post office.
  • The Notre-Dame Cathedral
    Not as big and impressive as the one from Strasbourg 😉 but still worth a visit!
  • The Independence palace
    also known as Reunification Palace, built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
  • The Ben Thanh Market
    A covered market where locals try to sell (dry) fruit, souvenirs, local dishes and lots of coffee!

Cu Chi tunnels

In the hostel, I had the pleasure of meeting Tom, a talkative guy who just flew in from his home, Czech Republic. He was about to travel all the way north by motorbike. Together with the previous owners of his motorbike we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels by public transport. This was a lot easier than visiting the Great Wall by public transport. At least the locals wanted to help and pointed us in the right direction.

The Cu Chi tunnels were dug and created by the Vietnamese soldiers to hide from the U.S. Military. They were used for hospitals, food-and weapon caches, communication, sleep... Basically, they were living in the tunnels. Knowing that the tunnels were infested by ants, centipedes, rats, scorpions etc.

A part of the tunnels is opened for public and is definitely worth a visit! We went to the Ben Duoc tunnels, which are original tunnels. Ben Dinh are the ones created afterwards for tourists.
Ben Duoc, the original ones, are a little bit smaller and you can run into bats while crawling through the tunnels 🙂 They are literally flying through your legs!


Couchsurfing

Thanks to Couchsurfing, I was able to meet up with Trang, a Vietnamese girl, who lives since a couple of years in Saigon. She gave me some good advices and inspired me for my next destinations in Vietnam. It was a pleasure meeting you Trang!
Kane, another Couchsurfer from Saigon was also eager to meet up! He drove me around Saigon by motorbike and made me try a delicious Banh Chuoi Nuong. He works for a video production company and likes to take pictures in his free time. Match-made in heaven I would say! :p

So far I haven’t written anything about the Vietnamese food, but I think I need a second article for this.
In short, the food is just amazingly delicious!

I managed to find a couchsurfing host in Mui Ne, a village north of Saigon near the coast. This couchsurfing experience turned out a bit different then I expected, in a funny positive way!

Mui Ne

I was hosted by the Russian hitch-hiking veteran, Pavel (or Pasha), who was living since a couple of months in Mui Ne.
He hitchhiked for about 22 months, through Russia, China, Azerbaijan, Iran, India… My Antwerp-Barcelona and Strasbourg-Budapest hitchhiking trips were peanuts compared to him! It was really impressive to see his passion for yoga and care for his body and mind. He wrote me a nice reference on Couchsurfing:

It was very nice time with Mats! I got Dragon form from Kung-fu, it’s very good. Study Kung-fu very well, it’s very good for mind) I want to see you again!
Good luck everywhere) – 
Pasha

In his house, we were five couchsurfers at the same time! Some sleeping in the living room, some in a private room and Pasha offered his bed to me… It was an interesting, yoga-inspired and fruity atmosphere.

The place Mui Ne wasn’t really my thing… The locals weren’t as friendly as the ones in Saigon. It was quite remarkable how many Russians were staying here! Every bar, restaurant or travel agency was first translated in Russian and then English.
It gave a unique atmosphere to this town.

Together with Fred, Carla, Olga and Elias (the other CSers) we left for Da Lat.
Pasha’s team on the road!

Da Lat

From 30ºC to 15ºC in four hours, felt actually quite pleasant… We were getting at least more smiles in this city than in Mui Ne.
With the mountains and temples just around the corner, it really felt similar to Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Maybe 50.000 more motorbikes, but that didn’t really matter.
Some places we visited during our stay:

  • Crazy house
    Just go, no words can describe this. It’s a crazy house.
  • Da Lat market + Nightmarket
    Lovely market where even the Vietnamese tourists go!
  • 100 Roofs bar
    Same as crazy house, but just a crazy bar. Just go!
  • Lang Biang
    A mountain hike about 30 minutes from the centre
  • Royal Summer palace
    The summer palace from the old Vietnamese king.
    Maybe not as impressive, but interesting to see how “basic” it actually was.

It was fracking awesome hanging out with you guys!
Elias, Carla, Fred and Olga, I wish you all safe travels, awesome Couchsurfing hosts.
Like the French expressions goes “Change pas” (don’t change ;))

Jesus… (Thanks Catarina, I still have this in my head…)
Now, I’ll stop writing… Many nice people and awesome experiences in seven days

Next stop Nha Trang and Christmas Eve in Duc Trong!

Written in a book-café in Dalat.

2 Comment

  1. I liked reading this post and knowing what you do 🙂 the Stras cathedral is tge best hahaha
    I’m waiting your next posts!

  2. Wow Mats. Noteer de recepten en hopelijk eten we de volgende keer dat we elkaar zien Vietnamees. Geniet van de reis en Prettige Kerst!

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