After our first two nights in Vietnam we had a 40-minute public bus journey back to the centre of Saigon to process how I was feeling about our experience of the previous 36 hours.
It felt good writing feedback to the host. Consciously I was staying objective but didn’t hold back!
Writing the feedback had three purposes:
3. For the host to learn and improve
What is Couchsurfing?
“We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.”
Lost in translation
K is a business man and as a business owner myself I admire how he uses Couchsurfing. Unfortunately this did not translate to a fulfilling couchsurfing experience for us and did not fit with our interpretation or expectations of the couchsurfing philosophy.
In reality K exchanged with us space on a classroom floor for us helping him enhance the quality of his evening English classes and marketing to prospective staff and students. If you see this as purely a business transaction then this is the couchsurfing host for you.
- Good directions and pre-stay communication via couchsurfing website and WhatsApp
- Excellent Wifi in communal social/table area
- Several delicious and cheap street side restaurants within 1 minute walk
- Good public bus service into centre of Saigon (40 mins)
- As a family of four we didn’t have to share our classroom with other couchsurfers
- Our classroom had an ensuite toilet and shower room
- We are travelling with our children aged 10 and 12. The excellent wifi and large table next to the wifi, meant that we were able to get a solid day of formal education completed during our stay (probably our best in 7 weeks).
We didn’t like:
- The sleeping mats had no detectable padding and pillows had lost their spring many months ago, so sleeping on the hard floor was uncomfortable for our 40+ year old bodies. (Our children slept fine)
- The communication from K during our stay was poor and we were left guessing and assuming things (often incorrectly) throughout our stay. Once we thought K was showing us to a local eatery but because I needed to go to the bathroom first he left to eat with his girlfriend instead and didn’t tell us, so we stood outside aimlessly for 15 minutes waiting for K to show.
- We didn’t know what to do with our luggage during the day, and despite us being in the building we weren’t asked, or told, before our bags were moved to the corridor for class to start.
- Because we asked the right question we were told the room we were sleeping in would be unavailable due to classes between 5 and 9pm. However classes overran and we were still waiting at 9:30pm. With children to settle this was not helpful. Visibility of a classroom/language school activity timetable for that day would have helped enormously.
- On Sunday morning we were ‘serenaded’ by very loud pop music which started just after 7am. We were given no notice of this and would have been angry, at the unexpected nature of this noise, if we had not already woken up.
- There was air-conditioning (AC) in the classroom we slept in but, understandably, this is not made available for couchsurfers. Somehow having the AC unit in the room and not being able to use it made it worse than there not being AC at all! – (this is something we have encountered couchsurfing elsewhere too.)
- Throughout our stay I felt a bit like a performing puppet for K’s business and that we, as English speaking foreigners, were just there to give his English Language Tuition a USP (Unique Selling Point). There isn’t much given back from K by way of cultural exchange. We were given 5-10 minutes notice before we were asked to help out on three occasions during one day: first during a interview for new staff members, second during a taster session for prospective students and thirdly during one of the evening classes. I think this was more than usual because it was a Saturday/weekend.
- We only realised after the ‘taster session for new clients’ that this is what it was, if we had known beforehand we were a ‘marketing pawn’ we would probably still have participated but, had we been more informed, the whole experience would have felt positive.
We left K’s establishment feeling disappointed by the couchsurfing experience.
There is a place for entrepreneurial hosts, like K, on Couchsurfing, however our family has now learnt that this is not the experience we want or need to repeat.