Darkness surrounds me, and I am alone.
Rain pounds down around me, and I know that my backpack is getting wet; I lost my pack cover a few weeks ago to a gust of wind. I feel a building sense of dread – will I find a place to sleep tonight?
I had left my friends in Hanoi, who sought out the temples and history of Hue. I was headed towards the promising adventure of limestone cliffs that jutted straight up out of the ocean. I wanted to go rock climbing, and I knew northern Vietnam was famous for it.
After a motorcycle taxi, bus, and ferry, I landed at Cat Ba Island after dark. I refused to carry a smartphone, or a guidebook, and had stubbornly decided to find my own accommodation upon arrival. It’s more fun that way, right?
But in this moment, I was not so optimistic. Here I was wandering the streets, alone at night, looking for a place to stay. What would my parents say?
As I trudged up the steep street, a motorbike approached me slowly from behind. At first I was apprehensive, and my paranoia kicked in: It’s late at night, and a stranger on a motorbike is following you… be careful!
I immediately noticed that the person driving the motorbike was female. As if she could read my mind, she told me in well-practiced English that she had a room to offer behind her house.
I looked into her eyes and felt a connection. Just from this one exchange, I trusted her. So I climbed on the back of her bike, and she took me a few blocks up the street to her house. Turning left into her driveway, I followed her up the stairs, and as soon as I saw her home, I had no doubts that I was safe.
I was greeted by her husband and daughter, who were happily surprised to see a tourist in their home.
Sure enough, there was a spacious and clean room behind her house, which she offered to me for $8/day, which I later learned was much cheaper than most of the hotels in the area. I was happy to support an individual and her family rather than a hotel. I was the first American to have stayed with her, she proudly told me as she asked me to sign her guestbook.
For the next few days, I went rock climbing on cliffs that seemed to grow out of the ocean. I kayaked around miniature mountains, returning each night to be greeted my by surrogate Vietnamese family.
When I left, I gave them a postcard from California as a parting gift. She liked it so much that she gave me some Vietnamese candy in return.
It’s not easy to trust a stranger. It goes against what society teaches us is safe. But what is a stranger, really? To me, everyone is my friend until proven otherwise. And in my two years of travel, never once did anyone steal anything from me. Never once was I taken advantage of. All throughout New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia, I was shown hospitality and kindness, and that’s what I’ve learned to expect from people.
The world can be a big, scary place, depending on your point of view. For me, I consciously choose to see it differently. I’ve decided I can go anywhere in the world and make friends. And so far, it’s worked!
4 responses to “Somewhere to Sleep: Catba Island, Vietnam”
There are enough horror stories in the media and on the web about travel that it’s nice to occasionally hear lovely experiences like this that help to restore everyone’s faith in the intrinsic humanity in all people.
Awesome that ordinary people came to your aid in your time of need … one of the things that make travel so incredible! Tim
This is sweet. I found this to be true in my travels over 20 years ago in Mexico and Central America. Even now in our travels around Europe. We will go to Southeast Asia next and looking forward to meeting great people.
Dragons swim in these waters 🙂