This weekend truly gave an insight in the Vietnamese way of traveling. It was a pure coincidence that things happened the way they did so I'll explain everything from the beginning.
When I came to Vietnam, I contacted randomly some people on CouchSurfing. One of the people who answered my message was Huong. We met last Tuesday. That same evening she had a meeting about a trip that weekend and I accompanied her there. The people were surprised to see me at the meeting but welcomed me warmly and asked me to join the trip. Two days later my other plans got cancelled so I signed up.
The trip was organized entirely by private people. The group was gathered on a Vietnamese internet forum where the discussion about backpacking and exploring Vietnam is active. So, on Friday after work, 27 Vietnamese persons between 22 and 29 years of age and I crammed into a bus and drove 5 hours to Van Don. On the way we stopped in a road side restaurant and just like the other days, we ate the traditional way: 6 people around one table sharing 4-8 different courses plus rice and soup. Everybody have a small bowl for rice/soup and the pieces of food are taken with one's own chopsticks.
In Van Don we had hotel rooms booked. 4 people per bed. The 120x200cm bed fit us actually quite nicely and I got luxury treatment by having my own space on the floor. What surprised me (but was obvious afterwards) was that the couples didn't even discuss about sleeping together. The girls had their rooms, the boys had theirs.
After a 3 hour boat ride the next morning we arrived to Co To island at 9 a.m. The boat ride was quite absurd in itself because the Asian people are surprisingly motion sick so many of the passengers were throwing up. Our accomondation was homestay. Two families rented us small rooms with bamboo carpets that were supposed to be our beds. We had lunch and that was about the only thing we did before 4 p.m. You see, the Vietnamese are surprisingly sensitive about the heath so avoiding the sun (and getting tanned) is a good excuse for resting the day. When the sun started setting, we got 3 people on a motorbike and started exploring the small island. In the end we went to the beach. What was maybe most surprising to me was that only a handful of the Vietnamese could swim. A couple of us swam to a boat not far the shore where some soldiers were enjoying their evening off. They were happy to get the company (and have a woman on the boat, I guess) and invited us beer and sausages.
At night the rooms were too hot to sleep in. Therefore, everybody slept on the patio. I had been adopted by a group of 5 people who were amazing and so kind to me, maybe the best thing this weekend. They had reserved me a place in their tent so the bugs didn't bother us. But everybody was sleeping on the hard ground with no pillow. And no one was complaining.
Next morning I woke up at 6.05 am. I was the last one sleeping. Everybody was having breakfast or showering. By 7 am I was sitting on a motorcycle again touring around the island and by 7.45 I was swimming in the sea.
To top it all off, on our way back the boat was packed so we lay on the roof and slept. The boat went through Halong Bay, a world heritage site and one of the 7 new wonders of the world. Think of Avatar and the scenes where the last battle is fought. Add water and you have Halong Bay. So lying there and seeing these incredible rock formations, that was just a perfect end to a nice weekend.
The trip gave me so much and it introduced me to like minded people who I am eager to meet again. Suddenly one more month is not nearly enough in Vietnam.