A few weeks ago, Marcus Sortijas published an interesting piece on Vagabonding describing the Couchsurfing experience in the United States. As I am a Couchsurfing aficionado and have travelled more than 10 Asian countries using it, I would like to spend some words describing how this beautiful service works in another side of the world.
I would like to start introducing an important, ever present concept in Asian societies: a guest is considered as a gift from the Gods. Of course, only when it is a real, genuine guest. I feel important to describe this duality, because Couchsurfing in Asia works on the same, subliminal dualistic level: it is either great, or totally awful.
Why? Because you may be very lucky and get to experience unique moments of true hospitality and kindness with some of the most humble, accommodating people on earth. Or you may end up in the hands of some businessman – tourist operator, tour guide, hotel manager, shop owner, restaurant owner etc. – interested in giving you a free – and sometimes dirty – bed in order to push his/her services.
On account of my personal experience, most of this “second category” people are to be found in the Indian Subcontinent: flashy profiles peppered with a bunch of predominantly local users’ references are generally marks of the Devil. To cite an example, in mid 2010 me and my girlfriend visited Alleppey, Kerala. We were welcomed by an apparently friendly Couchsurfer who took us to an ayurvedic center he was working at. We were accommodated in a dirty room which probably caters to paying guests during the regular season, when it is actually cleaned and functional: there was no electricity for the best part of the day. That night we spent simmering in the horrid heat – our bodies the feast of a thousand mosquitoes biting as hard as a gang of hungry living dead – still remains one of our fondest travel horror stories.
This Couchsurfer talked to us for about 10 minutes during the whole stay, and tried to sell us a Backwaters’ tour a few times before giving up. At last, as we were about to board a little boat hours after our arrival, we found out that our host wanted to charge us three times the going rate.
Nevertheless, like the ying and the yang, Couchsurfing in Asia – and also in India, let me clarify – can also be a dreamy experience: to give some credit to Indian Couchsurfers, I must say that I have also received some of the most amazing hospitality in this country, and have been able to exchange deep, meaningful relationships with its Couchsurfing community. I have been treated as a family member, almost spoon fed daily – and free of charge – and brought to experience places and situations as deeply as it can get.
I have got to know Couchsurfers’ family members as my own, and have been helped immensely in many aspects of my vagabonding. If this is not enough, I can also tell you that the reason why I met my lovely girlfriend and settled down in Malaysia is only because one odd night I decided to attend a Couchsurfing meeting in Penang!! So, for this and many other reasons, I can just recommend using this amazing community as you travel across Asia because it still gets you the easiest and purest access way into Asian cultures: as the members are English speaking locals looking for a genuine interaction, you will be able to receive a real insight into their lives and homes.
And if it is not… oh well, horror Couchsurfing stories make great conversation topics at the bar back home. People will look you in a different way after you told them you survived a night at the horrific ayurvedic clinic… or that you slept in the nest of a tour guide viper trying to poison you with a bunch of hiking tour options… and most importantly: happy surfing in Asia to anyone!!