This article is an introduction to Vietnamese budget accommodations. After spending two months cycling in this country, we’ve slept in many different places. Here’s our take on the available accommodations, the need to book a room ahead of time, and several tips related to this topic !
Staying in hotels or motels / guesthouses ?
Hotels (khách sạn in Vietnamese, sometimes shortened as KS) are usually found only in large cities. While it may be expected that a hotel would be a better accommodation than a motel or guesthouse, in our price range there’s been no clear advantage. We’ve had bad hotels and a few excellent guesthouses. Overall both have been average, as expected according to our low budget 🙂
Nhà nghỉ (which we translate as motels or guesthouses) are an alternative to hotels. They’re extremely convenient accommodations if you’re on a budget, or traveling in remote areas. Indeed, many cities where we stayed didn’t have a proper hotel, while many nhà nghỉ where available. Without them, there are many areas where we couldn’t have traveled. Our itinerary in central highlands, for example, included many cities where the only accommodations where motels.
What to expect in Vietnamese budget accommodations ?
A double room in a basic hotel or a nhà nghỉ usually costs around VND 200 000 – less than height euros -. Of course for this price, the rooms are usually rather basic.
The cheapest rooms may not have a window, and the bathroom is likely to be crude. But you’ll nearly always get air-conditioner, hot water and free wifi. There may be a mini-fridge in the most recent ones; on the opposite side of the spectrum, old accommodations may have mold on the walls.
Don’t expect a smile from the bored hotel employees; they’re much more interested by their mobile phone than the costumers. Guesthouse owners may be slightly more welcoming, but don’t have too much expectations either !
In a few rare cases, we came across accommodation that had some charm, like this hotel (K.S. My gardens in Lam Ha)
Selecting among several budget accommodations
When several accommodations are available, the safest bet is usually to go to the newest one. Indeed, Vietnamese seem to be allergic to any kind of maintenance, so older Vietnamese budget accommodations will often be in a sorry state. We also try to stay close to the market, where we’re more likely to easily find food.
Also, if you ask to visit the room (which we advise you to do), pay attention to the following points :
- checking the bathroom will usually reveal how well the owner takes care of the accommodation
- is it convenient to hang your clothes ? After a long cycling day you may want to dry your clothes a bit 🙂
- smoking is usually allowed in nhà nghỉ, so if you smell cigarette smoke, ask for another room !
Is it necessary to book Vietnamese budget accommodations ?
As we mostly stayed in nhà nghỉ, we very seldom booked ahead of time, as most of these places aren’t even listed in booking websites. But even when we had the opportunity to book our accommodation in advance, we usually preferred to find our accommodation once we reached our destination.
Reasons for not booking
The first reason for not booking is that most Vietnamese budget accommodations aren’t very “sexy”. It’s hard to make up your mind judging from the pictures on booking websites; moreover, the reality of the rooms will seldom match the provided pictures anyway ! We prefer to show up and have a look at the rooms. Of course, even a nice-looking room may lead to bad surprises : dysfunctional shower, dog barking all night, karaoke in the neighborhood…
Another reason would be the cost : in most places, using a booking website is actually more expensive than showing up at the hotel/guesthouse.
Locating your accommodation may be harder than you think !
Finally, when you book up an accommodation, one extremely annoying part may be locating it ! While it may seem like a trivial task, it may actually prove rather difficult and frustrating. We regularly encountered several extremely upsetting situations :
- In Nha Trang, the motel we booked was located in a small alleyway which didn’t have a name. There was a sign for the hotel in the main street at one side of the alleyway… but not at the other one, which was of course where we arrived. We spent a lot of time exploring nearby alleyways, which were sometimes comparable to mazes
- In Da Lat, the address provided by the owner of the room was actually a kindergarten. And to make things worse, there were two sets of numbers on the street (see below).
- Again in Nha Trang but also in Da Lat, the street may have been re-numbered; however both the old and new numbers are still displayed. While not as annoying as the previous situations, it’s common enough to get on your nerves !
- In the Mekong delta, houses numbering may be totally random. You’ll have both odd and even numbers on one side on the street, numbers will jump erratically and there will be absolutely no logic
We thus give you the following advices :
- look up the location of your accommodation in advance; in case of doubt, don’t hesitate to send a mail to get a clarification
- always know the phone number of the place; it may be very handy. We’d probably still be searching for our Da Lat room if we hadn’t phoned the owner !
When to book
There are few cases in which booking ahead of time makes sense :
- in touristic areas where there’s a lot of competition, most accommodations are nice and you may get a discount by booking ahead of time; moreover, there may be enough reviews to get a real feeling of the accommodation’s real value. Hoi An and Da Lat are places where it may be worth booking in advance
- in period of national holidays, accommodations may be crowded and it may be though to find a free room. In this case, booking well ahead of time guarantees that we can sleep in a bed
- for higher-end accommodations, you may get a discount by booking online
How to easily find out if there’s a guesthouse in your destination ?
Sometimes it’s hard to know in advance whether there’s an accommodation in small cities. Booking sites like Agoda and Booking only list accommodations in touristic places, so most small cities aren’t even listed ! But as bicycle travelers, it may be crucial to break down a large cycling day into two smaller rides. Here’s a simple trick to check for Vietnamese budget accommodations.
The solution to this problem is very simple and yet very helpful… just google “nhà nghỉ” and the name of the place where you want to go. For example, after leaving Da Lat, we planned to stay in a place called Lam Ha. Searching for “nha nghi lam ha” resulted in nearly ten accommodations !
Thanks to this, we were confident we’d find a place to sleep there.
Note that searching using the English term “guesthouse” or “motel” would have shown zero result.
We could have found them using Google Maps. However it usually requires to zoom in to the maximum level of details in order to see these accommodations; this is rather inconvenient as even small Vietnamese cities are usually spread along the main road.
As an added bonus, the reviews for the accommodations may be helpful. While Google’s translation of Vietnamese reviews is usually garbage, the overall rating is surprisingly reliable.
Annoyances and potential troubles
As expected in cheap accommodations, not everything will be perfect. Here are a few tips to improve your stay in Vietnamese budget accommodations :
- You’ll commonly meet two kinds of animals in your room : small lizards and tiny ants. You can safely ignore lizards, and they will most likely flee in your presence. On the other hand, ants can be very annoying if you carry food. We strongly advise you to hang all kind of food inside the cabinet using a hanger
- Sometimes the water heater needs to be turned on using a switch (usually a black one) outside the bathroom. It may also be the case for the air conditioner
- Smoking is usually allowed inside the premises; actually you’ll sometimes meet the owner smoking in the lobby. Don’t hesitate to ask for another room if you smell cigarette smoke !
- Another source of bad smell will often be the bathroom; sewer smell is unfortunately very common. We strongly encourage you to systematically close the bathroom door.
- Other travelers – especially Vietnamese ones – may show zero respect for the other guests. They’ll listen to loud music very late, shout on the phone during the night… Depending on your temper and tolerance threshold, you can deal with these nuisances by using ear plugs, or by knocking on their door in an equally loud way. Unfortunately, being noisy and totally selfish seems to be part of the Vietnamese way of life. You’ll encounter this kind of behavior in many circumstances !
Is it safe/convenient to leave your bicycles in Vietnamese budget accommodations ?
We never had any trouble finding a place to park our bicycles at the accommodation. In a country where most people move around by motorbike, finding space for a bicycle isn’t a big deal !
Most guesthouses where we stayed had a parking for motorbikes, where we could park our bicycles. We left them locked there and never had any trouble. In large cities where there was not much space available (such as Nha Trang), we parked our bicycles in the hotel’s lobby. Finally, in one occasion, the room was very large and the owner told us to put the bicycle in our room (our neighbors did the same with their motorbikes !
Troubles with Agoda
As I’m writing this article we’ve spent around two months on the road. At several occasions, we booked in advance through Agoda. We chose to use Agoda rather than Booking, as they list many more accommodations, and their price are usually more competitive.
We booked a total of six accommodations via Agoda; at three occasions, there was a problem with our booking !
In Hoi An, someone from Agoda called us a few days before to warn us that the guesthouse couldn’t host us. They let us choose between two more expensive accommodations, and paid the difference.
In Kon Tum, as we checked-in at the selected accommodation, we were informed that the room was not available anymore, and that Agoda had been warned ahead of time. After calling them, we found out that Agoda sent an e-mail in the morning (but we don’t have 3G so didn’t receive it). They finally booked us a room in Kon Tum’s most expensive hotel, Indochine hotel, at their expense !
Finally, in Nha Trang, the hotel we had booked was full. We once again called Agoda, and waited in a café while they sorted out the situation. We then had to book another more expensive accommodation they suggested, and ask them to cancel the initial booking. They reimbursed the price difference between the two hotels, plus a small amount as we had to place the second booking ourselves.
We have no idea whether these troubles origin at Agoda or at the accommodations. Overall we’re of course happy to stay in nicer places than expected, but keep in mind that the whole process takes a lot of time. Between the time spent trying to understand the situation at the hotel, the phone call to Agoda, and the wait for the resolution, we lost at least one hour each time, sometimes more !
Administrative & linguistic aspects
Virtually every accommodation will require you to leave your passport at the reception. Legally, accommodation owners are required to register the guest with the police, but we found out that roughly half of the time they only took Thanh’s Vietnamese id and didn’t bother with y foreign passport.
Regarding the language aspect, you’ll find out that nearly no English is spoken in nhà nghỉ or cheap hotels. However, the purpose of your presence there should be clear, so all you have to do is point out how many people there are, and negotiate the price
Last updated February 3rd, 2018