Throughout Vietnam, accommodations run the gamut from dingy budget hostels to luxurious high-end resorts, sometimes even within the same neighborhood. While there are plenty of good beds available at any price, certain rules hold true for most accommodations. Thanks to the size and volume of many of Vietnam’s coastal cities, for instance, noise levels should always be considered when booking, as rooms closer to the ground floor tend to be much louder than rooms higher up, and the same goes for street-facing accommodations versus those in the back of the building. Windows are not a given; it’s customary for travelers to ask to see a hotel room before committing to stay the night. A few other amenities, such as elevators, are not always included, but hot water and air-conditioning typically come standard with a room.
Windows are not a given; it’s customary for travelers to ask to see a hotel room before committing to stay the night.Furthermore, though public double-occupancy rates are listed in this book, it is often possible to secure a discount from hotels or guesthouses depending on the season, the length of your stay, and the number of rooms available. Many hotels and guesthouses in larger cities use online reservation sites like Agoda or Booking.com, which can sometimes work to the traveler’s advantage by providing cheaper rates, though there are a handful of accommodations that cost more when booking online. For the best price, consult both the hotel directly and their online booking site when available.
When you check in to a hotel in Vietnam you will often be asked to hand over your passport. This is often a source of worry among travelers, but holding one’s passport is common practice in Vietnam. Since hotels are required by law to register their guests with the police, many will hold your passport at the front desk during your stay, partly for the authorities and partly for insurance that you don’t walk out on your bill (these things occasionally happen). It is acceptable to request that your passport is returned to you after the receptionist has filled out your registration form, though you may be asked to pay in advance.
You’ll find all manner of accommodations that refer to themselves as khach san (hotels). These tend to be larger buildings with more rooms. There is a star rating issued by the Vietnamese government each year, but the criteria for the rating seems to focus on the size of the building rather than the quality of the accommodations. Two- to four-star accommodations are a mixed bag, with plenty of outstanding rooms as well as deteriorating facilities. Boutique and privately owned hotels are usually more impressive, though these are often more expensive, too. Depending upon the rates and quality of the hotel, amenities vary from as little as a bed, air-conditioning, and a hot shower to safety deposit boxes, in-room computers, and fresh fruit or complimentary breakfast.
Almost interchangeable with budget hotels, Vietnam’s guesthouses (nha nghi) are smaller versions of the same lodgings, often providing 5-6 rooms where a budget hotel might have 10-12. In general, amenities at a guesthouse include air-conditioning, hot water, and sometimes a refrigerator or TV. These places tend to be the most bare-bones and often the most affordable.
Hostels and dormitory accommodations are only popular in Vietnam’s major cities. While there are a handful of these lodgings in Saigon, Hanoi, and a couple other coastal cities, only one or two hostels actually stand out. All dormitory lodgings should come with proper bedding and a secure locker for each guest, and many also include en suite bathrooms, which limits the number of people sharing a shower.
While there are still plenty of authentic homestays throughout Vietnam, particularly in the Mekong Delta, this is an interesting term nowadays, as “homestay” is often conflated with “guesthouse.” Bar a few exceptions, most homestay accommodations are akin to a remote guesthouse, offering the added benefit of home-cooked meals and a bit of interaction with locals, though not as much as you might expect. A growing number of high-end “homestays” are cropping up in more heavily touristed areas—Hoi An, for example; these take on the feel of a bed-and-breakfast, offering more of a local connection along with fancier accommodations.
Camping in Vietnam can have a few different meanings. You may find yourself in a one-room beachside bungalow, a log cabin in the woods, or a tent on the ground. While the lodgings vary, most of these accommodations are located either in national parks or on beaches across the country. Pitching a tent just anywhere is not accepted. In more remote areas, travelers may be able to get away with overnighting in their own accommodations, but along the coast you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place to set up camp. In designated areas, camping fees tend to be inexpensive.
Depending upon your location and the time of year, the need for booking accommodations may vary. Most major cities in Vietnam do not require a reservation. With such an abundance of hotels and guesthouses in places like Ho Chi Minh City’s Pham Ngu Lao area and the Old Quarter of Hanoi, travelers will never find themselves out in the cold. If you prefer to stay in nicer accommodations and would rather not do the door-to-door legwork, then booking a room is recommended. Be sure when making a reservation that you ask the price up front, as rates may change, and take care to confirm your reservation at least once before arriving at the hotel. Even online sites like Agoda and Booking.com, while reliable, can sometimes make mistakes or lose reservations.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Vietnam.