Few cities can match the incredible, overwhelming sensory assault of stepping out onto the streets of Hanoi for the first time. Slick boutiques and fashionable hotels have sprung up in recent years, but dodge the mopeds around Hoan Kiem Lake, duck into the alleyways of the Old Quarter, and a whole other side of this fabulous city is on show.
A homestay offers the chance to delve even deeper into the Vietnamese capital. Out by the vast West Lake, Huyen’s four-bedroom home is decorated with her husband’s paintings, its arty interiors making it a unique alternative to the small hotel rooms found in the city centre.
For easy access to the bars and late-night food scene in the city centre, Mia’s House is the ideal spot. It’s also close to key sites including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
The northern highlands
Vietnam’s misty northern highlands reward those who take the overnight train from Hanoi with huge views across the terraced rice paddies, picturesque tribal villages and quiet paths into the mountains. However, a boom in tourist numbers and a lack of regulation has made it harder than ever to find peace and quiet around the famous Sapa region.
Set in the gorgeous Muong Hoa valley, 18km from Sapa Town, Le’s home in Tavan village is a haven for those who want to have a more authentic experience after travelling to this magical corner of Vietnam. There are options to go trekking in the mountains or to learn about local handicrafts, or simply sit on the balcony and look out at the lush valley.
Ho Chi Minh City
To the locals, Ho Chi Minh City still goes by its old name of Saigon. But that’s just about the only thing that’s old school about the centre of this southern metropolis. Massive investment has seen a string of new skyscrapers kiss the steamy sky, with vast new roads bringing more and more people into the city. Slick Le Loi is home to high-end hotels and fancy bars. Despite this modern edge, there remains a pleasing air of chaos, especially around Ben Thanh market.
In District 8, a short bus ride across the river from the market madness, Linh’s beautiful five-storey home is the ideal haven from the tourist crowds. Set on a pedestrian alleyway, with access to some of Saigon’s best street food, it’s the ideal spot for living like a local.
Capital of Vietnam until 1945 and home to a spectacular walled citadel, Hue was the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting during the American War.
Today the town attracts thousands of visitors thanks to its historic connections and location on the pretty Perfume River.
While the city has its charms, the surrounding countryside is even more beautiful. Huynh’s homestay offers two double bedrooms and is just a five-minute bus ride from the centre of town. She also offers bike hire, making it easy to get around the quiet lanes and back into the heart of the action.
Global Landscapes Forum/Flickr
Da Nang’s fast-changing coastline is the apotheosis of Vietnam’s rapid emergence on the tourist trail. Golf courses and swanky beach resorts abound, while the city itself is now awash with high-end hotels and swish bars.
That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s only for luxury lovers and high rollers. Kitty’s parents and two brothers open up their downtown home to visitors from all over the world. With first-class amenities and easy access to the Han and Dragon Bridges, not to mention the beach, it’s a great alternative to the pricier establishments that have cropped up in recent years.
Van’s homestay, also in a handy downtown location, offers airy rooms and even free Vietnamese lessons, making it easier to order favourite dishes at the city’s street food stalls.
Laidback Hai Phong is easily skipped by those making the trip from Hanoi to the majestic Ha Long Bay. But this port town has a pleasingly chilled vibe, retaining its local charms thanks to several cafés selling some of Vietnam’s strongest and most delicious coffee. It’s also got access to some of northern Vietnam’s best beaches.
Ha’s stunning home, set around a lush green garden, has two cosy bedrooms and even a games room for those who want to stay home and chill out. It’s the perfect antidote to a faceless hotel room.
Ha's house and garden/Homestay.com
The southern coast
Vietnam’s long sandy beaches are unquestionably among the best in Southeast Asia, easily rivalling those of nearby Thailand. The southern resort of Mui Ne has developed into a go-to spot for backpackers following the trail from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. With azure seas and Sahara-like dunes of red and white sand, it’s not hard to see why.
Away from the strip of hotels and bars, Nguyen’s home has two double bedrooms, each featuring a clean modern design. And because it’s not on the main drag, the local restaurants and cafés feel a lot more authentic.
This feature was sponsored by Homestay.com, an accommodation marketplace connecting guests to local hosts in over 150 countries. All recommendations are editorially independent.
Homestay.com aspire to provide authentic travel experiences, where hosts offer the chance to live and breathe the local culture, make friends as well as memories, and explore destinations in a truly authentic way.