The standard of accommodation in Vietnam is, by and large, excellent. In the main tourist areas the range caters to all budgets, and though prices are a little expensive by Southeast Asian standards, the quality is generally quite high. Competition is fierce and with the construction boom still ongoing rooms are being added all the time – great for the traveller, as it keeps prices low and service standards high. There has been a massive increase in the number of luxury resorts along the coast (mainly aimed at the Asian package tour market), while budget travellers and those travelling off the tourist trail will find good budget accommodation throughout the country.
Another consequence of the number of new hotels springing up in recent years is that getting a reservation is no longer the nightmare it once was, and even among international-class hotels there are some bargains to be had, particularly at weekends; however, booking in advance is a must around the Tet festival in early spring.
Tourist booth staff at the airports in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi will phone to reserve a room for you, and it’s increasingly simple to book online. Be wary of asking advice from cyclo or taxi drivers, as travellers are often told that their hotel of choice is full or closed. It’s also important to note that Vietnam is full of copycat establishments – to avoid being taken to a similarly named hotel, write down the street name and show it to your driver.
Once you’ve found a hotel, look at a range of rooms before opting for one, as standards can vary hugely within the same establishment. You’ll also need to check the bed arrangement, since there are many permutations in Vietnam. A “single” room could have a single or twin beds in it, while a “double” room could have two, three or four single beds, a double, a single and a double, and so on.
When you check in at a Vietnamese hotel or guesthouse, you’ll be asked for your passport, which is needed for registration with the local authorities. Depending on the establishment, these will be either returned to you the same night, or kept as security until you check out. If you’re going to lose sleep over being separated from your passport, say you need it for the bank; many places will accept photocopies of your picture and visa pages. It’s normally possible to pay your bill when you leave, although a few budget places ask for payment in advance.
Room rates fluctuate according to demand, so it’s always worth bargaining – making sure, of course, that it’s clear whether both parties are talking per person or per room. Your case will be that much stronger if you are staying several nights.
All hotels charge 10% government tax, while top-class establishments also add a service charge (typically 5%). These taxes may or may not be included in the room rate, so check to be sure. Increasingly, breakfast is included in the price of all but the cheapest rooms; in budget places it will consist of little more than bread with jam or cheese and a cup of tea or coffee, while those splashing out a little more may be greeted by a gigantic morning buffet. Prices given in the guide are based on those found at the time of writing for the cheapest double room. Prices are often quoted in dong, which have been converted to dollars at the rate as it was at the time of going to press. However, because of the extreme volatility of the exchange rate (which can change by hundreds or thousands of dong each week), these prices are subject to constant change.
Although the situation is improving, hotel security can be a problem. Never leave valuables lying about in your room and keep documents, travellers’ cheques and so forth with you at all times, in a money pouch. While top-end and many mid-range hotels provide safety deposit boxes, elsewhere you can sometimes leave things in a safe or locked drawer at reception; put everything in a sealed envelope and ask for a receipt. In the real cheapies, where the door may only be secured with a padlock, you can increase security by using your own lock.
In some older budget hotels, rooms are cleaned irregularly and badly, and hygiene can be a problem, with cockroaches and even rats roaming free; you can at least minimize health risks by not bringing foodstuffs or sugary drinks into your room.
Pretty much any guesthouse or hotel will offer a laundry service, and Western-style laundry and dry-cleaning services are widely available in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other major cities. Washing is often given a rigorous scrubbing by hand, so don’t submit anything delicate.
Finally, prostitution is rife in Vietnam, and in less reputable hotels it’s not unknown for Western men to be called upon, or even phoned from other rooms, during the night.
Grading accommodation isn’t a simple matter in Vietnam. The names used (guesthouse, mini-hotel, hotel and so on) can rarely be relied upon to indicate what’s on offer, and there are broad overlaps in standards. Vietnam’s older hotels tend to be austere, state-owned edifices styled upon unlovely Eastern European models, while many private mini-hotels make a real effort. Some hotels cover all bases by having a range of rooms, from simple fan-cooled rooms with cold water, right up to cheerful air-conditioned accommodation with satellite TV, fridge and mini-bar. As a rule of thumb, the newer a place is, the better value it’s likely to represent in terms of comfort, hygiene and all-round appeal.
There are a burgeoning number of “resorts” appearing across the country. In contrast to the Western image of an all-inclusive complex, in Vietnam these are simply hotels, usually with pretty landscaped gardens, located on the beach or in the countryside. All that’s included in the rate is breakfast, though it is possible to eat all your meals here.
The very cheapest form of accommodation in Vietnam is a bed in a dormitory, where you pay for the bed and share common facilities. Do note that though most of these have private rooms, you’ll pay less elsewhere. In the two main cities there are also a fair few budget guesthouses equipped with “backpacker” dorms – you’ll generally find these around the De Tham enclave in Ho Chi Minh City, and the Old Quarter in Hanoi (see the respective chapters for more). In Hanoi there is also a small network of youth hostels fully accredited by Hostelling International; you’ll need a current Youth Hostel card, which you can buy when checking in.
If you prefer your own privacy, you’ll find simple fan rooms in either a guesthouse or hotel (khach san); these are likely to be en-suite, although you might not get hot water at this price level in the warmer south. Adding air-conditioning, satellite TV and slightly better furnishings, maybe even a window can add up to double on the price. Upgrading further will get you a larger room with better-standard fittings, usually including a fridge and bathtub, and possibly a balcony. Note that while many hotels advertise satellite TV, which channels you actually get varies wildly, let alone the quality of reception, so check first if it matters to you.
For upwards of $30 per room per night, accommodation can begin to get quite rosy. Rooms at this level will be comfortable, reasonably spacious and well appointed with decent furniture, air-conditioning, hot water, fridge, phone and satellite TV in all but the most remote areas.
Paying $30–75 will get you a room in a mid-range hotel of some repute, with in-house restaurant and bar, booking office, room service and so on. At the top of the range the sky’s the limit. Most of the international-class hotels are located in the two major cities, which also have some reasonably charismatic places to stay, such as the Metropole in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh’s Continental. However, in recent years developers have targeted Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang and Ha Long City, all of which now boast upmarket resort hotels. Off the main trail, there’s usually one or two upper-range hotels in each main city, though very few exist in the countryside.
As Vietnam’s minority communities have become more exposed to tourism, staying in stilthouses or other village accommodation has become more feasible.
In the north of the country, notably around Sa Pa and in the Mai Chau Valley, you can either take one of the tours out of Hanoi which includes a home-stay in one of the minority villages, or make your own arrangements when you get there. In the central highlands, the Pleiku and Kon Tum tourist offices can also arrange a stilthouse home-stay for you.
Accommodation usually consists of a mattress on the floor in a communal room. Those villages more used to tourists normally provide a blanket and mosquito net, but it’s advisable to take your own net and sleeping bag to be on the safe side, particularly as nights get pretty cold in the mountains. Prices in the villages vary, depending on the area and whether meals are included.
Where boat trips operate in the Mekong Delta, notably around Vinh Long, tour operators in Ho Chi Minh City or the local tourist board can arrange for visitors to stay with owners of fruit orchards, allowing a close-up view of rural life.
Virtually no provisions exist in Vietnam for camping at the present time. The exceptions are at Nha Trang and Mui Ne, where some guesthouses offer tents for a few dollars a night when all rooms are full. Some tour companies also offer camping as an option when visiting Ha Long Bay.