Local Guest Houses: Nhà Nghỉ

Last updated April 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUEST HOUSES | RELATED POSTS

Nhà nghỉ means 'guest house' in Vietnamese Essential knowledge for the adventurous or budget traveller in Vietnam, ‘nhà nghi’ means ‘guest house’ in Vietnamese. However, this form of reasonably-priced accommodation often goes unnoticed by foreign travellers because the signs are almost always in Vietnamese. But, once you commit the word ‘nhà nghỉ’ to memory, you’ll find cheap, comfortable and generally good-quality rooms across the entire nation. Very few places, no matter how remote, are lacking a decent nhà nghỉ. All you have to do to find one is look out for the signs.

In particular, nhà nghỉ are indispensable for those travelling through Vietnam by motorbike, as it means you can take roads less travelled and still be confident of finding a place to sleep at the end of a long day in the saddle. The majority of nhà nghỉ are cosy, family-run places with lots of local character, but some of them have a seedy underside which has (unfairly) tarnished the reputation of nhà nghỉ as a whole. On this page I give a general introduction to nhà nghỉ: what to look out for, what to avoid, what to expect, how much they cost, and some of their quirks. I’ve travelled all over Vietnam and it would not have been possible without the hundreds of nhà nghỉ I’ve stayed in along the way. Familiarize yourself with nhà nghỉ and it’ll open up travel opportunities all over the country.

Nhà nghỉ means 'guest house' in VietnameseA typically clean and comfortable room in a nhà nghỉ (guest house) for less than $10

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WHAT ARE NHÀ NGHỈ?


CONTENTS:


Guest House or Love Hotel?

Mention the word ‘nhà nghỉ’ to most young Vietnamese people and you’ll receive a bashful giggle. Literally translated ‘nhà nghỉ’ is ‘rest house’, but over the years it has become a euphemism for ‘love hotel’. In some urban centres nhà nghỉ rent rooms by the hour to young couples looking for some private romance away from the ever-watchful eyes of their family, or, in some cases, they serve as brothels for drunken businessmen.

Sign for a nhà nghỉ (local guesthouse) in VietnamGuesthouse or love hotel? Sometimes nhà nghỉ operate as the latter, but it’s usually pretty obvious

Naturally, it’s best to avoid these love hotel-style nhà nghỉ. You can usually tell if a nhà nghỉ is operating as a love hotel, because the room rates will be displayed by the hour rather than by the night. However, this isn’t always the case: Many nhà nghỉ live up to their name as ‘rest houses’ by offering rooms by the hour to weary travellers who want to break their long journey with a nap and a shower during the hottest part of the day, before continuing on their way refreshed in the cooler temperatures of the afternoon. This is a very civilized concept, especially in a country where the majority of people travel by motorbike, totally exposed to the elements. I’ve taken advantage of hourly rates many times in order to have a shower and freshen up after spending the previous night camping in the open.

A nhà nghỉ (guesthouse) in VietnamThis is a nhà nghỉ in the highlands where I paid to take a shower after spending the previous night camping

A good way to determine whether a nhà nghỉ is a genuine guest house or a love hotel is to ask to see the room before agreeing to take it. If the room has a full-length mirror hung horizontally on the wall next to the bed, and there are semi-erotic, Baywatch-esque photographs on the wall, it’s safe to assume that this is a room for activities other than sleeping. However, the vast majority of nhà nghỉ are nothing like this.

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The Best Accommodation in Vietnam:

Typical nhà nghỉ town house exteriorIn terms of value for money nhà nghỉ offer some of the best accommodation in Vietnam. I’ve stayed in hundreds of places all over the country, but – aside from a couple of particularly good high-end resorts – nothing is as satisfying to me as finding a great-value local guest house, particularly when it’s in a remote and beautiful part of the country that has yet to see tourist development.

Nhà nghỉ are essentially mini-hotels. Once you start looking out for signs saying ‘Nhà Nghỉ’ you’ll find them everywhere; by the beach, in the mountains and valleys, in big cities and tiny hamlets. They come in many forms: four-storey town houses in city centres, European-style alpine villas in the Central Highlands, wooden homes with thatched roofs in fertile valleys, and dorm-style rooms by the side of national highways.

A room in a local guesthouse (nhà nghỉ), VietnamNhà nghỉ are essentially family-run mini-hotels, and you’ll find them all over Vietnam

What’s the difference between a nhà nghỉ and a cheap hotel? Well, not much, but generally the former are small, family-run operations with a more ‘homey’, intimate feel than the latter. Catering to travelling business people, solo travellers, or families breaking the journey from one province to another, nhà nghỉ are generally friendly, welcoming, cheap, and well-equipped: Almost all nhà nghỉ have free access to Wi-Fi (which is more than can be said for some high-end hotels); rooms are usually clean and, in some cases, very spacious; satellite TVs and en suite bathrooms with hot water are the norm, and sometimes there’s even a modest minibar. The Vietnamese have a phrase, đầy đủ tiện nghi, which, roughly translated, means ‘everything you need’, and this is a standard that most nhà nghỉ meet.

A local guesthouse (nhà nghỉ) in VietnamThis is a nhà nghỉ on the central coast: local guesthouses like this are typically well-equipped

That’s not to say that everything is always perfect when staying in a nhà nghỉ. There are some common quirks and inconveniences at many local guest houses: Although there may be several lights and lamps in your room it’s unlikely that more than one will actually work; if the previous guest was a middle-aged Vietnamese businessman then the lingering smell of their cheap cigarettes will be your first impression of the room; remote controls for TVs rarely work and even if they do only three of the advertised 60 channels are available. But these are minor inconveniences and ones that you’d expect to find in any budget accommodation.

A room in a local guesthouse (nhà nghỉ), VietnamBig rooms in nhà nghỉ like this one offer great value for budget travellers in a group

Prices vary but a good general indication is 150,000-500,000vnđ ($7-$25) per night, based on a single room with one bed at the lower end of the scale to a family room with two or three beds at the higher end. A bit of polite bargaining is the norm, especially if you arrive late in the evening and are planning of leaving early the next morning; it’s worth trying to shave a dollar of two off the room price. Other bargaining tools include, asking for the price of a room without air-con (fan only) or without hot water or private bathroom. In general nhà nghỉ are excellent-value accommodation.

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The Key to Off the Beaten Track Travel:

Nhà nghỉ can be found in remote areas like this

Nhà nghỉ are everywhere. Even in the farthest-flung northern and southern extremes of the country or along the remote western borders with Laos and Cambodia, you’ll find decent local guest houses. Travellers who know about nhà nghỉ can broaden their horizons when choosing where to travel in Vietnam, especially if you are on a motorbike road trip and really want to get off the beaten track. Save for a few extremely remote areas – notably a stunning section of the Western Ho Chi Minh Road in Quảng Bình Province – if there’s a settlement of any significance then there’ll be a nhà nghỉ waiting for you. Bear in mind that English may be limited, and it is often necessary to do some polite bargaining for the price of your room before you take it.

A friend of mine who loved travelling by motorbike in Vietnam once told me he’d never dared to stay in a nhà nghỉ. I told him that some of the best places I’d stayed in the country were nhà nghỉ, and that I couldn’t see how anyone could really explore Vietnam without the use of them. Nhà nghỉ open the door to much deeper exploration of Vietnam, and give the adventurous traveller greater freedom of movement.

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Dawn: view from a nhà nghỉ in the Central Highlands Dawn: view from a nhà nghỉ in the Central Highlands

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35 Responses to Local Guest Houses: Nhà Nghỉ

  1. Nathaniel Hinrichs says:

    Hello,
    This is great information, I am travelling to Vietnam in may and plan to bike from Saigon to Hanoi. My main question is, is there a site to locate these guesthouses? Or just wing it and look for signs and go from there? Any help on exactly how to locate these guest houses would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks!

  2. Kelly says:

    Hi Tom,

    I appreciate all the tips you have for my upcoming trip to Vietnam! One thing I’m left wondering is, as a solo female traveler, I should bring a 5L portable safe? Are there lockers available in guest houses? Just wondering what your experience is and what you recommend.

    Thanks!
    Kelly

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  11. SILVIA MIRELMAN says:

    Hi again, I just posted a comment, this is the kind of lodging that I’m looking for, is there a site where to look for them in internet? I travelled a month in Cuba just sleeping in “family houses” They recomend one to the other, very nice and friendly, I think it is the best way to know the people where you travel, ( if it is what you like to do, we do).
    Thanks…Silvia

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  19. Kez says:

    Hi Tom,
    Chris and I found Nha Nghi to be fantastic – and nearly always superior to hotels – cleaner, quieter, friendlier. Nha Nghi meant we could stay on the road for 20 days riding through northern Vietnam in 2015.

    To help with Vietnamese language, I just put Vinasim card in my phone, and installed the Vietnamese keyboard so that people could type into my phone, and a shortcut to google translate for Vietnamese. Even though google translate is a bit dodgy, it made communication a lot easier :-)

    You’re amazing Tom – hope you are well and happy,
    Cheers,
    Kez

  20. Charlie Saunders says:

    Hi Tom, do you need to book in advance for the nha nghi, or can you just turn up and have a bed? Thanks

  21. Thao Nguyen says:

    Hostel is also the best choice when traveling to Phu Quoc island. A hostel with standard facilities and activities such as pool table, baby football table, swimming pool and bar is where your travel will be experienced. Most of all is friendly and helpful staff. Those Canary hostel can offer.

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  23. Neville foley says:

    Thanks Tom great info once again I will be using nha nghi as much as possible on my trip Tom.

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  25. Alan Chien says:

    Hi Tom,

    ” Nha Nghi”, the best choice for motorcyclists whether you are in big cities or remoted areas. Thank you for sharing us this big tips!

    Alan

  26. Paulo A S Gaeta says:

    Thank you for sharing this important information.
    I’m planning to travel around Vietnam this year
    and definitely I will be staying at some Nhà Nhgí.

  27. damiri says:

    Excellent info sharing Tom. Reading it creates more eagerness and motivation to explore Ho Chi Minh Road which I am planning to do next February..

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