Local Guest Houses: Nhà Nghỉ

Last updated April 2016 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

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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


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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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43 Responses to Local Guest Houses: Nhà Nghỉ

  1. Bruce M. says:

    Yet more good, solid info from Tom. I wish I had read this when I first got here, because I always thought the standard translation “guesthouse” implied shared sleeping quarters and bathrooms, and still haven’t stayed in one yet…but now I will for sure. Thank you.

  2. Jérôme - Endless Travel says:

    Hi Tom,

    Once again, thanks for this very useful article ! During my previous two short solo trips in Vietnam I didn’t know about nha nghi, and had troubles locating hotels in remote areas. Shame on me !

    However this time my wife and I have used these guest houses extensively. As I mentioned in my other comments, we’ve been cycling around Vietnam for around 2 months now; we spent the vast majority of our nights in nha nghi we located upon arrival.

    They’re indeed an excellent way to break down long rides into smaller parts, which is even more necessary when cycling than motorbiking ! I’ve been truly amazed by the amount of guest houses we found along the way.

    As an added bonus, knowing the Vietnamese word allows to google for “nha nghi” and the name of the place, which makes you confident that accommodation is actually available. It’s very useful when planning an itinerary ! In contrast, a search for either “hotel”, “motel” or “guesthouse” will lead to zero result in small cities. Also, I’ve found the online reviews on Google very helpful in selecting among accommodations.

    We usually found that the most recent accommodations offered the best value, which is not surprising according to the reluctance of Vietnamese people to do any kind of maintenance 🙂

    As you point out, these places are rarely perfect – although several were very close to perfection -. But for less than 250 000 dong, they’re by far the best value available. We usually found than most troubles came from other guests, not the accommodation : loud phone calls late at night, loud music at any time, loud conversations (notice a keyword here ? :p ).

    • Hi Jérôme,

      Good to hear that you had positive experiences of nhà nghỉ on your travels. Yes, they are indeed a great option for budget travellers all over Vietnam, and especially in some of the more off the beaten path locations.

      Tom

  3. Daniel says:

    Hi,
    Which type of accomadation is the best to connect with other motorcycle backpackers?
    Best regards

    • Hi Daniel,

      In big cities you’re more likely to find other ‘bike-packers’ in the backpacker hostels, guest houses and hotels. But when you’re in more remote regions and there’s less choice of accommodation you’ll find you bump into other bikers in local guest houses (nhà nghỉ) fairly regularly.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  4. Jarrad says:

    Hi Tom,

    We’re looking to ride from Hanoi to HCM between Dec 28 – Jan 13 and wondering if this time of the year is going to be really busy in Vietnam? Will we still be ok winging it and checking in to guesthouses as we go or will we need to book to avoid missing out?

    Thanks a lot for your help! Really appreciated.

    Jarrad

  5. 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!

    • Hi Nathaniel,

      Some of the guest houses are listed on Agoda, but certainly not all of them. So yes it’s best to just show up somewhere are look out for signs saying ‘nhà nghỉ’. Failing that, just write the word down with a question mark and show it to a local and they’ll point you in the direction of one.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  6. 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

    • Hi Kelly,

      Most guest houses do not have lockers or safes available for guests, but I’ve never had problems with the security of my valuables while staying at a guest house.

      In general, it’s a good idea to keep your money in different places – spread it between your pocket, your wallet, and your bag, for example – and keep your most valuable things on you. But it’s also a good idea not to travel with anything that is too valuable.

      I hope this helps,

      Tom

  7. […] there’s not really any reason to stay here. There are a couple of other nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) and nhà trọ (local inns) on the promontory, but again I don’t see why you’d choose […]

  8. […] of Di Linh, at an elevation of around 3,000ft. While both Bao Loc and Di Linh have plenty of decent nhà nghỉ (local guesthouses) for the night, there’s a far better option if you turn right (due south) […]

  9. […] smart but affordable Ocean Dunes, or you can find dirt-cheap rooms at the collection of nhà nghỉ guesthouses near the beach on Le Loi […]

  10. […] (For more information about the homestays in Pù Luông Nature Reserve click HERE). After the homestay accommodation in Mai Châu and Pù Luông Nature Reserve, most places to stay on the Limestone Loop will be small, family-run guesthouses. These sometimes have signs in English saying ‘Hotel’ or ‘Guesthouse’, but most of the time the signs will be in Vietnamese. Therefore, you should write down and remember this word, ‘Nhà Nghỉ’. This is Vietnamese for ‘guesthouse’. Nhà Nghỉ vary considerably in quality, but in general they are friendly, clean, comfortable and cheap places to stay that are dotted all over Vietnam. Read more about Nhà Nghỉ HERE. […]

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