A Booming Industry
Tourism has been steadily increasing in Vietnam, and locals are making the most of this trend. There are constantly new and refurbished hotels opened throughout the country. This creates competition which keeps the prices quite low and the quality surprisingly high. You can find budget accommodation that is some of the cheapest in the region in Vietnam. It often far surpasses the quality you might expect in nearby Cambodia or even Thailand.
If you're looking for a splurge, you won't be disappointed as well. In addition to the many accommodation options for budget conscience travelers, there are many high end resort facilities that come equipped with all kinds of amenities.
Throughout the country you'll find travel agents eager to book you a room in a hotel. This is usually not necessary and will likely cost you more as the travel agents take a cut of the price. Hotels will also offer to book your bus or train tickets. This is a convenient option, but you will pay more and you aren't guaranteed to end up on the bus that is promised. Always be a little skeptical, and do negotiate hard.
A Budget Traveler's Paradise
Generally speaking, prices in Vietnam are quite low. Even the traveler on the tightest budget will be pleasantly surprised with the costs of accommodations in Vietnam. It is typically expected that you will negotiate the price, so come prepared. Also ask to see the room and bathroom ahead of time to ensure you're getting exactly what you have been told. The best advice is to wait to find accommodation until you arrive in a city. Many travel agents will try to book your accommodations ahead of time and will take a cut off the top. This also significantly limits your ability to negotiate so you are likely to pay more than your fellow travelers. You may also be surprised to find that you pay more in less touristy areas, where there are less hotels and competition has not driven the prices down yet.
A Diversity of Accommodation
There are a range of accommodation types in Vietnam. You can find anything from a backpacker's hostel to a budget hotel to five star resort hotels. Many hotels come equipped with things like a mini fridge, air conditioning, or an on-site restaurant. You may also have a pool at your hotel, but don't be surprised if they actually cool the water, making it a little uncomfortable to swim. Hotels are rated with "stars" and stars are given based on the amenities available, not the quality of accommodation. Even the cheapest hotels may have a fridge in the corner to boost their star rating, despite the run down nature of the facility. Generally you will be pleasantly surprised in the quality of accommodation in Vietnam though. The constant turnover in hotels means there are always new facilities trying to get your business.
For many travelers, Hanoi is their first stop off on their trip to Vietnam. Some people find the city overwhelming and chaotic at first. With time you'll get accustomed to the constant flow of motorbikes and the streets that seem to wander in no specific direction. When you leave your hotel, make sure you grab a business card so you can show a taxi driver where to take you if you end up lost. This will likely save you at least several times during your trip.
You'll find most of the budget accommodation clustered around the Old Quarter area. There are plenty of guesthouses in this neighborhood as well as hostels. It's best to choose a place down an alley as it will be removed from the noise caused by traffic. Also make sure there is no construction nearby as this will wake you up early in the morning.
Mid-range hotels can vary dramatically in price. If you make reservations from your home country you will have the peace of mind that comes with having a plan. You will also pay dramatically more than you would after you arrive. It really depends on you level of flexibility as to which option is best for you.
There are some great splurge hotels in Hanoi as well. Many of this offer excellent facilities and services, but you might feel a little removed from the community. If you choose to stay at a high end hotel you'll often find yourself feeling like an outsider looking in.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is a popular place to stay for a few days in Vietnam. It feels a little more modern than Hanoi. While there are plenty of motorbikes still around, you'll find more cars here as well. Some of the streets are much wider and it doesn't have all of the old world charm that Hanoi offers. Still, there is much to see and do in this city. There are also plenty of local guesthouses that are cheap to stay at. They might be slightly more expensive than the options in the northern part of the country, but they remain very affordable.
You'll find most of the guesthouses for backpackers in District 1 around Pham Ngu Lao. This is about a fifteen minute walk from the Ben Thanh Market. In this area you'll find tons of small hotels that each have about fifteen or twenty different rooms. Most are air conditioned and they cost about US$15. You'll find very little difference between these hotels. The price for a room is the same whether you are a solo traveler or traveling as a couple. If you're by yourself it might help to meet up with another traveler on the bus and agree to share a room. Many rooms have two twin beds.
Ho Chi Ming City also has many international chain hotels including the Hyatt and Sheraton. These are standard in their quality and price. You can expect comparable service to what you would find elsewhere in the world.