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Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, accommodation in Vietnam can be poor-quality and expensive. This is particularly so in remote areas, where standards of cleanliness and service still leave a lot to be desired. In the major tourist and business destinations, however, a hotel building boom continues to drive standards up and prices down. There are a growing number of luxury resorts, especially along the coast around Mui Ne, Nha Trang and Hoi An, in addition to some attractive boutique hotels and, at the other end of the scale, Vietnam's first youth hostels.
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, if you're keen to stay in a specific hotel, especially the more central or popular addresses, it pays to book ahead. Around the Tet festival (early spring) booking in advance is a must.
When you check in at a Vietnamese hotel or guesthouse, you'll be asked for your passport and often your departure card. 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. 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 ten percent government tax, while top-class establishments also add a five percent service charge. 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, though in budget places it will consist of little more than bread with jam or cheese and a cup of tea or coffee.
Although the situation is improving, hotel security can be a problem. Never leave valuables lying about in your room and keep documents, travelers' 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.
Most hotels have a luggage room or cupboard where you can store bags for a few days while you're on a trip. Since this can never be one hundred percent secure, it's best to take your valuables with you, or leave them in the hotel safe if possible.
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.