What’s It Like Staying In A Homestay?

Before visiting Vietnam, I had never stayed in a homestay before and didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of facilities, comfort, quality and services. In this post, I’d like to share my experience of numerous homestays since arriving in Vietnam three months ago. I will explain how homestays differ from hostels and hotels and what you can expect for your money. This form of accommodation is by no means unique to Vietnam; if you are travelling around Asia and looking for an affordable place to stay, they are an excellent alternative.

What to expect

The way I see it, homestays are what Airbnb was originally intended for, before it became massively commercialism and started dominating housing markets around the world. You are often literally staying in someone’s house. Most of the people you interact with will actually live there; parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings and children. You may find that the family’s aunt is cooking your meals, teenagers are helping with the housework, uncles and cousins are driving guests to and from bus stations and local attractions. It is possible that the homestay might employ some people to help with meals and other tasks, but most of the time you will be interacting with and observing a family.

You can find homestays on online platforms like Booking and Airbnb, which means you can read the descriptions, check the maps to see where they are locate and look at the photographs of the room, bathroom facilities and communal areas. You can see what is and is not included. For example, is there a private bathroom or a shared one? Does the homestay provide breakfast and other meals? Is there air-conditioning? WiFi? Are towels or toiletries provided?

I am a stickler for reading every single review before booking accommodation. Use the feedback from previous guests to manage your expectations and check for any warning signs. I am always cautious of anywhere described as ‘noisy’, ‘near a loud street’, ‘next to a bar / pub’ or supposedly has mould or other problems which could potentially make me ill. I also avoid places where the WiFi barely – or rarely – works because I am a millennial who gets anxious when she’s offline (don’t judge me!). I personally wouldn’t stay somewhere with no reviews, especially if I’m travelling alone or am staying for more than one night. However, I know that everyone has to start at the beginning and if you’re happy to be someone’s first guest, write a detailed review afterwards informing future guests what to expect.

One of the main advantages of homestays is the price; we have paid as little as €9 for a room with a double bed, en suite bathroom and free breakfast. As you are not paying for services like housekeeping, the prices can be much lower than other accommodation. As I said before, you are staying in someone’s home (often their spare room or a specific area built and designed for guests). The accommodation may be more basic than what you are used to at home or during previous holidays. Some of the mattresses we’ve stayed on have been much thinner and harder than back home and the appliances less modern.

We’ve had some hosts who speak good English but most of the hosts – and their family – used Google Translate to communicate with us. Most of the time, we were able to explain what we needed or understand them without too much effort. Your hosts will be able to help you with numerous things, such as renting motorbikes, booking tours or organizing a minibus or taxi to your next destination.

If you are looking to save money on your holiday, homestays often include a free breakfast. We’ve had some tasty ones including banh mi (sandwiches), fried egg with bread and salad, pho (noodle broth), pork and rice, chicken and rice, banana pancakes and fresh fruit. It can be a good opportunity to try some of the local cuisine as well. Most of the places we have stayed provided us with water bottles and let us access their mineral water machines to fill our reusable bottles.

Ninh Binh breakfast
Breakfast at Ninh Binh homestay

What you (probably) won’t get at a homestay

I say ‘probably’ because there are of course exceptions, where a homestay is actually very fancy and the services you receive are more akin to a hotel. However, the ones we have been are quite simple and basic so there should be some things you shouldn’t expect from a homestay:

  • A full concierge service
  • Room service
  • Daily housekeeping
  • Complimentary toiletries
  • Laundry services
  • A minibar
  • A TV
  • A swimming pool
  • An English-speaking team of staff
  • An on-site bar or restaurant

If you don’t want to stay somewhere where there might be young children or babies, I advise you to check the online reviews carefully or even message the host and ask if any children live at the property. One of the homestays we stayed at had a young baby that watched TV every morning from around 7am. We are early risers anyway but if you like to sleep in late, sharing your accommodation with young children might not be what you’re looking for.

As I mentioned earlier, we were given tasty breakfasts by all our homestays. However, in most cases we weren’t given a choice about what we ate. In others, we could choose between two or three options. If you have any allergies, intolerances or specific dietary requirements, you should communicate these to your hosts before arriving, or eat at nearby restaurants where you can choose from the menu.

If you’re looking for luxury, a homestay might not be the best choice. However if you’re looking for a very rustic, humble night’s sleep in a family-run establishment, consider a homestay for your next trip!

Ciao for now

The Curious Sparrow

20191027_134201
Views from Mai Chau homestay
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Fresh coconut, right from the tree at our Ben Tre homestay

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