How not to negotiate for a room in Vietnam


I stared at the front desk clerk in disbelief. Room not available? How could that be? Although he barely spoke English, and I certainly don't speak Vietnamese, I understood that he was telling me that my room, the room I had already partially paid for, was no longer mine.

I was not new to the intense degree of negotiating in Vietnam. I had been in the country for over a month, and had spent the previous two months in Laos and Cambodia. Negotiation is the way of life, the means to which both parties come to an acceptable conclusion.

I was not, however, prepared for this.


flickr/Neville Woolton Photography

My time in Vietnam was coming to a close, but HaLong Bay had beckoned. Eager for a couple of days out of Hanoi, I had booked a three-night stay at that UNESCO World Heritage Site. Knowing I had one, brief, night back in Hanoi before my flight, I had examined, negotiated, and pre-paid for a room at the Sports Hotel. Imagine my surprise when I returned to find my room had been sold to a higher bidder and I was instead offered an 8th floor walkup with no windows. Absurdly, for the same price!

I really should have known better. If I have learned anything in my time out in the world, it is that in a country based on negotiation, all bets are off. After renegotiating for the smaller, windowless hole for one night, I shared a beer with a fellow traveler, sharing war stories of the nomadic life and laughing over common tales of woe.

To save other travelers the same pains, I have compiled a few simple ways to make your hotel negotiations in Vietnam a breeze, or at least give you a fighting chance.

Do your homework
Ask around. Read reviews on sites such as Travelfish or Southeast Asia Backpacker. Going into a city or region, and a specific hotel option or two, and having a good feel for the going rates will be a huge help for you in your negotiation. This may not save you from paying too much, but it will at least let you know you overpaid!


flikr/Nguyen Luc Doi

Be Polite
Whatever you do, do NOT lose your temper. Remember, above all else, that you are a guest in the country. Negotiation is not a means to screw you over, although it often feels that way. Any show of anger or irritation on your part will not only delay the process, but most likely will end up causing you to never reach a price acceptable to both parties. You will get angry. You will get irritated. You will become so overwrought over what amounts to a .70cent difference in price that you will be ready to walk away, rather than agree on a price. Don't do it. Remember that, even if you are on tight budget, that small bit of money means far more to a local than it does to you.

Check out the room
This is essential! Most likely each room will be extremely diverse. When I was bargaining for a room in Ho Chi Minh City, the Kiim Hotel 1 hotel showed me four rooms, all so different you would be hard pressed to guess they were on the same property. First check out several rooms, and then negotiate based on which one you prefer. On any given day, in any given hotel, you will find everything from a shoebox with no windows to a grand suite with all the amenities.


Talk to Other Travelers
Often your best resource is other travelers. It's great to get up to date, real life advice from those who have been there. Take each tip with a grain of salt, taking into account the travelers particular personality and possibly their level of intoxication, and go from there.


flickr/m_p_king

DON'T Talk to Other Travelers
But then again, in an attempt to remain unjaded, perhaps it is best to NOT talking to other travelers. As amusing as the travel anecdotes shared over a beer, or four, can be, it is easy to find it turns into a bitch session focused on the locals' attempts to cheat the poor traveler. Choose those you go to advice carefully, and take any stories you hear with a grain of salt.

In the end, I guess I was lucky to simply lose my lovely room in favor of that 8th floor walkup. Some good friends of mine were actually already settled into their room when they were politely advised that they needed to vacate their room in favor of someone willing to pay a higher rate.

I enjoyed that final night in Hanoi, and in Vietnam. I wandered to my favorite noodle stand, along the way admiring the sights of the stalls of delectable produce, the glistening fresh fish, and less appealing meat complete with the ever present circle of flies.


flickr/xiquinhosilva

That night I lay in my windowless, closet of a room, and smiled to myself. I would miss this place, for all of the challenges of a country offered up, I had grown fond of her.

Vietnam is an amazing country, filled with beauty, extraordinary food, culture, and history. When you take the ups and downs with equal grace, you will be rewarded by friendly people and unforgettable experiences. Just make sure to check out that room before you start bargaining!

Rhonda Delameter is a freelance travel writer, long-time Portland resident, and blogger at thenextbigadventure.net