Considering a homestay in Vietnam? Here are 8 good reasons why you should give it a go. In this post, you’ll also find everything you need to know about Vietnam homestays – from booking, to communicating with your host.
Spending a few nights in a homestay is a wonderful opportunity to get off the beaten track in Vietnam. Many travellers tell me their Vietnam homestay experience was the highlight of their Southeast Asia travels. I certainly did some fantastic homestays around Northern Vietnam during my 12 months living in Hanoi.
If you haven’t ever tried a homestay before, Vietnam is a great place to dip your toes in. Vietnam homestays are pretty well organised and regulated, so safety and standards of comfort and hygiene are typically pretty high.
In this post, I’ll tell you 8 reasons why I think you should try a homestay in Vietnam. At the end of this post, I’ve tried to answer a few of the common questions and concerns people have about Vietnam homestays. If you’re interested to know where the images featured in this blog were taken, you’ll find a full list of my recommended homestays at the end of the post.
Table of Contents
- What exactly is a homestay?
- How do homestays in Vietnam work?
- 8 reasons you should try a homestay experience in Vietnam
- 1 | You’ll get off the beaten track
- 2 | You’ll get unprecedented access to some of Vietnam’s most beautiful landscapes
- 3 | You’ll meet a Vietnamese family
- 4 | You’ll get an insight into local culture
- 5 | You’ll taste the best home cooking in Vietnam
- 6 | You’ll sleep in beautiful homes
- 7 | You’ll be supporting responsible tourism
- 8 | You’ll be pushed beyond your comfort zone
- Vietnam homestays FAQ
- Recommended Vietnam homestays
- More Vietnam accommodations
What exactly is a homestay?
By definition, a homestay is a private residence that offers accommodation to paying guests.
I encountered two broad types of homestays in Vietnam. Destination homestays are usually located in rural areas. Since there’s not much else to do apart from enjoy the scenery, the homestay itself is the experience. The second type of homestay, which I’ll call convenience homestays, are just that: A convenient option in an area with lots of different accommodation offerings, such as a city.
Homestays differ to short-term rentals (such as apartments found on Airbnb) because hosts typically also provide meals, organised activities, and other guest services. Homestays are often considered a more authentic choice compared to hotels. They’re also thought of as a responsible tourism alternative because local families retain ownership and control over the property, have some say in how tourism operates in their community, and get to keep a larger share of the profits.
How do homestays in Vietnam work?
Every country is a little bit different when it comes to homestays. Here’s how things are usually organised in Vietnam.
Some families in Vietnam start a homestay on their accord. More typically, homestays are organised by NGOs and other bodies as part of a community development initiative. This is especially true in rural areas. The organiser offers financial loans, training and marketing support. Hosts are required to obtain a license that permits them to host foreign guests in their home, and will usually make adjustments to the property—such as installing western-style washrooms—before they can meet the required standards and open for business.
For this reason, you’ll often see homestays in clusters. In rural settings, one house in the village might be chosen by the community to become the homestay. Other times, lots of different families will get involved over time and create their own businesses.
Because host families might have limited language skills or indeed limited access to the internet, there is often a middleman involved when you book a homestay. It might be the staff of a social enterprise, or it could just be an English-speaking family member or relative. They provide administrative support and answer guests’ questions both before and during their stay.
Homestays might advertise on Booking.com, Agoda or even Airbnb. Many homestays have their own Facebook pages or websites that you can use to book directly. At the end of this post, I provide more information about finding and booking homestays. I always recommend making a reservation (even if it’s just a couple of days in advance) to avoid disappointment and give your hosts plenty of notice. Depending on which booking platform you use, payment is made either at the time of booking or more typically in cash at the end of your stay.
Homestays usually offer a program of activities, which might include guided treks, cooking classes, cultural performances, etc. Hosts can also help with things like hiring motorcycles and organising onward transport to your next destination. During a homestay, guests are usually left to entertain themselves. In my experience, most families are eager to get to know their guests. But the level of interaction you have with your host family really depends on you.
8 reasons you should try a homestay experience in Vietnam
So now you have a rough idea of what a homestay in Vietnam looks like. Here’s why I think you should try it out for yourself!
1 | You’ll get off the beaten track
You can find homestays in a lot of Vietnam’s cities and towns, but many homestays are located in remote areas that tourists might not visit otherwise. Less tourist traffic means a quieter environment and more of a chance to observe a slice of life. In busy areas such as Sapa, homestays are a great excuse to get away from the hustle and bustle and into the smaller villages.
People often associate ‘getting off the beaten track’ with adventure activities. But it can also mean doing nothing at all. One of my fondest homestay memories is of lying in a hammock as the sun went down and listening as herds of buffalo were herded back into the village for the night—their bells clanking all the way. I’d much rather get woken up in the morning by a rooster’s cries than the rev of a thousands motorbikes. But hey, that’s just me!
2 | You’ll get unprecedented access to some of Vietnam’s most beautiful landscapes
Many destination homestays are located right on the doorstep of some of Vietnam’s most beautiful landscapes. Trekking, waterfalls, caving and other outdoor activities are usually part and parcel of the homestay experience. Most homestays can organise a local guide or at the very least give you tips about where you should roam to.
It’s one thing to take a day trip from the city or hike from a nearby town. It’s another thing entirely to wake up in the middle of a rice field.
3 | You’ll meet a Vietnamese family
If you’re staying at an authentic homestay where the host family lives on the property, you’ll get to meet and interact with them. Vietnamese culture dictates inter-generational living arrangements—so you’ll get to meet grandparents, parents and grandchildren alike. Homestay owners have often lived in the some area for generations (some have never left), and have in-depth knowledge and wisdom about their land and culture.
One question I get asked a lot about homestays is, ‘What about the language barrier?’ Hosts often speak limited English, especially in rural areas. Assuming you don’t speak fluent Vietnamese or Hmong, you can usually get by with basic communication. Many hosts participate in language training. Other times, there may be a young person in the family or village who can act as an interpreter. Look for ways to learn and share without speaking. Sharing some photos from home is a great start.
At my homestay in Sapa, the host’s mother-in-law and I couldn’t communicate with each other at all. But when she pulled up a stool, sat down in front of the doorway to my bungalow and started embroidering, I immediately understood what she was trying to tell me. After a demonstration, I was able to buy some textiles right out of her basket.
There’s a good chance you’ll get to meet and interact with other people from the village, too. Every place is different, but we always felt welcome in the community during our homestays in Vietnam. Take the opportunity to help local kids practice their English, or to practice your Vietnamese at the local market.
4 | You’ll get an insight into local culture
Each of Vietnam’s ethnic groups is unique and often very different to the majority Kinh Vietnamese. Staying with a family of any ethnicity gives you an insight into their daily life; ethnic minorities also have their own languages and traditions. Many homestays offer a program of cultural activities for guests, ranging from dance and music performances to remedial herbal baths. Even more rewarding are the glimpses into local culture you get through unstructured interactions, like shopping at a local market, or flipping through a family album. You’ll often find homestay rooms are decorated with gorgeous traditional textiles and costumes.
I used to think cultural activities were just staged for guests. When I interviewed some homestay owners in Vietnam’s Da Bac region, I found out that community members often enjoy the performances just as much as the tourists do. Ethnic groups are usually fiercely proud of their culture and language, and they’re almost always keen to show it off. Besides, who doesn’t love a chance to get together with the neighbours and giggle at a lanky foreigner trying to dance!
5 | You’ll taste the best home cooking in Vietnam
The home-cooked meals I was served at homestays were without a doubt some of the best I ate anywhere in Vietnam. Prepared in tiny kitchens with just one or two burners, you’ll wonder how on earth your hosts pulled it off. Food at homestays is simple but full of flavour, and is likely to be prepared using local and organic ingredients. Hosts offer guests lots of choice; lunch and dinner is typically a big spread of different plates served sharing-style. Depending on the set up, you will probably eat with other guests and perhaps with the host family, as was my experience in both Ha Giang and Sapa.
In Northern Vietnam, homestay meals usually consist of a tofu dish, a soup, several vegetable dishes, and several meat dishes. If you’re staying in an ethnic minority village, you might be treated to customary dishes or regional specialties. Breakfast is usually simpler: Crepes with banana or a traditional Vietnamese breakfast such as banh cuon. Most homestays undergo training on dietary needs and food hygiene as part of the process of becoming a host. Hence most can offer vegetarian options and cater to specific needs.
A word of advice for anyone who doen’t drink: Dinner at a homestay almost always involves toasting with homemade rice wine. It can be considered bad manners if you decline to participate. If you don’t want to partake, try filling your shot glass with water instead.
6 | You’ll sleep in beautiful homes
Before I lived in Vietnam, when I heard the word ‘homestay’, I imagined a very basic setup—perhaps a wooden hut with a few mattresses strewn on the floor. This is closer to the homestay experiences we had in Myanmar in Cambodia. There’s nothing wrong with that (I quite enjoyed roughing it); but in Vietnam, homestay standards seem to be much higher—just as they are with hotels in general.
Many Vietnam homestays are beautifully furnished. Ethnic minority homestays are located in traditional dwellings, such as Muong stilted houses or Hmong earthen houses. These structures are a work of art—the chance to spend the night in one is an absolute privilege.
We stayed in one homestay where the owner himself had built everything—from the foundations to the roof beams to the furniture. We also encountered homestays where the entire community had chipped in to help with renovations.
On a practical note: Vietnam homestays usually offer a mix of private rooms and mixed dormitories that might be screened off with curtains. If you’re lucky, you might get your own private bungalow. Lights, power sockets, fresh linens and towels are all standard. Unless you’re somewhere very remote, WIFI is usually available in common areas at the very least. Washrooms are usually shared and can be rustic, but standards of cleanliness are very high.
7 | You’ll be supporting responsible tourism
When you stay at a homestay, you’re putting money directly into the hands of a local family rather than funding a chain hotel. And it’s not just the family whose house you’re sleeping in. There are many other people behind the scenes who make a homestay function smoothly, including cooks, farmers, fishermen, guides and transport providers.
When I interviewed a group of homestay owners in Da Bac, they told me they used their earnings to invest in improving their homes and their own living conditions and to finance their children’s education. Many co-operative homestays have the added benefit of contributing to a community fund, which ensures development opportunities for the whole community.
This is especially important in Vietnam, where ethnic minority communities are often marginalised and excluded from the mainstream tourism industry.
8 | You’ll be pushed beyond your comfort zone
In my experience, Vietnam homestays are among the most comfortable, safe and clean anywhere in Southeast Asia. Yet a homestay experience is still a world away from staying in a hotel. Hanging out in someone else’s home—someone you might not be able to communicate with—might seem a little intimidating at first, especially if it’s your first time or if you’re an introvert like me. But my advice is to dive in. If you’re a solo traveller, a homestay is a great place to meet people.
A homestay is a chance to broaden your experience of a country: To eat something you wouldn’t normally order in a restaurant, or chat with a local person about their life. Not every country is blessed with as many homestays of such a high standard as Vietnam. Enjoy it while you can!
Vietnam homestays FAQ
Convinced? Here’s everything you need to know about organising and preparing for a Vietnam homestay.
Where can I do a homestay in Vietnam?
Homestays are most common in rural areas. In Sapa, homestays in villages outside of the main town are a great alternative accommodation option. In Ninh Binh, you’ll find dozens of family-owned bungalow retreats set amongst the rice fields and limestone karsts of Tam Coc. In Ha Giang and rural Hoa Binh, homestays are currently the only option available to tourists. Just about every other city, town or tourist hub—including Hanoi and Saigon—has at least a few homestay offerings.
When can I do a homestay in Vietnam?
Homestays operate year-round in Vietnam, and act as an important source of supplementary income for rural families outside the rice harvest season. Individual homestays may be closed for major holidays such as Tet (Vietnamese New Year), which typically falls in February or March. Some homestays may be forced to close in extreme weather, such as flooding or landslides.
As mentioned, it’s essential to book your homestay in advance. This will secure you a bed, and also safeguard you against any unforeseen accessibility issues or holiday closures.
What do homestays usually provide?
It differs from property to property, but homestays in Vietnam usually provide the following items and amenities:
• Breakfast is typically included in the nightly rate. Guests can usually add on lunch and/or dinner for an extra set fee. Usually you’ll need to notify your host in advance if you plan to eat lunch or dinner at the homestay. Coffee and tea are usually free, while alcoholic drinks (usually just beer) and soft drinks can be purchased. Any extra food and drink will be added to your bill, which you can settle at the end of your stay.
• Most homestays provide filtered water guests can use to refill water bottles. They also provide hot water for coffee and tea.
• Homestay hosts can usually provide guests with a laundry service for a small fee.
• As mentioned, bed linens and bath towels are standard. Homestays also provide soap and shampoo.
• Most hosts also provide mosquito spray, sunscreen, and flashlights for guests. Beds are typically always fitted with mosquito nets. Bring your own bug spray and sunscreen just to be on the safe side.
• Vietnam homestays have a no-shoes policy and provide plastic slippers for guests. You should wear these whenever you’re inside the house or bathroom.
What should I bring?
As well as mosquito repellent, a reusable water bottle and your own toiletries if you need them, you might like to bring a small gift for your host. Fruit is always a safe choice. I usually take some ‘house clothes’ to homestays so I don’t have to be in my pajamas all the time, but that’s just a personal choice.
Staying at a Vietnam homestay usually involves a lot of down time. Bring a good book, and load up your phone with podcasts before you go.
How to find and book Vietnam homestays
Many owners list their homestays on the major booking sites, including Agoda and Booking.com. Airbnb also has a wealth of homestay listings all over Vietnam.
• If you decide to book your Vietnam homestay through Airbnb, use this link to receive a discount off your booking.
For more remote and specialised homestays, you might have to go straight to the source. For example, many homestays in Ha Giang have their own websites. In other instances, you’ll need to book your homestay through a third-party. This is the case with homestays in Da Bac, which are administered through an NGO in Hanoi. See below for my recommended Vietnam homestays and direct links to book.
Recommended Vietnam homestays
Here are a handful of Vietnam homestays I’ve personally tried and recommend. These are the same properties you see pictured in this blog.
• Nam Homestay, Thai Nguyen | Make a booking
More Vietnam accommodations
If you’re travelling around Vietnam, check out my accommodation recommendations for other cities and popular areas.
• La Ferme du Colvert, a green getaway from Hanoi
Have you tried a homestay in Vietnam? Can you recommend any other Vietnam homestays? Or maybe you’ve stayed at a homestay somewhere else in the world. What was your experience like?