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The Homestay Experience From Hell

Homestays are a common accommodation option throughout much of the world, especially in Southeast Asia. As a traveller, it’s a great way to have a more authentic and local experience; to see the local way of life and to meet some friendly people. Usually, I love homestays, and after a good recommendation from a friend, I was excited for this one. But as every traveller knows, sometimes shit hits the fan and it all goes wrong. Unfortunately for us, this was one of those times.

This particular nightmare took place in Ninh Binh, the so called in land Halong Bay. I was on my last few days in Vietnam, and was meeting up with two other girls, Lauren and Cara, who I’d met earlier on. Another friend, Amy, who travelled a little ahead of us suggested that we take a couple days to visit Ninh Binh. She also suggested staying with the same local family a she did; a kind Vietnamese couple who spoke no English. Excited about this opportunity for a more cultural experience in a new part of Vietnam, the three of us jumped at the idea and booked two nights at the recommended homestay.

Tam Coc

It started out fine. David, the man we booked with who was (we think) the home owner’s brother, met us at the train station and helped us get a taxi to the house. It wasn’t located in Ninh Binh town, but a small local village about 15 minutes away. That suited us perfectly; we liked the idea of being in a local community. We met the home owners; a kind couple with two funny little boys, and were given noodles for breakfast. After breakfast David kindly offered to take us to Tam Coc, similar to Ninh Binh, but much less touristy.

I hopped on the back of his motorbike while Lauren and Cara took the other. We made our way through the small town, stopping quickly to see a wedding procession where we took a little bit of attention away from the bride (oops!). Speeding down the highway, David tried to tell me a bit about the area. His limited English, difficult to understand at the best of times, was scattered by the wind. It didn’t matter because the scenery, despite the cool and cloudy weather, was enough to keep me interested. All I could think of at the time was that Amy was right, this place was awesome.

David dropped us off at the gate to Tam Coc, promising to pick us up later. We paid for our tickets, climbed in a boat, and spent the next couple of hours being rowed around the beautiful bays. Limestone cliffs, water lilies, and beautiful greenery make for spectacular scenery. We ducked through caves, hopped out to explore lakeside temples, and took an endless amount of photos. I’m still thankful that we had such a great time there, because it was the only good experience of our visit.

Ninh Binh Homestay

Things started to go downhill when David picked us up. We asked to go somewhere for lunch, but it turns out he had his own ideas. He started by pulling an old man over on the road in an attempt to teach us about the local life. The man was a fisherman, didn’t speak any English, and stood looking as confused as we felt as David jabbered away in his mangled English. We didn’t understand much, but the bits that I could understand were not very kind.

When David finally let the fisherman go, he veered off down the road to take us somewhere ‘special’. That special spot was an old, forlorn house covered in dirt and grime. An elderly man lived there and David ushered us inside to have tea. The home looked like it had once been a beautiful place; there was elegantly carved wooden cabinets and furniture, but everything was now in a state of disrepair. Still, he poured us lukewarm tea and smiled at the prospect of having three young western women in his company. While somewhat awkward, it did seem to make the elderly man’s day. So the three of us sucked it up and sipped out tea. Upon leaving we reminded David that is was now nearing 3pm and we hadn’t had anything to eat since our 7am noodles. He agreed again to take us somewhere for food.

We figured he would take us somewhere local, a small restaurant or street vendor. Instead, we ended up at his friend’s house. David snapped something in Vietnamese at his friend’s wife and she left for the store, coming back about fifteen minutes later with the ingredients for pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup. We sat awkwardly, in their bedroom of all places, waiting for this stranger to cook our meal. The entire time we were completely aware that she was not happy with the situation, and neither was her husband; David’s so called ‘friend’. David, on the other hand, chatted away at us rather than to us, yelling louder and louder when we didn’t understand. It was by far one of the most uncomfortable situations I have been in.

After the food (which we did make sure to pay for) we literally begged David to take us back. We were cold, tired, and just needed some time to ourselves and away from him. He grudgingly agreed, though did pull over at an elementary school along the way. He basically pushed us into the schoolyard with the local children who stared confused at the three white girls and older Vietnamese man lurking by the gate. Despite the fact that we had no bad intentions, I felt like a creep, knowing full well that if this happened at home the police would have been called.

When he finally dropped us off we all but raced to our room. Too exhausted to say anything we lay on our beds, hoping that things would just get better and David would leave so we could just have dinner with the family. Of course, he didn’t. Instead, things just got worse.

Dinner started off well. The homeowners were there along with some extended family, all who were kind and welcoming. We managed to communicate in mangled English and Vietnamese over hot pot, laughing as we passed around the food.  But David, unable to not be the centre of attention, butted in at every chance he could get. He yelled to speak over us, pushed his way into conversations, and literally started hitting Lauren on the arm while yelling her name to get her attention.

Tam Coc

Of course, with dinner came the rice wine, which just made things worse. While the rest of us drank it in moderation, David was tossing his back like it was water. With every shot he became louder, angrier, and more aggressive towards everyone. By the end it was not only uncomfortable for us, but I think also for the family.

As soon as we could escape, we did. Claiming exhaustion from our 5:30am train ride, we headed to our room. Finally, alone we tried to figure out what to do. Lauren, who had originally made the booking, was the most frustrated, and fairly so. Hers seemed to be the only name David could remember so she was forced to bear the brunt of his attention throughout the day. But while she may have had to deal with him the most, all three of us were in agreement that we needed to leave.

We had originally booked two nights but, as kind as the actual family was, we couldn’t deal with David anymore. In the end we decided that we would lie and say we booked our return tickets a day early. We didn’t care about losing the money on the room (less than $10 each), we just needed out.

Of course, we still had to deal with David and his plans in the morning. By 6am he was banging on our door to make sure we were awake. He had plans to take us to visit the local market. Cold, tired, and frustrated we made our way out in the rain to the town. We browsed piles of fruit and vegetables, tables of meat and buckets of fresh, flopping fish. It was a very local and traditional market that, in other circumstances, I may have enjoyed exploring. But with David at our side, it was all I could do to not check my watch every two minutes.

When the time finally came, we basically ran to the taxi. I felt awful for the family, clearly confused as to why we booked two nights but were leaving after just one. David was confused as well, questioning us over and over again why, why, why? I’m sure none of them believed our story about booking tickets for the wrong day, but at that point, we couldn’t have cared less.

I can honestly say that driving in the taxi away from David, we all breathed a massive sigh of relief. While nothing majorly terrible happened, it was one of the most unnerving and uncomfortable experiences I have had to date. I am so incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to go through it alone.

Have you ever had a horrible homestay experience? Feel free to vent in the comments below!

Homestay Experience From Hell

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*I usually call out bad experiences, in the hopes that any readers will avoid them, but I am hesitant to name this establishment because David is not the owner, and nor is he usually around (also, I think my mind erased it in the hopes of forgetting this whole thing). The family itself is incredibly kind and welcoming, and our friend who had the experience with just them loved it. However, should you decide to book a homestay in Ninh Binh area, and see the name David- it is worth your time to ask some further questions before booking.

40 thoughts on “The Homestay Experience From Hell

  1. Toni Parks

    This could have gone much worse. Never feel like you are being too rude by saying, “thank you for helping us this far, but we prefer to go on our own now. Then let them save face by saying “I think you must be very tired”, or something like that. I’m glad the 3 of you were together.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Sadly during the day we needed him because there were three of us and only two bikes- one of which was his. And we were a good while from the house in the country with no other options. If it was in town we would have bailed for sure! In the end though I feel bad for the family who didn’t really understand what was wrong and felt like they were to blame, which they weren’t. It was all David.

  2. Dina

    Hey Hannah!

    So sorry for what happened during that homestay! I had a pretty awful time in Ninh Binh as well when I was passing through with the bus from Cat Ba Island to Phang Nha. I got the bus in Cat Ba Island with a Dutch guy and a Swiss girl and I was so happy I wasn’t on my own as I knew we had to change multiple times.

    First we got on the bus, then on the boat, then another bus was waiting at the port. We drove with this bus for an hour before we stopped and someone came in yelling “Ninh Binh, Ninh Binh!” . We raised our hands because we were told to change buses in Ninh Binh and were ushered out to another tiny, old bus. Three hours later, we’re in Ninh Binh at the bus station.

    There was no place to ask for the next bus and no one who spoke any English. I checked the ticket and there was a hotel marked on a little map. So we walked there. When we saw the hotel, we asked the owner if this is where we wait for the bus to Phang Nha and only got a “Yes”. We asked when the bus would be there and the answer was “between 7 and 10pm”. Alright then. It was 4pm and we stored our luggage and left the hotel in search of food.

    It was pouring down with rain but we found a lovely restaurant with a nice Vietnamese guy that spoke good English. At 6:30 we made our way back to the hotel were we waited for ages. When I wanted to use the restroom the owner wanted to charge me $1 and was just generally very unkind.

    The phone rang at 9:45pm and the owner just yelled at us “Bus now” and pointed to the street. So we got our backpacks and went outside. He then locked the doors and disappeared and we had to wait in terrential rain for 15 mins for the bus. Guess he wanted to go to bed and couldn’t be bothered to wait longer. How very nice.

    So, I don’t have very fond memories of Ninh Binh either which is a shame because lots of people later told me about the beautiful countryside there!

    All the best,
    Dina

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Ugh that’s too bad. It is a beautiful area but the little things can really make it or break it. I’m sad it broke it for two of us! Glad we both had company though… lifesavers I think.

  3. Diane Kroe

    Hi Hannah, what a great story! It reminds us that we always have to take the good with the bad. Most of us have had a few bad travel-related experiences and it our duty to pass on the details so others can learn from our experiences : )

  4. Jane Clements

    Urgh, Thankfully there were 3 of you, but beautifully described – I could feel your embarrassment. Luckily, while there are David’s everywhere there are not too many of them

  5. Ellie Cleary

    This David character needs a bump on the head sounds like! Such a shame.. it sounds like you would have had a wonderful time if it had been you and the family. I visited vietnam in 2006 and loved it, I revisited in 2016 and hated the part I visited (Mekong Delta & Phu Quoc). I didn’t feel much warmth in terms of the attitude towards foreigners in some parts, to be honest. It’s great to hear that you’ve had many wonderful homestay experiences in general! I love staying with families in different countries. Happy travels, Ellie

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Wow Vietnam must have been so amazing in 2006 before all the tourists hit. I found, for the most part, the people were very kind. But I imagine its changed a lot since your first visit.

  6. Karin

    What an annoying guy! I would have been much ruder in your place. I hate this kind of situations – I wouldn´t say anything if it were a random situation and a local who offered to show around for free, but if I´m paying to have an experience, I don´t want to suffer through it.

  7. Eemma

    Hi Hannah, so sorry about your unpleasant stay. I had a similar experience in Southern China. I have such a hard time being rude as well, so I can definitely relate!

  8. Anna Schlaht

    Yikes! What an awful experience. Thinking of how I would’ve handled this, I would’ve done the same as you. Being in that situation with David, and especially the loud yelling and added rice wine, would make me so, so uncomfortable. I’m sorry for that poor host family. They sound genuinely kind; hopefully David isn’t around a lot so they don’t have to lose out on other homestayers! But yeah, totally don’t blame you guys for bailing early. My spider senses would’ve been telling me the same thing. On the bright side, at least your experience makes a riveting story! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  9. Mindi Hirsch

    The sad thing is that this homestay might have been okay if not for David. He sounds awful, so it’s good you got away from him after the one night. As for me, I’ve stayed at some questionable guesthouses in SE Asia, but never a homestay. You’re making me feel glad that I never had that experience.

  10. Vrithi Pushkar

    I am sorry you had such a terrible experience at the homestay. David sounds crazy! We visited Vietnam earlier this year , did not stay at a homestay. I have been in situations where it is harder to say No even when you want to. But sometimes I guess it is best to say it.

  11. Danielle

    Oh no! That sounds so uncomfortable and I can definitely empathize with what a stressful situation that must have been. It sounds like it may have been someone’s good intentions gone horribly wrong – so focused on providing a tourism experience, he gave no actual thought to what you actually wanted.

    I stayed in two homestays in Vietnam, though they were more in that space between hostel and homestay. (For anyone going in the future, they were Kim’s Homestay in Hue and River Park Homestay near Hoi An.) Both were fantastic! I hope you get to go back someday and do homestays right.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      I did get better homestay experiences in Sapa- thank god. But yes, I think for future I will be more inclined to do hostels when alone and save homestay for group travels in case this happens again!

  12. Bryony

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds very much like David basically hijacked your trip. Perhaps he was just trying to make a good impression but the man sounds overbearing. There’s a fine line between being a guide and forcing someone to do something they don’t particularly want to do.

    I’m really pleased it was a group of you and not a solo traveller that experienced this alone. I know nothing particularly bad happened but you can’t help but wonder why David behaved in that way. Especially as he isn’t even the host.

    Glad you left and glad you were able to share this story because a lot of people need to know the possibilities of how badly wrong homestays can go.

    Thanks!

  13. Nuraini

    One of my nightmare scenarios in countries where I don’t know enough of the language for complicated communication and effective self-assertion…

  14. Penny

    Woah! That got pretty annoying really fast. I wouldn’t have known how to deal with it. Did you get accommodation easily after that? We had a pretty nice stay in Ninh Binh. No David’s around thankfully!

  15. Georgina

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience. I didn’t do any home stays but I had a bit of a hard time in tam coc so I’m glad you didn’t have an issue there. The lady who was rowing our boat wouldnt row us back until we gave her more money but we had booked a tour and paid beforehand so we honestly didn’t have any more on us. It was a bit scary but she took us back in the end and asked for a tip in front of her boss at the end

    http://Www.Georginadoes.Co.uk

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