The traditional reputation of the Vietnamese culture being one of a sexually repressed nation may ring true in some areas of the country but in the big cities there is a revolution underway that is liberating a generation of men and women keen to experiment with casual sex and prostitution.
The Nhà Nghỉ is central to this cultural shift and enables hook ups to happen in the heart of the city with no-one being any the wiser.
Literally translating as ‘guest house’ or ‘hotel’, Nhà Nghỉ is a Vietnamese word that has become synonymous with a local phenomenon of casual lunchtime sex.
Rented for short periods, Nhà Nghỉ are now a common feature in Hanoi, especially in the Long Bien district with signs and hoardings along many of the streets advertising these rooms to rent being a distinct feature.
Though the Vietnamese have a reputation for being sexually introverted when compared to some of their Asian neighbors, affairs and ‘taboo’ sexual liaisons are quite common.
The difference with the Vietnamese is that they conduct such a rendezvous in very specific, and private, places with Nhà Nghỉs providing the perfect location.
What is a Nhà Nghỉ?
Though the literal translation is a guest house, Nhà Nghỉ has a more common definition as a casual room to rent by the hour.
Originally intended for passersby to grab a rest during a lunch hour or for a quick sleep, Nhà Nghỉs have always been a feature of Vietnam’s cities and towns sort of like the motel has been in the U.S. Typically, the rooms are small with very standard accommodation.
In recent years, Nhà Nghỉs are now more commonly used as places for couples (and punters) to conduct sexual relations.
Owners of Nhà Nghỉs are not only tolerant of this kind of booking but have mostly opened their establishment as a way to service the huge demand for them.
Most of the Nhà Nghỉs located in Hanoi are situated in the Long Bien area that was once called Gia Lam. As a result, the Vietnamese have a slang for people who use them as Gia Lams.
Who Uses Nhà Nghỉs?
To answer this, we need to take a step back in time (just a decade or so) to the rise of the hook up culture in Vietnam.
Though pre-marital and extra-marital sex has been a rising feature among the younger generation, it was an inciting event in the mid noughties which sparked the prominence of casual sex on a more ‘industrial’ scale.
Take a trip back to the introduction of the internet to Vietnam when services like Yahoo Chat and MSN Messenger had a major influence on the way 18-30 year olds were communicating; removing traditional barriers and encouraging anonymous meetings which were ultimately leading to casual sex.
Yes, the chat room culture hit Vietnam hard with men in particular finding it difficult to be faithful and women enjoying the liberation that this new medium afforded their sexuality. As demand for short-term rental rooms began to grow, so too did the number of establishments who were willing to take advantage of people prepared to do so.
As for who uses Nhà Nghỉs now, well there are two main groups: couples engaging in pre-marital (or extra-marital) casual sex or prostitutes entertaining clients. The Nhà Nghỉs usually start taking bookings at around lunchtime as workers take an alternative form of refreshment break.
For prostitutes, Nhà Nghỉs offer a degree of safety and protection which isn’t available on the streets. They certainly offer somewhere more clean and hygienic than a public toilet.
How Much do Nhà Nghỉs Cost?
The cheapest Nhà Nghỉs cost around $3 an hour and for that you can expect a pretty clean but basic standard of accommodation.
A bed with clean sheets and a rest room often with showering facilities and air-conditioning, they offer everything you need for a quickie and won’t break the bank in the process.
Some prostitutes who use the same Nhà Nghỉs are known to have arrangements with the owners whereby extra facilities are available and, as the rates for rooms goes up, there are some venues that offer a lot more for your money.
However, when you consider that a street prostitute will generally charge about $5, the comparative rate could be considered quite expensive for some locals.
In these cases, hookers will generally service their clients in a public toilet.
Is There a Culture of Nhà Nghỉs?
Well, yes there is. As well as regular love cheats or couples who are looking to avoid the publicity of their relationship moving on to the next level, there is a culture of Nhà Nghỉs users who swap details of their conquests online and score them on their assets.
Referred to as ‘one knots’ (perhaps a mash up of the phrase one-night stands), users of Vietnam’s popular porn site Lau Xanh, post contact details of willing women.
A tolerated part of city life, Nhà Nghỉs are seen by some as a necessary but useful evil that takes indecent behavior out of the public eye. Certainly, judging by the number of these establishments operating, they are providing a means of legitimate income for many business owners.
What About Westerners?
Largely the owners of Nhà Nghỉs do not expect to be welcoming westerners on their casual day rates but if you are being accompanied by a street hooker you can expect her to take care of all the arrangements for you…apart from paying for the room.
The guest houses are certainly more geared for locals to use than foreigners and many owners do not speak English.
The last word on this piece should be one of caution and to remind you of the fact that Nhà Nghỉ does not translate as a whorehouse but as a guest house and you could find yourself in trouble if you assume that all establishments that sport a sign out the front with these words on is concealing illicit sexual encounters.
Certainly, outside of Hanoi many will simply be your run-of-the-mill, bed and breakfast, guest houses.
Featured image via Flickr.
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