Vietnamese lovers have a problem. Convention dictates that public shows of real affection are taboo. We’re not talking about doing the “thing” here, merely kissing and cuddling is frowned upon by one of the most conservative societies on earth. So young lovers are forced into standing on the Thu Tiem Bridge gazing at the night city skyline or congregating on Mai Chi Tho to sit on a motorbike and fly a kite. There is an innocence about Vietnamese society that is actually quite charming. Young couples actually enjoy the simply things in life, in a way that is lost to most in the West.
“The charming innocence is really endearing”
But surely young lovers have needs and urges the same as anyone else. Well, this is where the Nha Nghi, or “Love Hotels”, come in. To the initiated this remains a hidden part of Saigon life. Whether you know it or not, the chances are you drive past love hotels every single day. These pleasure palaces can be rented by the hour and have become a regular haunt for young couples, cheating partners, married couples in search of some privacy and Saigon’s famous “butterfly girls” with their clients.
A great strength of Vietnamese life is the strong family bond. However when you are sharing a small house or even a single room with mum and dad, amorous advances don’t, well, advance very far to be honest. “We’re close, but not that close!” So when the birds and the bees start to get restless, it’s time to pop down to the Nha Nghi and take advantage of the opening rate, which is between VND60,000 and VND100,000 for the first three hours.
“When the birds and the bees start to get restless, it’s time to pop down to the Nha Nghi”
There is one street in District 7 that has about a dozen of these establishments. It really is quite a sight in the early morning as children stroll past on their way to their local international school and at the same time, dozens of young couples emerge looking bleary eyed and rather pleased with themselves. Each couple discreetly jumps onto two different motorbikes and heads off back to their normal lives.
As with everything there is a certain ambiguity about it all. The term Nha Nghi simply means guest house and there are many of these all over the city that are nothing more than that. The love hotels are normally spotted by the signs outside advertising the rates. If the prices are by the hour then there is every chance that the stair carpets will be more worn that most. It’s the same with the infamous Hot Tocs in Saigon. Hot Toc merely means a hairdresser, though some are more blow job than blow dry. A guy could come to town for a haircut and a room for the night, and find himself involved in a whole different ball game.
“A guy could come to town for a haircut... and find himself involved in a whole different ball game.”
Sex it seems is still the big taboo here. Everyone does it, nobody admits it and nobody talks about it. Vietnamese society is incredibly conservative and seemingly naive, but take a look at the sex chat sites and you get a real sense of where Saigon is. Online, everyone appears to be at it.
So just where do the love hotels fit in on Valentine’s Day? Well, each year, they report great business with many saying that they get fully booked on February 14th. Some have three hour slots booked right through the afternoon, evening and night. My, if the walls could talk. Maybe that’s why they call it a headboard!
There is a riskier side to this risqué business. Some partners, finding out about infidelities, have been known to have done deals in the past with hotel owners. They installed cameras and caught their loved ones loving other lovers. The resulting grainy videos hit the social media sites and caused quite a stir.
However, Saigon’s infamous love hotels show no sign of losing their appeal anytime soon.