The Quyen Thanh Hotel: Pet Geckos and Brilliant Balconies

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The Quyen Thanh is my favorite budget hotel in Saigon. Seventeen US dollars a night gets you a double room with a bathroom, air conditioning, and pet geckos. A soda from the minibar will set you back 35 cents. A full load of laundry runs about two bucks. Flip flops are recommended in the shower. The green faux-granite bathtubs are grimy, but otherwise, the place is clean.

I’m a night person, which makes staying at the Quyen Thanh awkward. They padlock the front door around 10 p.m. and two receptionists crash on cots in the small lobby. To get in after 10, you ring the doorbell and wait a couple of minutes. Then you ring he doorbell again because the guys in the lobby never wake up on the first ring. After that, you bang on the sliding metal gate that covers the front door. Then a person at the café next door tells you to try ringing the bell again. Eventually, someone wakes up and lets you in. Like I said, this is awkward, especially when you come in well past 10 on a nightly basis, but I’ve offered to move to another hotel so I won’t disturb them. They have graciously assured me they are happy to wake up.

The best thing about the Quyen Thanh is the balconies. The hotel has 14 rooms on four floors, all overlooking my favorite Saigon intersection. Each floor has a single, shared balcony that wraps around the corner for great views of the street below. I’ve sat for hours watching the cyclo riders, food vendors, streetside masseurs, cigarette hawkers, lost backpackers, drunk backpackers, friendly residents, and afternoon downpours. Then, there are the squid bike barbecues. (More on those soon.)

My favorite part of the view from my balcony at the Quyen Thanh is the motorbikes. I’ve already blogged about Saigon’s motorbike culture. What I hadn’t done up to this point was actually participate in it. The swarming traffic was risky enough on foot. Hopping on the back of a motorcycle seemed like a deathwish. But in the morning, my friend Phúc would meet me at my hotel. My belongings reduced to what would fit in a small overnight bag, we would ride 190 kilometers south, weaving through Saigon’s morning rush hour, then buzzing through the Mekong jungles to the city of Can Tho.

I felt nervous about the journey as I crawled into bed. I popped in my earplugs (recommended, as the street noise below lasts all night), crawled under the giant towel that served as my blanket, popped an Ambien to conquer my jet lag, and drifted to sleep.

…To be continued….

Published on Friday, April 17, 2009

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