I have never particularly enjoyed staying in resort type accommodation, I happily admit to that in advance, and in Viet Nam I much prefer to stay at locally owned and operated guest-houses or “Nga Nghi” where the usual tariff is around 100,000 VND per night for a room with clean linen, a/c, your own bathroom (usually with hot water), possibly cable TV and, if you are lucky, the offer of sharing a meal with the family.
My expectations when I stay in Nha Nghi are never too high and I’m happy to go with the flow and take things as they come. However, when I stay in a place that advertises itself as having a 4 star rating, and charges accordingly, my expectations soar and perhaps I could be accused of becoming downright picky if the service or facility is not up to standard.
Currently we are staying in the 4 star rated Pilgrimage Village Resort about 4 Klms from the centre of Hue and I am not in a happy frame of mind. In the first place I dislike being somewhere that caters almost exclusively to large groups or bus loads of tourists. I don’t like the pseudo Vietnamese experience that is foisted upon these people and I feel embarrassed when I see very large and overweight European ladies appear for a meal in recently tailored ao dai and conical hat. Ladies, these garments were meant for persons of far slighter build than you.
But it the resort that has weighed upon my mind. Why can’t the reception staff understand that after two hours in a car from Da Nang and after 5 polite refusals we really do not want to sit down in the foyer amidst the clutter of our luggage for a “welcome drink”. Want we want more than anything is to be shown to our room as quickly as possible and left to our own devices. We don’t want a guided tour of the complex and we certainly don’t want a guided tour of the room. I think at my tender age I know how to use the a/c remote control and can identify the mini-bar (it looks like a small refrigerator).
It was not necessary to be shown the small safe which sits loose upon an open shelf for all to see and is easy to pick up and carry around (I did it). We considered that placing our valuables inside it would only make things easier for a thief. Far better to leave things scattered throughout our bags and at least make an intruder search a little.
Because we had missed breakfast in Da Nang food was high on the order of importance to us so we ventured over to the Junrei Restaurant within the resort. A small bottle of Heineken beer was 45,000 VND which is far more than I am usually prepared to pay even in quality bars in Sai Gon, however it was the quality of the meals that really got me upset.
We ordered pork cooked in clay pot with steamed rice and one of our favourite dishes in Viet Nam, beef wrapped in leaves from the Lot tree and barbecued over a charcoal grill. When the waiter delivered the pork and lifted the clay pot lid I felt he must have brought the wrong pot as I couldn’t see any food in it. Honestly, I thought it was empty and had to lean forward to gain sufficient angle to see the small amount residing at the bottom of the pot. Not only that but in a country that manages to do do such marvellous things with the high quality pork that they produce, this pork was tough and chewy.
The huge disappointment however came with the “beef la lot”. Normally when you order this meal you are presented with about 10 or 12 succulent fat rolls of beef wrapped in plenty of leaf, rice paper, rice noodles, salad, slices of green banana, pineapple and star fruit to make fresh spring rolls and a delicious dipping sauce. What we were presented with was a plate of 8 or 10 thin insipid looking pieces of beef that were barely covered in leaf and that was it!! Nothing else!! They turned out to be dry and flavourless and at US$4.50 for the serve I was not a happy camper.
Why do restaurants that cater for overseas tourists feel that they have to alter the “authentic Vietnamese cuisine” to the point where the delicate balance of flavours becomes non-existent. By comparison the recently opened “Wrap and Roll” restaurant in Sai Gon does not compromise on the taste of the Vietnamese food that it serves and I see plenty of foreigners in there dipping their fat beef la lot rolls into the spicy sauce and devouring it with great gusto.
Our room at Pilgrimage Village is brand new, in fact I’d say we could be the first guests to stay in it, and it comes with a magnificent view of the the construction site all around it, along with the accompanying noise. After living in Sai Gon and Ha Noi noise is not really an issue to me and I realise that in 6 or 12 months time the massive extensions they are doing here will be complete and all will be good. But I was looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet during this stay. Alas, that is not to be.
The staff here are friendly and are obviously trained to smile and say good-day when ever you encounter them. But why haven’t they been trained in how to knock at a door? Housekeeping, room service and maintenance staff all simply open the door and barge right in. (I can hear you asking why we needed maintenance, well somebody forgot to turn the hot water service on). Last night we decided to go to bed early and were woken at 8.30 by the sound of a key in our lock (there is no safety chain or dead lock mechanism, nor do they provide a “do not disturb” sign), the door burst open and in floundered 3 staff who retreated in haste when I sat bolt upright in a sleepy panic to ascertain who was invading our space. Upon further enquiry it seems they had come to place a page of Vietnamese folklore on our bed!!
The lighting in our room is inadequate, so dull that we cannot see a thing at night and the tea and coffee making facilities exist in a black hole while the unsecured safe on the shelf above is beautifully spot-lit. The hot water system produces only warm water and in small quantities. It is not an instant system so that when, as they are no doubt trained to do, the housekeeping staff turn off the power to the room when they leave there is no warm water for shower for a very long time when you return in the evening. Not to mention that the cold beers placed in the fridge are no longer cold and our batteries that we began to charge in the morning are still flat.
Just one last bitch before I close this posting. You know how when you purchase brand new towels they often need to be washed and conditioned before they will actually remove any water from your body. Well, you guessed it, we have brand new towels that just leave a slippery wet sheen all over.
Would I stay here again? The answer is a big fat NO. If places like these are going to claim 4 star status and charge accordingly then they damn well should deliver the goods.
We have another 24 hours here, sigh!
I wasn’t going to publish this because after I’d written it out it was like a catharsis and I was rid of the angst. Additionally, when I went to check my e-mail I found another edition of “the whinges and whines of Aaron” who can’t seem to be happy and needs to write everybody off despite the fact that he is living in the paradise of the Greek Islands and I figured that I didn’t want to sound like him and be a grumpy old bastard.
However something just happened that changed my mind. In Viet Nam possibly the most common courtesy when you enter a hotel, business or private home is to be served tea. I had a Vietnamese colleague and her husband meet me in the foyer of the Pilgrimage and asked them if they would like some tea while we talked. I was refused the service of tea by the reception desk manager because he was expecting the arrival of a new group of guests and did not want us cluttering his foyer. In his words “There will not be enough room for these new guests if you are sitting there”. He absolutely point blank refused to serve us tea and advised me to take my guests to the bar. As if that is not unbelievable enough I was charged for the tea, a paltry US$1.80 maybe, but I have NEVER been charged for common tea (tra nong) in any hotel or restaurant in Viet Nam before. My guests were rather astonished to see that I had to sign an account before they left.
The final straw, you’re not kidding!