Lee Backpacker’s Hostel is Cheap & Perfectly Located, but Don’t Stay Here…

Hostels are great if you want to save money, meet fellow travelers and have friendly staff give you secret tips about a city. Ho Chi Minh is known for it’s crazy parties and Lee Hostel is in the heart of party central. It’s also by far the cheapest hostel in the city center. But those are the only good things I have to say about it.

Our main complaint was the attitude of the staff. Hostel World advertises the hostel as having lockers, which they do. What they don’t offer, not even for sale are locks. Most hostels let you store valuable items behind the counter. Sadly, the staff couldn’t care less where we stored our $450 drone. The conversation went like this…

Isaac: “Excuse me, could we please buy a lock?” we asked the young man behind the front desk/bar.
Staff: “No, we don’t sell them,” he replied in a careless tone.
Isaac: “Could you please look after our bag for us?”
Staff: “No.”
Isaac: “Do you know where could buy a lock then?”
Staff: *blank stare, no response*
Isaac: “Do you have any suggestions?”
Staff: *no response*
Me: “This is a $450 drone, can you at least point us in a direction where we might find a store that sells a lock?”
Staff: *no response*

Isaac ended up walking down the street and finding a lock, with no help from anyone at Lee Hostel. Although we were frustrated with them, we had never been rude. But when we said goodbye (in a friendly cheerful tone, I might add) at checkout the next day, a completely different staff member completely ignored us.

In addition to not proving lock for the lockers the rooms didn’t lock and the staff didn’t even check if people walking in and our were guests. But the lack of security and staff rudeness weren’t our only issues with the hostel. The beds, even in a slightly pricier four-bedroom dorm were hard as rocks.

Yes, I know all about hard beds in Asia. I’ve slept on many firm beds in China that weren’t exactly comfortable but also didn’t have me waking up in the middle of the night from back spasms… the Lee Hostel beds are probably the hardest beds I’ve ever experienced. I slept much better on the cold floor of Hanoi airport.

I’m not even going to mention the creaky wobbly bunk beds that shook when anyone in the room breathed, or opened the door or even just thought about rolling over. We stayed in a 12-person room in a hostel in Mui Ne and the bunk-beds there absolutely fine.

I guess I’d still recommend this hostel if all you want is a cheap place to (not) sleep for the night. Or if you’re planning on partying literally all night… because even your passed-out-from-being-drunk body would not appreciate the harder-than-concrete mattresses. How does waking up hungover AND covered in bruises sound?

Oh, and don’t get too excited about the free breakfast that they advertise. It’s just a gross bun that doesn’t even taste like bread. I made the mistake of offering it to a homeless dog. The hungry dog sniffed it, sneezed and looked at me with extreme offense.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m constantly worried about upsetting people and never give bad reviews. If you find me on TripAdvisor you’ll see that I rate almost every place I visit with five stars. I’ve given five stars to hostels that didn’t provide free toilet paper and even a few that had giant cockroaches crawling over my free breakfast.

Summary: don’t stay at Lee Backpacker’s Hostel. There are so many better places to chose from, just read some reviews on TripAdvisor or Hostel World. The great thing about Vietnam is that you don’t need to book accommodation in advance and you can haggle for everything, even hostel prices!

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How to (Affordably) Leave Ho Chi Minh Airport at 2 AM

After successfully saving $20 by haggling for our visas (don’t try this at home, kids) we were positive we could get a fair price for a taxi to our hostel. We were originally supposed to arrive early enough to get a 20,000 Dong ($1) shuttle, but then our plane got delayed… several times. Making us arrive four hours late!

Unfortunately, it’s a universal rule that airport taxi drivers are horribly selfish people who will happily pry hundreds of dollars from of your tear-stained jet-lagged fingers. I might be exaggerating… but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re sleep deprived and an angry smoke-breathing taxi driver yells obnoxious prices at you.  No, we yelled back, we will not pay 450,000 Dong ($20) per person when you know it should cost $7 total.

We didn’t want to give up just yet and found a driver who agreed to charge us a very fair 100,000 Dong ($5). He took us through a dark empty parking lot to a regular car with no taxi signs on it. After living in China for a year, being human trafficked and having our organs sold didn’t even cross our minds. Unmarked cars are known as reliable and cheap transport options in many Asian countries.

Just as we fastened our seat belts, the driver’s supervisor appeared out of nowhere and claimed that we need to pay 400,000 Dong just to leave the airport! Sighing, we took our bags out of the taxi and decided to walk out of the airport on foot. Luckily, we didn’t have to go far. We did have had to illegally cross a busy highway and then stumble over an overgrown muddy strip, but it was worth it.

It’s only about 500 meters total to the closest sidewalk where it’s easy to hail a regular cab that won’t overcharge you just for being near an airport. If we had known better, we would have waited for a smaller cab of a specific color but we were desperate to get to our destination. We payed 250,000 Dong ($11) for the 15 minute ride and our driver pretty much gave us a mini tour along the way.

Just to summarize, that 5 minute walked saved us 700,000 Dong ($30). Add the $20 we saved on the visa and that’s $50 extra that we could spend on the more important things life. Like all the spring rolls two people could possible eat in three weeks!

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Haggling for a Visa at Ho Chi Minh Airport

Our plane was scheduled to land in Ho Chi Minh at 10:30 PM and we were planning on taking a low-cost shuttle to our hostel. Unfortunately, we were flying from China, so naturally, we got in at 2 AM.

We had filled out our visa papers in advance and we only had carry-on luggage, so all we had to do was pay $25 each for the visa fee. Although we expected to haggle with the drivers for the price of a taxi ride, we did not expect to do it with the border police…

Since the exchange rate for dollars is pretty horrible in Asia, we decided to pay the fee in CNY. The officers looked up something on the computer, nodded at each other and typed 500 into a large calculator. Our jaws dropped to the floor because 500 CNY is almost $75. Defeated, I was ready to hand over the cash when Isaac spoke up.

Isaac: “No, that’s too much, $50 is 330 RMB.”
Officer: “Go to the exchange office then.”
Isaac: “Come on, it’s 2 AM, I don’t want to go to the office.”
Officer: “Then pay 500.”
Isaac: “I’ll give you 400.”
Officer: *stink eye*
Isaac: “Here’s 400″ *hands him 400*
Officer: *accepts money and gives us our passports”
Me: “Run before he changes his mind!”

I don’t know how common this is and I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying it. We probably got lucky because it was 2 AM and the officers wanted to get to bed as much as we did. We did not arrive in Vietnam with the intention of underpaying for the visa and probably risked deportation for arguing with them.

We were also told in advance to bring the exact change in US dollars. The issue was that the exchange office in China also charge closer to 500 RMB instead of the fair 330. The reason the guards asked for so much in the first place is because they themselves will have trouble to get a fair exchange rate. Anyway,  haggling for our visa was a fascinating way to start our trip to Vietnam!

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Prepare for Upcoming Vietnam Posts!

Hello everyone, long time no post! Between visiting the Avatar Mountains, spending three weeks in Vietnam and moving apartments, I have fallen behind. Now I have three weeks to put a month of traveling and experiences into YouTube videos and blog posts. Wish me luck! In the mean time, please enjoy some of my favorite photos from Vietnam. You might have seen them on my Instagram 😉

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