Ms Yang of Ms Yang’s Homestay in District 3, Saigon.
“My family has owned this villa for many years, it is the original family home. My mother was Chinese, she passed two years ago. The name, Ms Yang, is from my mother’s family name. My Vietnamese name is too difficult for people to pronounce. My father is still alive. He is 82 years old and in very good health, but he smokes a lot. My father’s home town is in the Mekong Delta but I was born in Saigon, and grew up in this villa.
This villa started off as a small, single story house and as the family got wealthier they wanted to renovate but the only way to do that in Saigon is to go up. So they added some more floors and the graceful, wooden staircase. This villa has been open as a homestay for one year. Our other one, Ms Yang’s Homestay Number one is more of a house. It is smaller, but taller, and has also been in the family for a while. I have been running that one as a homestay for three years.
I started the Homestay business because I had finished a job that I had for many years with a company that constructed and built apartments. I was out of work for three years and I wanted to do something that I had never done before but I didn’t know what. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, this is what I wanted to do, open a homestay. So I did.
I didn’t know anything about this kind of business, but I got a lot of help from my first guests. I remember my firsts guests very well. They were working for a volunteer organisation and they came from the USA and Canada to stay with me for a week. There were seven people and they had experience stayjng in guest houses. And they told me all sorts of things that people would want in a homestay of this quality and cost. They told me what to put on the website, on AirBnb, and on booking.com.
It’s not expensive, it’s homely. But people come back and stay again, so we must be doing something right. I am doing this from my heart. I am listening to every guest to find what I need to do to be good. I’m learning. It’s really nice getting to know all the guests and learning about all sorts of countries, learning about their culture. I enjoy this a lot. I can stay at home, look after my family and do the business, and talk to all the people. I think I am very lucky, because people tell each other about this place and more people come.
My nephew, Caung, is my main helper here. He is studying to be an electrician at university, but he doesn’t help with the electrical work here! We don’t employ anyone, it is only the family that works here. We do all the cooking and cleaning. And that’s how I want to keep it. I think it makes it what it is. We are very hard working but I think that is good for me.
We had a Secret Visitor the other month, from a travel book in Germany. We didn’t know, because he was secret. But we started getting a lot of German visitors! They all came because they saw his write up. I would like to visit Germany one day but at the moment I am too busy with this business, I don’t get time to travel. I travelled a bit before I opened the Homestays.
I have a good memory of a couple who came from Germany because before that I had a very closed mind and I think the people who are all covered in tattoos, a lot of ink, are bad people. But they were the nicest, gentlest people and yet they were totally covered in ink. They stayed with me two times. They changed my mind about the tattooed people.
Another couple from Holland, they came to stay with me for one night but they had trouble getting money from the ATM. The wife is crying. I said, “Just keep going to Hanoi, I will pay the taxi and everything and you don’t need to pay me for the room.” And then at the end of the trip they come back to pay me and they ask me, “Why?” And I say, “You don’t come here all this way to trick me for one night, when you come here to stay with me I trust you.” I think it is important to believe in people and to trust them.
I think there is very, very many hotels and homestays in Saigon and when people choose to come and stay with me I appreciate it very much. I appreciate every guest. I say to my sister that it is destiny, why these people come and stay with me. I want to do something for the people that come, to make community together, to cook and eat together.”