This was our second visit to Dong Hoi and it was for pretty much the same reason. We wanted to visit the Phong Nha caves. While researching accommodation options, we found that not only was Dong Hoi cheaper than Phuong Nha, it had more to offer too.
On our first visit we found one hostel, Buffalo’s Hostel and all the foreigners were raving about. Everything else, was either in Vietnamese or way out of our price range, so we went with it.
We chose to book it as they offered accommodation and cave tour options, which at the time, was just what we needed. While our stay there was a fun experience, it wasn’t the warmest or most comfortable experience.
This time round we did the same thing and found the same result. Phong Nha just didn’t offer value for our money so we went back to looking at Dong Hoi.
I’m going to be honest and say that I wasn’t completely thrilled by the idea of staying at another party-hard hostel. What saved the idea was that it wouldn’t be for long and I could work with that.
Our stay at Au Lac Bar and Hostel turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip!
Our regular readers will know that Hotels Combined is our ‘go to’ for finding a place to sleep and so far, it has been good to us. Though when it gave us another hostel option in Dong Hoi, I was a bit hmmmm.
As it turned out, Au Lac Bar and Hostel is now a new addition to our favorite accommodation list. Not to mention our first option for future visits to the super funky city of Dong Hoi.
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Au Lac sits at 68 Dong Hai, Dong My, Dong Hoi.
The area boasts plenty of restaurants, bars, hole-in-the-wall eateries and you can walk to the city center or river front in no time.
The first thing we noticed about Au Lac was the awesome decor and welcome feel when you step inside.
The massive pool table greets you at the entrance then leads you to the bar/reception area. before sweeping you up the stairs to the rooms.
The communal area extends from the comfy couch by the window with a great view, across to the the row of small tables and chairs on the opposite wall leading to the bar.
There’s no lift but thankfully it’s only three levels so you don’t have far to go. The staircase is nice and wide too, so you’re not wrestling your luggage to the room.
Au Lac Bar and Hostel does offer parking and at first, we thought the parking facilities were a bit silly as there wasn’t much room in front of the building.
We soon learnt thought that they use the parking space across the street as well as the space out front.
The staff also bring the bikes inside round 11 PM and then wheel them back out at 7 AM the next morning. We thought that was super courteous of them, making our stay so much more enjoyable.
The ground floor area is great for mingling with other visitors or just doing your own thing.
We had a blast playing a few games of pool and chatting to Thao who was manning the bar. Not only was she awesome to hang out with but she had great taste in music and was happy to find a few of our favs too. Thanks Thao!
We met a few of the other visitors in passing, though we got the feeling it wasn’t fully occupied.
Another bonus for us and booking via Hotels Combined was that we got a free breakfast out of this deal. Kien delivered our breakfast as soon as we were ready for it and it consisted of the most delicious banh mi. Freshly made by the local banh mi legend and we loved every bite.
Au Lac also has a proper coffee machine too! You can order a choice of Vietnamese or western coffees at very reasonable prices.
If you’re looking for somewhere to to eat, then head on over to Red Peppers Restaurant and Pizzeria.
Au Lac guests receive a 10% discount on their food bill. Extra bonus, whahoo!
The food selection is a good combination of western and Vietnamese food. The ingredients are fresh, the dishes are really yummy and reasonably priced.
Red Peppers is a short walk from Au Lac and like the hostel it has a very welcoming vibe to it too. It is a sister property to Au Lac and you’ll receive the same high level of hospitality there.
It’s not unusual to see Thao, Binh or Kien floating between the two either. Good company guaranteed!
If you’re looking for something of the more local variety, then head right out the front door where you’ll find plenty of options to choose from.
A short stroll across the bridge towards Cang Dong Hoi takes you to an area that is full of eateries with mouthwatering selections to chose from.
Dong Hoi also sports a lively night market. On of the main features is the selection of local delicacies and crowd favorites, which we miss out on thanks to the wet weather and of coarse a good reason to come back. HA!
We tried a local spot at the other end of Đông Hải that had a lovely little old couple running it. While communication was almost non existent between the four of us, Leon and I were quietly confident they would deliver a superb meal, which they did of coarse.
Our order turned out to be beef and noodle soup dishes that were absolutely divine, not to mention a great find as it cost us next to nothing at VND80,000 (~USD3.50 / ~AUD4.80) for both bowls.
The most enjoyable part of the meal was watching the old couple get excited about their foreign visitors, finding ways to converse which ended in a fun and hilarious conversation via Google Translate that still makes us laugh.
Our room was a basic but lovely and comfortable space where everything felt and looked bright and fresh and the private bathroom was huge (compared to previous places we’ve stayed).
The queen size bed was a dream with a Western style mattress, crisp sheets and a super warm and comfy duvet.
The first bonus was the balcony with a view over the Cau Rau river and out over towards the Nhat Le river. It was a great spot to have a beer and watch the world go by.
Two special mentions.
One, there is no TV. We weren’t bother as we were too tired after exploring and touring. Two, there is no wardrobe as such but they do offer coat hooks. Still if you’re only there for a few nights, you won’t even notice it.
The bathroom was clean and modern with the traditional all-in-one set up and was big enough to swing a cat in. We love it!
It had a western toilet, basin, double head shower which was perfect for Leon and stocked with basic toiletries as well as plush towels.
Can’t fault the service in any way. Owners Binh and Kien, along with their team did an amazing job of looking after us. They give us heaps of insight into Dong Hoi and some great recommendations too. Then they hooked us up with a great tour to Paradise and Dark Caves, assuring us it would be both value for money and memorable.
We enjoyed hanging with these guys so much so that we’ve become friends and stay in touch regularly and it’s experiences like this that make us love this country so much!
We paid VND 200,000 (~USD 8.50 / ~AUD 12.00) per night for our three nights at Au Lac Bar and Hostel. It was an awesome deal and one of the best we’ve come across in our travels so far.
We really enjoyed our stay. In fact, we enjoyed it so much so that we almost considered extending our trip to spend just so we could spend more time with Binh, Kien and Thao!
If you are thinking of doing the Phong Nha caves, don’t feel obligated to stay in Phong Nha. Dong Hoi has so much more to offer and Au Lac is the ideal spot for a base.
Check them out guys, you won’t be disappointed!
They are locals who know Dong Hoi well. They have a ton of recommendations that you will never find on TripAdvisor. Or any other review platform for that matter. (*Hint: Ask Binh about the hot springs.)
Thanks for reading and see you in the next one…