On a cloudy noon, a man in office outfit with dark glasses and a woman in a sun-resistant cloak with a mask muffling her head entered a room at a mini hotel in Vietnam's capital Hanoi. About an hour later, they checked out, again covertly.
The five-story hotel nestles on Bo De Street in Long Bien district on the northern bank of Red River. Long Bien is noted for its numerous mini hotels that the locals call "sang Gia Lam," which literally means "go to Gia Lam", according to Xinhua.
A motley variety of mini hotels, or "nha nghi," meaning rest house, have mushroomed in Vietnam's major cities, attracting a growing number of young lovers or married men or women seeking an affair. Mini hotels attract new customers because they are considered convenient, safe and economical.
Many married and courting couples in extended families without their own rooms often rent a well-furnished "nha nghi" over the weekends for between 60,000-100,000 VND (US$3-5) for the first three hours.
Some squeeze a visit during their lunch hour.
A receptionist at a 10-room mini hotel said they receive a daily average of 30 couples.
"On festive days like Christmas Eve or Valentine's Day, we run at full capacity although rooms are double or treble the normal price."
A female designer with a newspaper who gave her last name as Hong said she and her husband at times still visit the "nha nghi" they frequented before marriage. Mini hotels help keep couples away from embarrassing and dangerous situations as intimate acts in public places are frowned upon by many, especially the aged.
Diep, a college student from Thanh Tri district who claimed himself to be "open minded," said he and his girlfriend go to mini hotels every week. He said intimate acts in public places can be dangerous, citing the example of his friends who had their photos of intimate acts put on pornography sites by some paparazzis.
Mini hotels in out-of-the-way lanes also help those having affairs to keep away from acquaintances. Most "nha nghis" even help cover the number plates of their customers' vehicles to ensure privacy.
They seldom require their customers to show personal documents such as identity cards, a common practice in larger hotels.
However, serious incidents at mini-hotels are sometimes reported in the media. The hotels are raided by police to crack down on prostitution, child sexual abuse and drug smuggling. Sometimes wives land up to pick up a fight with their husbands' mistresses.
Psychologist Trinh Trung Hoa lamented that today lovers pay more attention to sex and less to the noble values of true love.
Despite the occasional serious incidents at "nha nghis" and the great concern over the moral and ethical issues they have raised, the hotels are still mushrooming in cities in Vietnam.
However, "nha nghis" are losing some customers after the media reported incidents of the obscene photos, even videos of couples visiting mini-hotels being posted on Facebook, YouTube or pornography web sites.
Some have turned to star hotels.
"The price is much higher but the room is cleaner and bigger," a 37-year-old office clerk in a state agency told Xinhua.