Travel in Thailand Accommodation
No matter what your budget, you can find something to suit. Thailand and indeed Bangkok has a huge range of places to stay. Whether you want the opulence of the Oriental Hotel, the filth of a Khao Sarn Road backpacker hole or somewhere in between, you will be able to find it in Bangkok. And right throughout Thailand, you will be able to find something to suit your needs, at least most of the time in most places.
In surveys of (admittedly well-heeled) international travelers, Bangkok's top end hotels continue to rate extremely highly. The Oriental Hotel, The Dusit Thani, The Peninsula and The Shangri-La are often mentioned when you hear the top hotels in the world being talked about. These are five star hotels in every sense and should suit the most demanding of travelers. But if you've read down this far, you obviously have a bit of time on your hands and you are more likely to be looking at another class of hotel.
Throughout Thailand, you have all of the big international hotel chains like Marriot, Sheraton, Regent, Hyatt represented. You also have some very good Thai hotel chains like Amari. And then you have got a lot of stand alone hotels. At the lower end of the range you have guesthouses. I gather that camping grounds are available in some places but having seen one snake show too many, I think I'll give that one a miss, thank you.
Bungalows are a very popular Thai style of holiday accommodation. What exactly is a bungalow? Well, it is just a stand alone building that may have as little as a bed, bedside table and chair or be a stand alone building decorated and with the facilities as flash as a room in the best 5 star hotels. One tends to think that bungalows are only found near the seaside and while this is where they tend to be located, you can find them in many other places too, especially outside of cities and in the countryside.
Of the beaches and islands in Thailand, the most popular spots like Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Samui are oozing with a variety of accommodation options. But this is not always the case at some of the more off the beaten track type places. It should come as no surprise that the further off the beaten track you get, generally the harder it is to find quality accommodation. Even in some of the islands the quality of accommodation is not always that good – and sometimes the prices, while cheap by international standards, can be expensive by local Thai standards. Places like Ko Samet and Ko Chang are classic examples where, in my personal opinion, accommodation prices really are higher than they should be.
It's widely known that more than a few men come to Thailand, perhaps not for the purpose of getting involved with Thai women, but ultimately they end up with a Thai lady at their hotel. It should be noted that some hotels may not allow obvious women of the night into the establishment. In some hotels, prostitutes are barred from entering. Such places include some guesthouses and budget hotels, as well as some hotels which cater specifically to families or tour groups. In some hotels there is a "joiner fee" which means you have to pay a supplementary cost to allow a woman who is obviously a prostitute to spend the night with you. The fee could be anything from a few hundred baht to over a thousand. In and around the areas known for naughty nightlife, virtually all of the hotels are "guest-friendly". The vast majority of hotels in Thailand allow prostitutes to stay overnight and it would be less than 1% which bar entry and only a small percentage which charge extra.
One of the great things about accommodation in South-East Asia (with the exception of Singapore) is that you can get your own room at an affordable price. I remember travelling around Europe as a young backpacker in 1990 and spending around $US12 equivalent for a bed in a room with 6 – 8 other smelly, stinky backpackers. There was no privacy whatsoever. Well, this is Asia and you don't have to worry about such dormitory style accommodation. Having said that, in the areas that are popular with backpackers, such accommodation can be had for a pittance, at less than 100 baht a bed. However, again, this is Asia and sometimes the quality of said establishment may be questionable. You can therefore forget the idea of youth hostels that you may have had to suffer in the likes of Western Europe. While there are a handful of youth hostels in Thailand such as those run by YHA, these aren't so common.
While I acknowledge that some people don't have a lot of money and want to make it go as far as they can, I'd be wary about choosing the cheapest accommodation options. In Bangkok that would likely mean the Khao Sarn Road and as with a lot of the other locations with budget travelers, the cheapest accommodation can often be dirty to the point of being unhygienic. Sheets go unchanged and bed bugs breed like mad, waiting for that magic moment when you go to bed so they can start to feast! Such venues may have bathrooms rife with stagnant water which are homes to armies of mosquitoes which wait patiently for the chance to snack on you too! Basically, with the cheaper places, inspect the rooms closely and don't be afraid to ask them cutting questions such as when the sheets were last changed!
Thailand is not an expensive country to travel through and if you are on a real budget, you can do just fine. Let's look at the cost of accommodation in Bangkok first. A room in the top end hotels tends to go for 5,000 baht or more a night. The very best spots, like the Oriental may even go for twice this. As I mentioned earlier, hotels in Bangkok really are excellent and the top end places are just fabulous. My pick is the Sukhothai which has a wonderful combination of Thai style with modern convenience. It is worth just going for a wander through as it really is that nice!
The mid range in Bangkok would be those venues where a room goes from around 1,000 to 3,000 baht a night. The variance in this range would largely be determined by the facilities offered at the hotel, how new it is, and to a lesser extent, just where it is located. You can get some perfectly acceptable hotels for not much more than 1,000 baht a night in Bangkok.
At the lower end of the scale you have the guesthouses which go from anywhere from loose change up to close to 1,000 baht a night. Yes, there are some budget locations knocking on the 1,000 baht a night rate!
As Bangkok can be quite difficult to get around due to the dreadful traffic conditions and the fact that the skytrain and underground only cover a small part of the city, one needs to think carefully about the area where one chooses to stay. The most popular areas are Sukhumvit Road, Silom Road, the Siam Square / Pratunam area, Banglampoo and the river. I’ll try and outline the particular advantages and disadvantages of each area as well as mention a few other areas which for various reasons I would not really recommend.
The Sukhumvit Road area has long been a popular spot for Westerners and we have been staying in that area for as long as we have been visiting the Thai capital. There are a large number of hotels in the area, ranging from older, but still comfortable and very affordable 2 and 3 star accommodations at around 1,000 baht a night, many with names which you just know they sprouted up in the Vietnam area, to a number of genuinely fine 5 star properties which can go for several thousand baht a night.
Sukhumvit is central, easy to get to and from, and is the most popular area for a good percentage of Bangkok’s resident Westerners to live. It is also the main area for much of Bangkok’s farang oriented naughty nightlife industry which is predominantly in the area from Sukhumvit Soi 1 to soi 23. If that excites you, then this is a good area to stay, but if it abhors you, you may want to stay away from Sukhumvit. I personally do not think there is anything particularly special in this area and frankly, the main reason people come to or stay in this area is for the nightlife. The shopping in this area doesn’t compare to other spots and there really aren’t any major tourist attractions in the area.
The skytrain runs along Sukhumvit Road so access to other areas serviced by the skytrain is easy.
Siam square / Pratunam
This is the home of Bangkok’s biggest and best shopping malls and as such if shopping is your thing, this is most definitely the area to stay. There are a number of huge shopping malls in the area, ranging from the ever popular Mahboonkrong to the ultra upmarket Gaysorn, as well as the more budget minded Pratunam Market. You really can shop until you drop in this area.
Traffic congestion and pollution in this area can be very bad at peak times, but it remains a very convenient area to stay in. Not only is the shopping very good, but this is an area where the vendors are used to dealing with foreign tourists so most vendors and the staff in most shops, speak fairly good English. Here are also some interesting attractions in the area such as the Erawan shrine and the Baiyoke Tower, the tallest building in the city. It is quite frankly, an easy and convenient area to stay.
The Silom Road area, and the two roads that run parallel, Suriwong Road and Sathorn Road, encompass the main business district, an area where there are many banks, embassies, insurance houses and both local and international company head offices. If you are doing business, this would likely be a good area to stay. You’re not too far away from the skytrain either and there is some shopping in the area, including a lot of tourist related shopping. The Patpong night market and the Lumpini Night Bazaar are right there too. As it attracts a lot of business travellers to the area, many of the hotels are not cheap and there aren’t as many budget hotels in this area as there are in say, Sukhumvit Road.
From the top of Silom Road you have the Dusit Thani Hotel, a very fine hotel, with a number of hotels down Silom Road and the roads running parallel either side. Some of the big name hotels in this area include the Sofitel, the Narai Hotel, the Holiday Inn and my personal favourite, the gorgeous Sukhothai Hotel.
Essentially located at the bottom of Silom Road, the hotel properties along the river are some of the finest not just in Bangkok, but in the world. The famous Oriental Hotel exudes a colonial charm, in contrast to the Peninsula directly opposite, which is much more modern, yet still in the same price bracket. The Shangri-La is another world famous hotel and the Sheraton Orchid is also lovely. These are all very fine 5 star hotels, cheap compared to many other 5 star hotel properties around the world, and all have very fine facilities and restaurants.
It should be noted that the skytrain does not make it down to the river so traffic can be a bit awkward down there, especially from late afternoon and into the evening.
Banglanphu (Khao San Road area)
This is the backpackers and budget travellers’ area and is very conveniently located to some of the city’s historic attractions like the Grand Palace, Wat Po and the wonderful Chao Praya River. This is the place to go if you are travelling on a budget, or want to be among others travelling on a similar budget. Khao Sarn Road is the main road in this area, although there are guesthouses and budget hotels strewn all over the area.
It should be noted however that a number of guesthouses and budget hotels in the Khao San Road area do not allow Thai nationals to stay! I am not sure of the reasons for this but if you are travelling with a Thai, you need to be aware of this! Of course one of the reasons is that the guesthouses and hotels want to discourage blokes from bringing hookers back to their room. I'll never forget a sign in Tawee Guesthouse where I stayed way back in 1998 which said "Don't bring prostitutes back to the establishment because things go missing, missing and the police come sniffing, sniffing"!
Rachadapisek Road, Chinatown and the Airport
Two areas where I would not really recommend you stay unless you have a very specific reason for being there are Chinatown and the airport area. Chinatown has dreadful pollution and the traffic down there is about the worst in the city. Getting in and out of the area to go to other areas can be a major ordeal.
There are a number of hotels along Rachadapisek Road. In the past I would never have recommended that a Westerner stayed in the area as the traffic was very bad and there is little of interest in the area, but note the underground runs up that road making it more accessible to other areas. Many of the hotels in this area seem to market to other Asian travellers and this, as well as the lack of any real reason to stay there, mean I would not really recommend it – unless you got a super deal.
The new Bangkok international airport opened in September 2006 and I am unsure of the hotel situation out there. There is no real reason to stay in the area unless you find yourself flying in late at night with an early flight out the next morning.
Accommodation in Bangkok is readily available and the city almost never suffers city wide accommodation sell outs. Wherever you are or wherever you want to be, you will never be far away from some sort of accommodation.
The prices of accommodation in Phuket and Ko Samui are much the same as in Bangkok. Both are now big international beach resorts with many fabulous places to stay and as such the prices reflect what people are prepared to pay for them. However, most of the large resorts have timeshares available, which are luxurious apartments that offer many great amenities and give visitors the opportunity to come back year after year. On the other hand, Pattaya and Chiang Mai both have high quality accommodation available at prices which simply do not exist – at least what you get for that money – in Bangkok. This is one reason to visit Pattaya and Chiang Mai – you get very good value for money on your accommodation.
Once you get outside of Bangkok and the most popular tourist areas, the prices for accommodation plummets, but the quality remains reasonably good. In much of regional Thailand, in towns such as Khon Kaen, Phitsanulok, Korat, Nakhon Phanom etc, you can get a great room for 1,000 baht. This usually gets you a very comfortable well-maintained hotel room with either a double or two single beds, all the usual facilities and a very good buffet breakfast for two. You can actually find cheaper than this, but the 1,000 baht mark seems to be the average. Such hotels can be very comfortable indeed. One such example is the Nakhon Phanom River Hotel where for this price you get a very nice room with a view of the river and an excellent breakfast buffet. The quality of hotels in regional Thailand really is excellent and as I say, the cost is very fair indeed. Another favourite of mine is the Charoen Thani Princess Hotel in Khon Kaen where for 1,100 baht you get a really nice room and again, an excellent breakfast buffet.
You don't need to worry too much about squat toilets as although they are still popular in the countryside, just about anywhere where a Westerner goes has standard Western toilets. But then you might come to prefer the squat toilet, the absence of toilet paper and the requirement to use one's left hand… It's better for the environment and I believe it's more hygienic too. Give it a go, you might like it! A note about toilets. Many apartment buildings and even a lot of modern, expensive hotels will have notes requesting that you do NOT flush toilet paper down the bowl. If there is a basket there in the cubicle, it is expected that you will discard your used toilet paper there. Apparently the reason is not only for preservation of the environment but also that the refuse system was not designed to handle toilet paper. But like many things in Thailand, this is changing.
Some of the cheaper places around about will rent out rooms short time for use by working girls and their customers. Unless you are a prude, there's no reason to let this bother you and keep in mind that if you go somewhere that is busy and there seems to be no rooms available, just hunt for the local short time hotel which will be more than happy to rent you a room for however long you require.