Thailand - Accommodation
Along with cheap and easy travel within Thailand, cheap and abundant accommodation is another thing that makes the country such an easy destination for independent travellers. There is a range of accommodation to suit everyone, from backpacker dormitories to some of the finest hotels in the world, and rarely is it difficult to find a place.
This is why I can't understand people being so obsessed with Lonely Planet guide books when they are in Thailand. With the advent of the Internet, the world is a completely different place now compared to the world as it was when LP published its 'Southeast Asia on a Shoestring' book. Guide books are unnecessary and because things change so frequently in Thailand they are constantly out of date.
Do you need to pre-book in advance?
You don't 'need' to, but it is very advisable to do so. Upon arriving at Bangkok's new airport after a 13 hour (or longer) international flight, it is very reassuring to know that you have a room booked and the last thing you'll want to do when you arrive is trawl around the streets looking for a room.
Timing also plays a big part. If you turn up at Koh Pha-Ngan at the same time as 20,000 backpackers for a full-moon party you will have great difficulties finding a room.
Certain other locations in Thailand also get busy at festival times, for example, the Loy Gratong and Songkran festivals. Other towns, such as Hat Yai, get very busy at Chinese New Year and Malaysian public holidays.
If you don't book anywhere in advance, you may not have a problem. If you book in advance, you definitely won't have a problem.
Will I get a better deal booking on-line?
The most expensive way I know of booking a hotel in Thailand is booking through the hotel. I have always found that I can get better rates from a nearby travel agent selling hotel vouchers, or through the Internet.
On-line booking agencies such as Agoda have a lowest price policy and booking through them normally means that you will get the best deal possible.
Local travel agents
In some locations in Thailand you will be quoted one price if you walk directly into a hotel, but if you go to a travel agent 50 meters round the corner (or next door even) you can book exactly the same room through them for a much cheaper price.
While in Bangkok for a few days on one occasion I stayed at the Bangkok City Inn. I met an Austrian girl in the lobby who didn't look at all happy. In fact, she was livid. We got chatting and she revealed the source of her discontent. She had walked into the hotel and been given a rate of Bt1,200 but after checking in and wandering around, she discovered a travel agent next door who was offering a rate of Bt900 for exactly the same room in exactly the same hotel.
However, it was now too late. She couldn't do anything because she'd already paid the hotel and she felt angry at being ripped off. I didn't have the heart to tell her what I was paying. A Thai friend of mine who worked for Agoda in Bangkok booked the room on my behalf. I paid the contract rate which is what the travel company pay the hotel before they add on any profit for themselves. My rate was Bt600, half of what she was paying.
If you book through a local travel agent you pay them and they will give you a voucher to take to the hotel. Sometimes though this won't include breakfast, whereas the rate quoted directly by the hotel will. Check first.
I wish more hotels in Thailand had personal safe boxes in the rooms. I've stayed at a few that do and for me this is the ideal way of keeping valuable items secure. I try to avoid leaving anything of value in the room but sometimes it is unavoidable. It is not really practical to leave lots of camera equipment or laptop computers in the hotel safe. I am not too worried about my room being broken into; the worry for me is when the cleaners visit.
I have often returned to my own room in a hotel when it is being cleaned to find the door wide open and when I go inside the cleaners don't say a word - they just smile. I could be anyone walking into the room and taking what I want. If I have to leave documents, credit cards or money in a common hotel safe, to which other people have access, I put them in a sealed envelope.
My personal experience in Thailand has been good regarding security but it is best to take basic precautions to reduce the risk.
If you are planning to stay anywhere in Thailand for a month or more it will probably be better to rent a room on a monthly basis rather than to pay a daily rate in a hotel or guest house. Monthly rates work out a lot cheaper than daily or weekly ones. It's also really nice having a familiar base to call home rather than moving from room to room every couple of days. It only makes sense to do this though if you are staying for at least one month and of course this won't suit people who want to travel constantly.
With monthly rentals there are some things to be aware of. The rent is normally just for the room and doesn't include electricity which is a separate charge and usually costs about Bt6 a unit. Most places also make a nominal charge for water which is around Bt100 a month.
The room will have a bed but there will probably be no bedding or towels provided. The good news is that these items are very cheap in Thailand. Cleaning will not be included although some places offer a cleaning service which isn't very expensive. It might be easier just to buy a brush and a few other cleaning items so that you can do it yourself.
Facilities in rented rooms vary from building to building. Some places provide a TV and a fridge. Other places don't but these items can be rented. I don't bother with a TV but I need a fridge which costs me Bt400 a month to rent.
Many places designed for long stays have a minimum three month stay but other's don't. A deposit is normally required which can be anything up to three months rental.
If you intend staying in Thailand for a while try to think what you might want to buy for the room very early on. I know that when I leave eventually I won't take anything with me so the cost to me per month of these items is the total cost divided by the number of months I stay here. At first I tried not to buy things but if I had bought them straight away the monthly cost would have been lower.
There is lots of choice in Thailand for room rental. At the bottom of the market are the old rooms above shops, many Chinese owned. I've been in a few of these places and was amazed at how many rooms there are. From the street there is no indication as to how far the buildings go back and how many people they can accommodate. These places are often in serious need of renovation. Thai squat toilets are the norm and there won't be any hot water. There may or may not be air conditioning but if there is the unit will probably be very old and has never been serviced. It is unlikely that there will be mosquito screens on the windows. Prices can be as low as Bt2,500 per month and it is not unusual to find three or more Thais sharing one of these rooms.
At the top end of the market are newly-built luxury apartments in Bangkok that cost anything up to a quarter of a million Baht per month. There is lots in between though and something between the two extremes, comfortable, clean but not too expensive with a Western toilet and a hot shower, is what I normally look for.
As I said above, there is normally no shortage of choice. At the bottom of the scale are the backpacker guest houses and hostels. These are normally close to train and bus stations. For some reason backpackers don't seem to like venturing more than 300 meters from the station to find a place to stay. I actually find many of these places quite depressing. My idea of having a good time in Thailand doesn't involve continuous road and rail journeys interspersed with stays at grotty guest houses.
Squat toilet in a backpacker guesthouse
Expect to pay between Bt80 for a dorm bed and a couple of hundred Baht for a room. Toilet facilities may or may not be shared and the toilet could be one of the Asian squat variety. Air-conditioning is unlikely but a fan will be provided. The windows may or may not have mosquito screens and if they do there may be big holes in the screens. No problem though - you wouldn't be a proper backpacker without a good selection of infected mosquito bites.
Slightly up the scale are budget hotels, normally run by Chinese - as are most businesses in Thailand. It will get you away from the backpacker scene but some of these places are really quite seedy. Don't be surprised if some of the rooms are booked out for two hours at a time and when 'guests' book one of these rooms they are given a condom along with their room key.
Tourist class hotels are the next step up the scale and typically cost between Bt400 and Bt700 depending where you are (Bangkok and Phuket hotels are more expensive than anywhere else in the country). Some of these can be OK but others are decidedly seedy. One thing I dislike about this region of the world is that non-smoking rooms are almost unheard of apart from in the very top hotels. Many Asians are fanatical smokers and as a result there is always that stale tobacco smell in rooms and burn marks on the furniture.
At the top end of the scale are the big international chain hotels which provide accommodation to match the best hotels anywhere in the world. For Thailand the prices are relatively high but compared to other major cities you can get a top hotel room for a bargain price. Hotels such as the Oriental, which regularly features in the list of the top 10 hotels in the world, the Shangri-La and the Peninsula, all in Bangkok spring to mind.
Rooms and apartments in Bangkok
I have found that hotels for short visits are well advertised on-line but it has been more difficult finding out about places to stay for long term visits. The following link may help:
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.
Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.
If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.
Images of Thailand