Planning your first trip to Thailand? Wondering what your accommodation options are? This post discusses the three most common styles of lodging in Thailand. For each category I include relative expense, privacy, security, and overall experience. At the end of the post, I discuss a few tips relevant to all who visit this country.
I’ll start with the most expensive choice of accommodation: Hotels.
Hotels in Thailand are probably the least preferred and most expensive accommodation in the country, at least among younger travelers on a budget. They are not very common except in the most popular tourist destinations like Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. Actually, places like Phuket offer hotel accommodation almost exclusively. While hotels are by far the most private and secure, they are also, by a large margin, the most expensive option. And in my opinion they offer the least rich experience.
Having your own room means you are not as likely to meet other travelers as you would be in a hostel or guesthouse. This, however, may be a positive for some travelers. Hotels are by far the best option for couples, especially those traveling with children. If you are the type of traveler who always keeps money in your shoe, a dozen photocopies of your passport hidden throughout your luggage, and a belt-bound, hidden wallet tucked down your pants, hotels may bring you welcome peace of mind.
The price of hotels vary so widely depending on which city you are in that I won’t give a dollar figure here, but suffice it to say they are only a good option if you are in the country for a short period of time, or if you have a generous budget. Advice for the backpacker trying to meet other travelers: Avoid hotels.
Overall Experience: Dependent on individual traveler(s). Typically not as social as other options, but with more amenities and creature comforts.
Since many people might not be familiar with the definition of a guesthouse, I’ll start there. Guesthouses are sort of in between a hotel and a hostel. Guests will typically have their own room with one or two beds, but with fewer amenities than a hotel. Guesthouses often have a common area, like a hostel, which makes it much more likely that you will meet other travelers. The great thing about guesthouses is that you can be social in the common area, have a few drinks with your new friends, and then retire to a nice, quiet, private room. This makes guesthouses great for both backpackers and young couples on a casual vacation. However, with kids, I would still advise staying in a hotel. Guesthouses, like hostels, can get a bit noisy at night depending on the specific setup and location.
Guesthouses are usually in between hotels and hostels in respect to price as well. Unlike hotels, though, owners of many guesthouses will be willing to cut you a deal for longer term stays of typically a week or more. The ability to store your valuables in your own private room also makes guesthouses about as secure as a hotel depending, again, on the area in which you’re staying.
Overall Experience: Social with fewer amenities than a hotel. Typically in less preferable locations than hotels, but generally better than hostels.
I obviously prefer guesthouses to hotels, but my favorite are hostels.
For those who have never stayed in one, the word hostel may evokes terrifying images of the film by the same name. While I can’t speak to every hostel in the world, hostels in Thailand are far from what you might imagine. I love hostels because they are both the most affordable, meaning I can stretch my trip longer, and the most social, meaning I meet lots of people with whom I can travel to other cities or countries.
In a typical hostel, guests will stay in a shared room with anywhere between four and ten occupants, usually in bunk beds. While this almost guarantees you will make new friends and travel companions, it also means when the day is done and you want to go to sleep it may be difficult to find rest. Hostels are certainly the least private accommodation option in Thailand, or any country for that matter. They are probably also the least secure option as well, though many do have lockers available for use.
Most have common areas with TV, computer access, free WIFI, and maybe a stove or microwave for guests to use, but that’s about it as far as amenities are concerned. The nicer hostels might have rooms with air conditioning or a fan, but may charge extra. If you’re a backpacker willing to sacrifice some creature comforts in exchange for a vibrant social environment and the chance to save some money, hostels are hands down the best option.
Privacy: Low-Mid depending on setup
Security: Low-Mid depending on setup
Overall experience: If you don’t mind the noise and lack of privacy, hostels are the best accommodation option in the country. Most hostels are in decent locations, but some can be difficult to find, especially since the names of many streets in Thailand do not match up to the names on the map.
*While I still prefer hostels to guesthouses or hotels, I did witness a few thefts at a couple different hostels. Theft is always a risk, but can be avoided by traveling smart.
– Regardless of what kind of place you choose to stay, the reception desk will probably ask to hold on to your passport. I personally don’t feel comfortable doing this, especially in hostels and guesthouses, so I offer them a photocopy instead. If they insist on having the real thing, try making up an excuse as to why you need it for an activity or tour that day. For most places I’ve stayed, a photocopy will suffice. Its always a good idea to give a digital copy of your passport to a friend or family member in case you lose the real thing.
– Splurging on a good pair of earplugs and an eyemask is absolutely worthwhile if you plan to stay in a hostel dormitory.
– If there are lockers available in your hostel, use them. Most shoestring travelers and backpackers are trustworthy, but getting a credit or debit card stolen in a foreign country is a much bigger hassle than it is in your home country, especially if you don’t have a long term address to which your bank can mail a new one. Its always better to err on the side of caution and use a locker.
– Finally, as with all other aspects of traveling, your intuition is your most valuable guide. If a place or situation gives you a bad feeling, listen to your gut and find somewhere else. It really is that simple.
I hope you found this helpful and please comment if you have any other advice related to this topic!