Rooms For Every Budget
Here's what I really love
about Thailand. You can truly get a room in any price
bracket . . . and I mean ANY.
In a place like the United
States, a low-end range (LER) hotel is still going to run you
USD 40 and more like USD 50 after taxes as of 2011. These would be the generic chain motels
you see along North American motorways. You don't stay
here for the character. Many a town won't have
hotels/motels/B&B's in this price range. Recently, my
brother and father went driving through the scenic picture
postcard perfect locations of Alberta and British Columbia
(Canada). They weren't aiming for the low end, but in
places like Banff, Whistler, and Vancouver Island, there was
nothing available at USD 40.
In Thailand, the LER room can be
USD 3-5. This would not be a good room. It would be
little bigger than the size of your bed, fan-cooled, and the
bathroom would be a shared one. I stayed in such a room off Khao San Road back in 1994, and then it only cost 75B, the
equivalent of USD 3 at the time. I guess it's a sign
of aging that I would not stay in such places today, although if
the situation were forced upon me, due to ample training in my
past, I could tolerate it.
Thailand accommodation comes in all shapes,
sizes and prices:
foyer of the 1950's styled Atlanta Hotel, an elegant
rundown hotel for 600B rooms (top left); a
raft house room in Kanchanaburi on the River Kwai
for 350B (top middle); a USD 200 luxurious pool
villa in Koh Samui (top right); a rustic bungalow
for one or two on Koh Phangan for 400B (bottom
left); a spacious palatial treat in the hills
outside Chiang Mai for 2500B (bottom middle); and
one-bedroom in a very sizeable two-bedroom suite
centrally located in Bangkok for 2,100B
Low Mid-Range (LMR)
The years of slumming it made me realize the bare
minimum of what I require in a place like Thailand: (a) a
comfortable bed, preferably a double (b) air conditioning
(c) an attached bathroom. Shared bathrooms can turn out to be very
bad news. I consider it convenient to have a
refrigerator and cable TV in the room, but those two amenities are really not
necessary. The refrigerator would be preferred over the
television. Even with cable television and 70 channels, there's
often little to watch. HBO in Thailand shows movies that aired 20
years ago and have long gone into syndication. I'll call the
establishments offering (a), (b), and (c), low mid-range places.
What's fantastic about Thailand is that low mid-range places abound and
can usually be found in every town, particularly those
frequented by Thais. The cost usually falls somewhere between
350B-700B (USD 12-24), with the upper figure typically being something
quite nice. On my 2-week motorbike trip through Isaan, I never
paid more than 500B (USD 16) for a room, usually more like 400B, and
none of the places were dives. I have an easy test to gauge whether a
place is an incontestable dive. I just ask myself if my wife could
handle staying here for a night. If the answer is no, it's a hole.
When I'm on my own, I tend to stay in non-hole LMR's.
Mid Mid-Range (MMR)
From 700B to about 1,200B (USD 24-40 as of this
writing), you're in the mid mid-range category, and this is usually the
type of places my wife, I, and step-son stay during family vacations.
The cable television and refrigerator are bonuses in the LMR rooms, but
standards in the MMR's. The MMR places pay more attention to
cleanliness. Usually, there's a basic breakfast served and a swimming
pool on the premises. Unless you're a movie star or swank
businessman obsessed about the places you're seen in, an MMR should cater
adequately to most. MMR's are usually two-star establishments,
sometimes three-star, but in Bangkok an MMR can be 1-star or no-star. I'll discuss stars more later.
Upper Mid-Range (UMR)
From 1,200B to 1,800B (USD 40-60), you can score
yourself an upper mid-range room (UMR). Now you're guaranteed the swimming pool, refrigerator, breakfast,
and you could get a balcony or porch.
The room is larger and could be oozing with Thai atmosphere. With
UMR rooms, you're in solid 3-star territory, and if you've sourced
yourself a terrific deal, possibly 4-star.
Upper Range (UR)
I won't even bother classifying these by low upper-range, mid
upper-range, and upper upper-range. If you wanted to get
scientific about it, you probably could make these distinctions.
Upper mid-range and lower upper-range rooms would enjoy considerable
overlap. Middle upper-range would be the reputable 4-star
international hotels, breakfast buffet included. Upper upper-range
would be the five-star international hotels. Prices for the
upper-range can span from 2,500B, during a low season deal, all the way
up to the sky.
I have endeavored to classify hotels by some
arbitrary standard of my own devising since Thailand seems to lack that
standard. Four-star and five-star international hotels,
particularly chains, have a brand name reputation to live up to, so you
can be sure they really are deserving of their four- or five-star
status. Problems arise with local Thai hotels. Hotels seem
to be able to self classify over here or else the star gauge appears to
only measure if particular amenities are available at the hotel,
regardless if those amenities actually meet an accepted world standard.
Hence, it is all-too-common to stay in what you believe to be a 4-star
hotel and feel like it's seen better days and should be classified as a
two-star. In general, non-international four star establishments
you've never heard of are probably not really international four-star
level, but more like (lower) three-star. The hotel may have truly
been sailing in four-star waters when it opened a decade-and-a-half ago,
but has long since deteriorated, as many
places do in Thailand, and is continuing to classify itself by some
outmoded measure. Ignore stars as an indicator.
The price ranges I used above are rough yardsticks only.
Special promotions and low-season kick ass deals can make lower
upper-range rooms available for upper mid-range prices. My wife is
adept at finding these bargains, and when we do stay in a high ranked
establishment, it's always at a fantastic price. Several years
back, my wife's colleague at another luxury 5-star hotel chain offered us a deal we
couldn't refuse in Phuket: USD 50 a night for an upgraded 5-star room,
including a luxurious breakfast buffet and meal vouchers for two at an
international dinner buffet. Yes, you'd probably have to know
somebody in the right places to get this good of a deal, but the point
is, you'd likely be able to get a reliable four-star hotel without the
dinner vouchers for this price range during that same low season period
The Nature Of Hotel Bookings In The Post Noughties World
internet has changed the nature of hotel bookings for
sleeping establishments in all price ranges apart from the
low-end. Low-end hotels are the only ones that may not
have web sites. For everyone else, hotels rely on
a usually bogus price promotion model. The practice is not
limited to hotels in Thailand.
The practice goes something
like this. On the hotel's own web
site, they will list their 'typical' room rates. These
listed room tariffs are like the maximum suggested retail price
(MSRP) you'll see on the sticker for a stereo, blender, or
automobile. The MSRP
is always crossed out and the "sale price" listed to make you oh
so glad about all the money you 'saved.' Only idiots
actually pay the MSRP. Most times, the sale price is the
real competitive retail price, and if you're lucky and enter the
store during a real sale, you can get 30% of the true
competitive retail price.
The prices many hotels list on their own
web sites aren't what most vacationers would ever pay.
Nowadays, travel revelers can book on a plethora of
hotel-booking web sites. A hotel's web site price will be
shown crossed out and the kick-ass price (i.e. the real
competitive price) shown instead. Don't think you're
getting a deal on a hotel just from reserving it on a
hotel-booking web site. Think more along the lines that
you're getting a competitive deal. For a really kick ass
deal, you need to do your due diligence to see that the hotel
you're booking really is being significantly discounted.
Rates can differ across the different hotel booking web
sites, and this is how hotels get rid of rooms nowadays at
different prices. Before planning our own trips, we've
noticed considerable variances in prices at
Asia Web Direct,
Asia Rooms, and
Agoda. Sometimes, the prices may appear similar but
then the final booking fees the web site assesses distort the
Not all hotels practice this price distortion model. I
have sourced a decent hotel on a booking web site and then
noticed the hotel was charging the identical price directly on
the hotel's web site.
Booking web sites usually have it in their contracts that for a
hotel to list, it cannot offer a better deal on the hotel's web
site than is available on the booking web sites, which explains
why many a hotel inflates the prices on its own hotel web site
and then discounts from there on the wide range of hotel booking
web sites. These contracts, however, don't forbid a
hotel from offering the same 'discount' rate directly through
their web site that would be available if the customer booked
the room through Agoda instead. Hotels would ideally
prefer that all their traffic came directly through their web
site, as they would then not have to pay a commission to the
What I usually do is find the best price from a hotel-booking
web site, since multiple hotels and prices for a single location
are displayed in one place, then see if the hotel I desire has its
own web site. If the price the hotel is charging is more
or less the same as the hotel-booking price, including
additional fees, I always book directly through the hotel.
If there's a problem while staying a hotel, you're going to have
more leeway cancelling additionally booked days or getting
some form of compensation if you've paid the hotel directly.
From my own experience, the majority of the non-international
grade hotels practice the price distortion model. We can
only obtain the true competitive price of the room through an
external web site. I remember when we visited Khao Lak.
My wife found an excellent deal at an international 3-star place
for USD 30. The hotel's own web site listed the price at
USD 45. We booked for two nights through the hotel-booking
web site. When we decided to extend for one night, the
hotel would not honor the USD 30 rate directly and told us to go
back on the web and book there. Hotels which rely on
external web sites for bookings don't even want to secretly
undercut the hands that are feeding them. If a hotel does
it once, then does it twice, then does it three times, the hotel
booking websites will get wind of what's going and could refuse
to list the hotel.
Heavenly hideaway or hellish hovel, Thailand has got it all.
Good look sorting between the two. Sometimes, they're both
being sold for the identical price!