in Northern Thailand
THERE CAN BE few places in the world where there are more choices of
where to stay than in northern Thailand - from a 5 star international hotel at Baht 2,500
per night to a basic guest house room at Baht 50 per night. Of course, you generally get
what you pay for, but there is considerable variation in quality within the same price
There are a few 'golden rules' for visitors to follow up on, some of which could be
- Most visitors arrive in Chiangmai tired and disoriented, having arrived by plane,
train, or bus. It is very tempting just to get straight into a taxi or 'dtook-dtook', and
go where they take you. It is far better to choose your own hotel/guesthouse that has
been recommended, and insist your driver takes you there. Remember drivers get paid by
the owners to bring visitors to their establishments. You can always go and look for
somewhere that you like better a day or two later, when you have recovered from your
journey and are getting to know your way around.
- It's best to settle on the rate before you pay anything. If you book through one of
the many travel agents in Chiangmai, they have contracts with most hotels and some
guesthouses, and can offer you often a 30% or even 40% discount.
- Ask to see your room first. Check that everything works - hot water, toilet flush,
shower, lights, TV (if supplied), insect screens, and air-con. Check for signs of
cockroaches, geckos, mice and other creepy crawlers. Check that the door locks properly,
the curtains close and that there are no signs the door has been forced in the past.
Think about noise. Are you close to a busy street - if so, do they have quieter rooms. If
there is a disco, make sure the room is not too close to it. Check the prices of the
mini-bar. (if supplied).
Accommodations are categorized in the following ways (Chiangmai hotels
are used for the examples):
Most package tourists
stay in these, but it is possible to book them as an independent traveller through a
local agency. These establishments give the biggest discounts - up to 40%. Most go to
some lengths to create a sedate, Thai atmosphere, with staff wearing traditional costumes
and Thai style furniture in the rooms. Restaurants serve a mixture of western and toned
down Thai food. They are usually very pleasant. There are several international hotels in
Chiangmai, a few in Chiangrai and one or two in Mae Hong Sorn, and two at Chiang Saen.
These are hotels or cabins in landscaped
gardens, almost always way out in the country, in pretty locations. They are popular with
those who have re discovered their love of nature. The cabins are usually comfortable,
large and well equipped, and most of them do not have air-conditioning because of the
high altitudes (at 1,000 meters above sea-level, it is never needed). Some even have wood
burning fireplaces for use in the cool season. Since the publicity is aimed at Thai's,
these resorts are seldom used by western tourists, who usually do not know of their
existence. They all have restaurants, usually with menus in Thai and English and with
good food. A typical price for a cabin is between Baht 400 to 1000. These resorts are of good
value if you appreciate nature, quietness, and beauty. Keep a lookout for them when you
Thai (Tourist) Hotels
There are very few of the old teak
hotels remaining, and most of these in my experience are very basic. There are many
hotels, however, built in the 60's primarily for Thai businessmen. The designs are
usually the architectural design as the west in the 60's era. On the other hand, they are
cheap (Baht 300 to 1500), well equipped with large rooms. Furniture is usually a bit
spartan. Most towns have them, and in smaller towns they are often the only choice. For
the Westerner touring by jeep or motorcycle, these hotels are more than adequate.
Bed and Breakfast
There are a very few Bed and
Breakfast operations in north Thailand. These are usually large private homes which rent
our their extra rooms. The quality can be quite good.
There are literally hundreds of
guesthouses in Chiangmai, and many others in surrounding towns and villages. They vary a
great deal. but most give all basic facilities. Check the towels - I have seen guesthouse
towels that make dish cloths look luxurious! The price varies (from Baht 50 to 400)
according to size of the room, quality of furniture, hot showers or not etc. In the hot
season. you may well not use the hot water - but then you want air conditioning, which
costs more. Most have restaurants serving westernized Thai food. Many organize treks. You
may be pressured to buy the guesthouse trek, which might be fine, but it is generally
better to book treks through one of the many specialist trekking agencies. You might ask
other guests their opinion of the treks they have taken during their stay in Chiangmai.
The Thais have a great tradition of hospitality towards travellers, and
temples always have somewhere to sleep. Travellers would never be turned away..This
provides a fascinating glimpse into Thai religious life. You should offer a donation in
an envelope to the temple if you take up the offer of hospitality.
If you should get stuck as a result of a breakdown, or for some
other reason, a Thai village will usually be within a walking distance. Without
exception, you will always be offered a bed for the night, although this may be no more
than a mat on the floor. Try not to look shocked, and you may not sleep well, but you
will have an interesting evening and night!
Other than the above, you can usually find a tree to sleep in although do not be
surprised to find a tree viper asleep on your stomach when you wake in the morning!
With so many types of accommodation available, it is easy become confused. If you are on
a very tight budget, stick to guesthouses. It always seems to me that 'traveller' who
might have spent more than $1,000 to get here, scrimps and saves on things that are quite
cheap anyway. Pamper yourself every few days - it is well worth it, and frequent small
rewards will add greatly to your enjoyment of your holiday.