I have spent over ten years either living in or working in a hotel. Prior to living in hotel rooms for the last three years or so, I worked in the hotel industry in both operations and management. So, having worked in the industry in Canada and experienced it as a customer in Asia, here are some of the ways that North Americans can expect their hotel experience to be different in Thailand.
Variety of Choice
Chain hotels tend to make up the bulk of the market in North America. From the Super 8’s at the low end of the star range to the Fairmonts at the top, the little guy is pretty much cut out of the market in the large urban centres. Bed and breakfasts exist, as do hostels but not in the quantity you will find in SE Asia. In Ottawa for example, there are three hostels I’m aware of and maybe ten or twelve properties that classify themselves as either a B&B or a guesthouse. The rest of the market belongs to the big chains.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada but doesn’t get a ton of tourism. As such, there are rooms but not many. There are roughly 100 hotels in Ottawa and that’s including the 15 B&B/Hostels. There just isn’t a lot of choice in rooms and the rooms available tend to be expensive.
Chiang Mai, in contrast, has a fairly developed tourism industry but is roughly the same size as Ottawa in terms of population. There are over 1,300 properties in Chiang Mai City, running the gamut from hostels to resorts. Bangkok by the way, has over 2,000.
Now Chiang Mai and Ottawa have different tourism profiles but even in comparison to Toronto, Canada’s largest city and most likely destination for tourists coming to eastern Canada, Chiang Mai has twice as many properties (Toronto has roughly 630 properties).
This kind of variety leads to my next point of comparison…
Value for Dollar
And what does all of this competition do? Well, along with a favourable exchange rate to the Thai Baht, it drives down the price and increases the value for the customer. As a good example, on my first night in Bangkok I spent less on a night at the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at (The Eastin Grand on Sathorn) than I paid at the airport motel I stayed at in Ottawa on the night before my flight to Thailand.
I would have to be exhausted and desperate for sleep to stay in a hotel in Ottawa that charged less than $100 per night. I’d probably just sleep in a car. $100 a night for a hotel room in Ottawa means that you’re neighbours are probably getting hourly rates or they’re drug dealers; moldy carpets and maybe the bathroom got cleaned last week. Bad neighborhood, crackheads..you get the jist.
In Bangkok, that same $100CAD (2600THB) would get you into a 4 or 5 star palace on Sathorn Road with a bellboy, concierge, silk sheets, rooftop pool etc etc. But the thing with Thailand that I realised very early on is this:
I don’t need a bellboy, a concierge, silk sheets or a rooftop pool. I just need a clean bed, clean floor and a clean bathroom. That’s it.
So, once that was established, things got really cheap.
A basic guesthouse in Thailand can run you anywhere from 200THB (really basic with no AC) to 600 or 700THB for a nicer place with breakfast and AC. That means, for basic accommodation, the higher end of the 3 star range is about $20USD per night. By basic room I mean, clean floors, clean bed and a clean bathroom, usually a TV that I never use and usually air conditioning.
So if amenities aren’t a huge deal to you, you shouldn’t have to spend more than $20USD on a room here. And as a rule, hotel rooms in Thailand at any star rating will be very clean – Thai’s are extremely fastidious about cleanliness in their rooms. As well, a small guesthouse is usually a family owned business and by staying there, you’re helping out the little guy economically and getting to know local people. Guesthouses are the way to go for an extended trip in Thailand. Guesthouses in Canada just don’t exist in the quality or quantity that you will generally find here.
A big difference that can take some adjusting to are the ergonomics of SE Asian hotel rooms. The beds are hard and the bathrooms are…different.
One of the most common complaints, if people have any, about hotel rooms in SE Asia is that the mattress is hard. Yup. Mattresses tend to be extremely firm compared to the virtual pillows we sleep on in North America. This will be the case in almost every room you stay in outside of the 4 and 5 star range. But I can speak from experience that a firm mattress is good for your back and if it’s really a problem, massages are cheap. But, when reviewing a hotel, don’t knock them down on the fact that the mattress was hard – they all are here.
The other big difference a North American will notice immediately is in the bathroom. SE Asian bathrooms tend to not have bathtubs and some will even dispense with a shower stall, having only a shower head coming out of the wall in close proximity to the toilet and sink. They tend to be very small to the western eye. There is something about this arrangement that cause some westerners some consternation (Water gets everywhere! It’s so small!).
I think it’s just a cultural set of expectations about how a bathroom is supposed to look more than anything. The lack of a bathtub has never bothered me. I find the idea of standing up in a curved, slippery bathtub (that rarely if ever gets used for a bath) to be an archaic holdover from a time when people actually bathed as opposed to showering.
In regards to water getting everywhere, the dryness of the climate tends to ensure that the bathroom floor and walls usually dry very quickly even without a fan. So yes, water will sometimes spray everywhere if you don’t have a shower stall, but just open the toilet seat and don’t spray the things you don’t want to get wet with the shower head (not too hard) and the bathroom will probably air dry faster than you will.
Rough Price Ranges (Bangkok, March 2017)
Below is a rough guide to what the range of rates are per night for the various star ratings in Bangkok in March 2017.
March is shoulder season (neither peak nor low season). As such, the rates indicated below would be higher from December to February (peak season) and lower from June to November (low season).
As well, prices will tend to be slightly lower in cities other than Bangkok like Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya and more expensive in resort areas like Phuket or the Gulf Islands. Be aware that price points and star ratings can overlap as well (ie.- a 4 star hotel may have a rate over 3000THB, a 3 star may have a rate below 500THB). What follows should be used a guide only.
- 5 stars – 3,000 – 21,000THB ($87.00USD – $600USD)
- 4 stars – 1,000 – 3,000 THB ($29.00USD – $87.00USD)
- 3 stars – 500 – 1000 THB ($14.00USD – $29.00USD)
- 2 stars – 100 – 500 THB ($2.80USD – $14.00 USD)
- 1 star? Just stay home fool.