Southeast Asian budget lodging that Mom would like
Finding good, low-priced hotels in Southeast Asia.
Special to The Seattle Times
I'm scandalized when lodging in a developing country costing $60 or $70 a night is described as "budget."
Nonsense. That price range may qualify as budget accommodation in the U.S., but not in, say Southeast Asia. You can pay far less and still get a perfectly satisfactory place to stay.
During a recent two-month trip in Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, my companion Elizabeth and I stayed in 16 different hotels and guesthouses. The cheapest was $10 a night; the most expensive was $32. The average per night cost was just over $21. Thirteen of the 16 certainly would pass "The Mom Test" — that is "Would your mother be willing to stay here?"
The three that didn't make the cut lacked air conditioning, although that's not the biggest reason I think Mom wouldn't be happy. It's more a matter of being a little too basic — no furniture other than a bed, toilets you flush with a plastic pot of water tossed down the bowl (although we thought two of them, Lola's Bungalows at Bang Saphan Yai beach and Beer's House on Koh Samui island, both in Thailand, were quite satisfactory).
A couple of the places that do pass the Mom Test were pretty unadorned but still qualify; they were spotless, reasonably comfortable and well-located. Most of the rest, though, pass with flying colors. They were not only clean and comfortable but ranged from pleasant to quite chic.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Thai island idyll: Our bungalow at the Jungle Club on Koh Samui was fan-cooled. But it was one of the very best places we stayed. The Jungle Club isn't on the beach, but about 1,000 feet up in the hills. The views out over the island and the sea were fantastic; at night the lights of Chaewing Beach shone brilliantly far below.
Our room — a "Jungle Hut" — was reasonably spacious and very pretty. The big bed was sheltered by a mosquito net. At 800 Thai baht per night (about $26) our bungalow was the cheapest room at the Jungle Club; other rooms ranged from $90 to $165, the latter for a two-bedroom house easily sleeping four.
Choosing the cheapest room at an otherwise upscale place is an excellent strategy for finding outstanding budget digs. The resort has a small infinity pool and an outstanding restaurant. If you want to go down to the beach they provide a shuttle.
Tropical history: Another winner was Tony's Place in the old Thai capital of Ayutthaya, about 90 minutes north of Bangkok by train. Seven hundred baht ($23) bought what may have been the loveliest room of our trip.
The room was large. Hardwood floors gleamed; the walls were painted a fetching pale avocado. The big, comfy bed had an elaborately sculpted wooden headboard. The other furnishings were also of attractive tropical wood. The bathroom was big and impeccable. The cafe downstairs served good Western and Thai food.
Under $20 a night: Two places costing less than $20 a night were particularly pleasant. In Kanchanaburi, Thailand, on the River Kwai, we stayed at Sugar Cane 2 Guest House. Our $18 room was on a raft, with a gorgeous view across the river to woods on the far shore. The floor of our room was hardwood and the walls were covered in woven mats.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we had a pleasant stay at the Two Dragons Guest House. For $16 a night we had a spacious and attractive air-conditioned room with a big bed and a small fridge. Like virtually every place we stayed, Sugar Cane 2 and Two Dragons provided free Wi-Fi.
Bangkok for less: The priciest place we stayed was the Suk 11 Hostel in Bangkok's Sukhumvit neighborhood. The $32 a night we paid (breakfast included) is a relative bargain in this fairly spendy district of the Thai capitol.
Despite the name, Suk 11 is no hostel; it's a biggish boutique hotel. The hotel blends together several old wooden buildings and what apparently started as an undistinguished 1960s apartment block into 75 stylish rooms.
Much of the interior decoration borders on genius. As you walk along the boardwalk in the upper floor hallways, you feel as if you're strolling through a Chinese village at dusk. There are piles of bamboo and pots beside the boardwalk; overhead are branches with dried leaves.
Our room wasn't quite as smart as the public spaces, but was still pleasant and comfortable. Suk 11's restaurant is particularly fine; their green curry and coconut milk with chicken and Thai eggplant is the best version of this dish I've had.
Finding budget lodging: So, how do you find real budget lodging that your mom would like?
In Southeast Asia my starting point is usually the website Travelfish.org. It has thorough coverage of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and spottier coverage of Malaysia and Indonesia. It features hotel and restaurant reviews by its own staff and by travelers.
For actual booking, Agoda.com frequently offers significant discounts off rack rates. As noted earlier, looking for the cheapest room at spendy hotels is a good strategy.
And don't be afraid to bargain, especially if you're staying more than a night or two. We spent nine nights at the very likable New Asia Heritage Hotel in Georgetown, on Penang Island in Malaysia. The posted rate for our room was 88 Malaysian ringgit — not quite $30. We negotiated a rate of just 75 ringgit, or $25.
Real budget accommodation that your Mom would approve of is out there. Don't pay more than you have to for comfortable lodgings.
Marc Sullivan is a Seattle native and former Seattle City Light executive. These days he's mostly wandering around Asia.