Looking for somewhere to stay in Thailand without blowing all your baht? Check out these backpacker gems in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Chang and Koh Phangan
In Thailand I was a stripper, a ping pong player and an international beach bum – on paper at least. My travelling companion’s chief form of entertainment was to write down bizarre professions while checking us into accommodation. It was an unsuccessful attempt to put us in the same league as weird Thai celebrities like ladyboy boxer Nong Toom, actor and stunt star Tony Jaa, and the illustrious former Manchester City Football Club owner and runaway prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. All backpacker hostels ask for names, occupations and passport details, so have yours at the ready.
Flashpackers who land at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to find they can’t stand the heat (which can top 40°C), will find the Rambuttri Village Inn a welcome relief. The hostel is tucked away down Soi Rambuttri opposite the infamous Khao San Road. Solid walled rooms, which are unusual for budget accommodation in Thailand, keep the air con in and the dawn calls of the cockerels out. There are hot water showers, too, unlike most other budget places, where the shower temperature varies according to what time of day the tanks empty from the roof.
Although there is no bar or restaurant attached to the hotel, there is nothing to stop guests taking a bottle of Chang beer in the lift to the rooftop pool. Cable TV also clinches the deal, especially for people who want to be near western-style toilets after trying a few too many insects from the sellers on the street. The alternative in most budget backpackers is a ceramic hole in the floor in a shared bathroom. A double room with mod cons at the Rambuttri Village Inn is 600 baht per night.
Khao San Road oasis
Shambara is an oasis of peace and greenery down an alleyway off Khao San Road, tucked away from the city traffic, catcalls from the massage parlours and noise from the backpacker bars. Set back from a garden with water features, it's a small, clean hostel with just a few rooms (from 300 baht), which makes this accommodation all the more exclusive. Each individually-designed chamber has a fan and the beds are some of the comfiest I have ever stayed in. As long as you remember to use mosquito repellent for the insects that swarm around the water that runs outside, the Shambara almost makes Bangkok relaxing. The hostel operates a non-smoking policy inside and has a shared television and a book of tips in the upstairs foyer written by fellow guests.
Budget room with a pool
In the capital of the north, Chiang Mai, there is little contest about where to stay. Smile Guesthouse is made up of a main lodge with fan double rooms for 200 baht a night and chalet rooms around a swimming pool for a slightly higher rate. There are discounts for long-stay guests. Life is so laidback here that hostel staff and guests didn't even bat an eyelid when a Frenchman had the Changtastic idea of jumping into the pool from the first-floor canopy in the early hours. Perhaps this is down to what happens during the Songkran water festival every April, when the entire town erupts into a gigantic water fight. Smile Guesthouse is merely a supersoaker away from the citadel moat and Thai Pai gate, at most.
Blissful basic beach bungalow
Thailand is renowned for having some of the most blissful beaches in the world, and island life does not get better than the Treehouse backpacker hostel on Koh Chang’s Lonely Beach. The main wooden lodge, complete with hammock watchtower for one and terrace built out to sea, sells seaside bungalows with hammocks from 100 baht a night and has amazing barbecues to suit all tastes. Life here is pretty basic, with pebble-built communal washrooms, but this all adds to Treehouse’s charm. The resort only recently got electricity. Seeing in the dark used to be by oil lamp, until a fire burned down a few of the bungalows. Everyone got away unscathed, but it attracted attention from the local authorities, who have been trying to move Treehouse from the land it is squatting on. For years there have been rumours Treehouse is moving to the other side of the island without any signs of relocation, but it would be best to check before you stay.
Way to stay for the Full Moon Party
Upbeat Thai island Koh Phangan can be a great place to stay - provided it is nowhere near Haad Rin during the time of the Full Moon Party. Budget-conscious travellers would be hard pushed to find anything under 500 baht at this time of the month. However, anyone stuck should try asking at bars. At the Reggae Bar on the sunrise side of the Haad Rin peninsula, a life-size statue of Bob Marley pointed the way to a small but cosy double room for 200 baht a night on the top floor. With a pool table and bottle of Chang beer only a few steps away, this accommodation was by far the best I have ever found in Haad Rin. This was the only place we never needed to write down our passport number, names and occupations, to truly disappear into the ether of the smoking fire shows and warm beach waves.