The Thais are a resourceful bunch, chucking up hostels, hotels and bungalows where no one else would think they’d fit – or stay upright. So if there’s one thing you can scratch off your worries list when travelling in Thailand, it is finding accommodation. I challenge anybody to get off a plane, boat, taxi or bus in Thailand and not end up with a place to stay that night.
The most common form of accommodation in towns and cities is the hostel or backpackers’ guesthouse, and on the islands and beaches it is bungalow resorts. From a mere £1.50 a night you can get a basic room or beach bungalow with shared washing facilities. And by basic I mean a bed and four walls.
Rooms may be tatty, ramshackle or, at the least, dated, but they are always clean and are everything you need if you have a well equipped backpack and a sense of humour. If you do open the door to a dreary-looking room, don’t despair. Pin your sarong to the wall, make a shell mobile and chuck some clothes on the floor – you’ll soon feel at home.
For an extra pound a night you could opt for a room with a mosquito net over your bed and possibly a chair or towel rail in the corner. And for an extravagant £4 you could even get an en-suite for the night.
These guesthouses and resorts generally have a common room/restaurant with tables and chairs, floor cushions, hammocks, a TV playing DVDs of films that haven’t even been out at the cinema yet, and more often than not, a couple of adopted cats and dogs sniffing about.
There’s normally no need to book ahead – just pick one you like the sound of from your guidebook and turn up at a reasonable hour. Don’t panic if it’s fully-booked as the likelihood is there will be an almost identical place next door. You usually pay the morning after each night you’ve stayed.
Experiencing a homestay
A homestay does exactly what is says on the tin – you stay in a local’s home and sit and eat meals together every night. It’s very sociable and particularly good if travelling alone. And you’re guaranteed a good meal every night. They can vary from taking in just one guest to ten. In our case there were two double guest rooms and one single and we paid about 300 baht (about £5.50) a night each.
A bed on the River Kwai
Kanchanaburi is a favourite stop-off on the backpacker trail, with the infamous bridge over the River Kwai and its floating bedrooms.
We were dropped off at V.N. Guesthouse, walked into the reception area and soon realised we were halfway up a tree on the banks of the river. The receptionist directed us down some ladder-like steps towards the riverbank. We then had to negotiate a couple of planks of wood half submerged in the water to reach a floating bungalow where the bedrooms were. Cool! It was quite surreal to sleep on the River Kwai, bobbing up and down every time a boat went past.
The pleasant surprises
On this occasion, some friends and I were already lined up to stay in a half-built homestay, somehow sold to us on the journey over by a mad Englishwoman who was helping to run it. I wasn’t convinced myself – the sound of it having no beds, electricity or running water and snakes popping out of the toilet concerned me somewhat. But my companions thought it sounded a laugh, so we got a taxi driver to take us there – not realising why he needed to be jostled and bribed into it just yet – until we proceeded to bump down a near-vertical slope of holes, mud and shingle to slide to a halt outside a wooden frame of a house with netting for walls, shacked up on a beach.
You may be surprised to hear that we ended up staying there for nearly two weeks – the longest we’d stayed in the same place during our whole trip in Thailand. We were made to feel at home very quickly – soon befriending the owner, Kajack, his weird cross-breed dog called Today, and the builders. We spent the days lazing on our very own private beach and evenings gathered round oil lamps playing cards and getting drunk on rice whisky.
I hung my clothes on a branch of driftwood, showered using a saucepan and water butt and deftly avoided close encounters with snakes in the toilet. And it was great.
And this is what must be remembered – keep your mind open if somebody suggests somewhere to stay that sounds a bit unconventional, as it may turn out to be a one-off experience.