Accommodation in Thailand
Cheap accommodation can be found all over in Thailand: for the simplest double room prices start at around 300 Baht in the outlying regions, 350 Baht in Bangkok and 400 Baht in some of pricier resorts. Tourist centres invariably offer a huge range of more upmarket choices. In most resort areas rates fluctuate according to demand, plummeting during the off-season and in some places, rising at weekends throughout the year.
Whatever the establishment, staff expect you to look at the room before taking it; in the budget ones especially, try out the door-lock, check for cockroaches and mosquitoes and make sure it's equipped with the decent mosquito net or screens. En-suite showers and flush toilets are common, but at the cheaper room you may will be showering with a bowl dipped into a large water jar and using squat toilets.
Guest houses and hostels
Any place calling itself a guest house-which could be anything from a bamboo hut to a multi-storey concrete block-is almost certain to provide inexpensive, basic accommodation specifically aimed at Western travellers and priced at around 250-450 Baht for a sparse double room with a fan and (sometimes shared) bathroom. You'll find them in all major tourist centres (in their dozens in Bangkok and Chiang Mai), and even in the most unlikely back-country spots: on the beaches, bungalows operate in much the same way.
In some main towns, guest houses are concentrated in cheek-by-jowl farang ghettoes, but even if you baulk at the world travellers' scene that characterizes these places, guest house make great places to stay, with attached cafeterias, clued-up English speaking staff and informative noticeboards. May also offer extra facilities such as Internet access, safes for valuables, luggage storage, travel and tour operator desks, and their own poste restate. Staying at one of these out in the sticks means you'll often get involved in local life a lot more than if you were encased in a hotel.
At the vast majority of guest houses check-out time is noon, which means that during high season you should arrive to check-in at about 11.30am to ensure you get a room: few places draw up a ''waiting list'' and they rarely take advance bookings unless they know you already and you've paid deposit.
The upmarket guest house is almost a contradiction in terms, but there are quiet a few such places, charging between 300 Baht and 800 Baht for facilities that may include air conditioning, bathroom, TV and use of a swimming pool. Beware of pricey guest houses or bungalow in mega-resorts like Pattaya, Phuket and Ko Phi Phi, however, which often turn out to be low-quality fan cooled establishments making a killing out of unsuspecting holidaymakers.
With just twenty officially registered youth hostels in the whole country, it's not worth becoming a YHA member just for your trip to Thailand, especially as card-holders get only a small discount anyway. In general, youth-hostel price work out the same as guest-house rates and rooms are open to all ages, whether or not you're a member. Online resevations can be made via the Thai Youth Hostels Association website www.tyha.org. .
Few Thais use guest houses, opting instead for budget hotels, which offer room costing to up to 600 Baht. Beds in these places are large enough for a couple, and it's quite acceptable for two people to ask and pay for a single room (In Thai 'hawng thiang diaw'). Usually run by Chinese-Thais, these three or four-storey places are found in every size able town, often near the bus station. Though the room are generally clean and en suite, the hotels tend to be grim and unfriendly, staffed by brusque non-English speakers and usually lacking in any communal seating or eating area. A number of budget hotels also double as brothels, though as a farang you're unlikely to be offered this sideline, and you might not even notice the goings-on.
Advance booking are accepted over the phone, but this is rarely necessary, as such hotels rarely fill up. The only time you may have difficulty finding a budget hotel room is during Chinese New Year (a move able three day period in late January or February), when many Chinese-run hotels close and others get booked up fast.
Moderate hotels-priced between 600-1500 Baht, can sometimes work out to be good value, offering many of the trimmings of a top-end hotel (TV, fridge, air-con, pool), but none of prestige. They're often the kind of places that once stood at the top of the range, but were downgraded when the multi-national luxury muscled in and hogged the poshest clientele. They still make especially welcome alternatives to the budget hotels in provincial capitals, but like upmarket guest houses, can turn out to be vastly overpriced in the resorts.
As with the budget hotels, you're unlikely to have trouble finding a room on spec in one of these places, though advance bookings are accepted by phone. Bed size varies a lot more than in the Chinese-run places, though, with some making the strict Western distinction between singles and doubles.
Many of Thailand's upmarket hotels belong to international chains like Holiday Inn, Marriott and Sheraton, and more home-grown chains such as Amari and Dusit, maintaining top-quality standards in Bangkok and major resorts at prices of 2500 Baht (€40 / US$60) and upward for a double-far less than you'd pay for equivalent accommodation in the West.
Thailand also boasts an increasing number of exceptionally stylish super-deluxe hotels, many of them designed as intimate, small-scale boutique hotels, with chic minimalist decor and excellent facilities that often include a spa. A night in one of these places will rarely cost you less than €100/ US$150-and may set you back more than twice as much.
Many luxury hotels now quote rates in US dollars, though you can always pay in Baht. It's a good idea to reserve ahead in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Phi Phi or Pattaya during peak season. And consider checking online accommodation-booking services as many of these offer big discount on top hotels.
National parks and Camping
Unattractive accommodation is one of the big disappointment of Thailand's national parks. Generally built to a standard two-roomed format, these dismal concentrate bungalows feature in about half the country's parks, and cost an average 500 Baht for four or more beds plus a basic bathroom. Because most of their custom comes to Thai families and student groups, park officials are sometimes loath to discount these huts for long travellers, though a few parks do offer dorm-style accommodation at 200 Baht a bed.
In most parks, advance booking is unnecessary except the weekends and national holidays. If you do want to pre-book, the easiest option is to do it online at www.thaiforest-booking.com/nationalpark-eng.html. The alternatives are to pay on the spot in Bangkok at the Forestry Department offices near Kasetsart University on Phaholyothin Road, about 4km north of the Mo-Chit Skytrain terminus (Monday-Friday 08.30am-04.30pm, Tel: +66 (0) 2579 5734 or (0) 2579 7223); or to book on the phone (not much English spoken), then sent a Baht money order and wait for confirmation or to pay through a bank and take the receipt with you when checking in.
A few national parks accept phone bookings themselves and these are highlighted in the Guide. If you turn up without booking, check in at the park headquarters, which is usually adjacent to the visitor centre. In a few parks, private operators have set up low-cost guest houses on the outskirts and these make much more attractive and economical places to stay.
You can usually camp in the national park for minimal fee of 30 Baht and some national park also rent out two-berth tents at anything from 60-200 Baht; a few, like Khao Yai, even rent out sleeping mats and bags, as well as stoves and pillows.
Unless you're planning an extensive tour of national parks, though, there's little point in lugging a tent around Thailand: accommodation everywhere else is too inexpensive to make camping a necessity and anyway there are no campgrounds inside town perimeters.
Camping is allowed on nearly all islands and beaches, many of which are national parks in their own right. Few travellers bother to bring tents for beaches either, though, option for inexpensive bungalow accommodation or simply sleeping out under the stars.