If your idea of the typical Bangkok hotel was influenced by The Hangover Part II, you’ll be relieved to learn that the city is home to a variety of modern hostels, guesthouses and hotels. To further improve matters, much of Bangkok’s accommodation offers excellent value and competition is so intense that fat discounts are almost always available. And the city is home to so many hotels that, apart from some of the smaller, boutique places, booking ahead isn't generally required.
Wi-fi is nearly universal across the spectrum, but air-conditioning and lifts are not.
The cheapest hostels and guesthouses often share bathrooms and may not even supply a towel. Some remain fan-cooled or, in the case of dorms, will only run the air-con between certain hours. Wi-fi, if available, is typically free at budget places. If on offer, breakfast at most Bangkok hostels and budget hotels is little more than instant coffee and toast.
Increasingly, midrange has come to mean a private room with air-con, a fridge, hot water, TV and free wi-fi. It’s not uncommon for a room to boast all of these but lack a view or even windows. Breakfast can range from ‘buffets’ based around toast and oily fried eggs to healthier meals with yoghurt or tropical fruit.
Top-end hotels in Bangkok supply all the facilities you’d expect at this level. The more thoughtful places have amenities such as en suite, computers and free wi-fi; in other places, it's not uncommon to have to pay a premium for the last of these. In sweaty Bangkok, pools are almost standard, not to mention fitness and business centres, restaurants and bars. Breakfast is often buffet-style.
If you're planning on staying longer than a few days, or don't need housekeeping, there are ample alternatives to the traditional hotel in Bangkok.
Airbnb (www.airbnb.com/s/Bangkok--Thailand) has heaps of listings in the city, ranging from condos and apartments to small hotels masquerading as condos and apartments. For something a bit more established there's House by the Pond, an old-school-style Bangkok apartment that offers nightly, weekly and monthly stays.
On the other hand, if you've got a bit more money and don't want to forgo the perks of staying at a hotel, a clever route is the ubiquitous serviced apartment. Bangkok is loaded with apartments that offer long-stay options with the benefits of a hotel (door attendants, cleaning, room service, laundry). But what few people realise is that most serviced apartments are happy to take short-term guests as well as longer stayers – and that by booking ahead you can get a luxury apartment with a lot more space and facilities (kitchen, washing machine, etc) than a hotel room for the same or less money. It’s really a great way to stay in town, especially if you're a family who needs more space than two hotel rooms. Recommended outfits include:
- Siri Sathorn Chic modern apartments starting at 60 sq metres; also includes shuttle bus, spa and professional service.
- Centrepoint One of Bangkok's biggest managers of serviced apartments, with five properties across the city.
- Urbana Reputable serviced-apartment provider with two properties in Bangkok.
In Bangkok, this designation usually refers to any sort of budget accommodation rather than a room in a family home, although we use it to describe the latter. Guesthouses and similar budget hotels are generally found in somewhat inconveniently located corners of old Bangkok (Banglamphu, Chinatown and Thewet), which means that the money you’re saving in rent will probably go on taxi fares. Rates begin at about 500B.
Those counting every baht can get a dorm bed (or a closet-like room) with a shared bathroom for as little as 250B. The latest trend in Bangkok is slick 'flashpacker' hostels that blur the line between budget and midrange. A bed at these will cost between around 400B and 800B.
Feature: Bathroomless in Bangkok
If you're on a shoestring budget, Bangkok has heaps of options for you, ranging from high-tech, pod-like dorm beds in a brand-new hostel to cosy bunk beds in a refurbished Chinatown shophouse. (And if you decide that you need a bit more privacy, nearly all of Bangkok's hostels also offer private rooms.) And best of all, at the places listed here, we found the bathrooms to be clean and convenient – sharing will hardly feel like a compromise. Some of our picks:
- Lub*d The title is a play on the Thai làp dee, meaning ‘sleep well’, but the fun atmosphere at this modern-feeling hostel might make you want to stay up all night. Diversions include an inviting communal area stocked with games and a bar, and thoughtful facilities range from washing machines to a theatre room.
- Chern The vast, open spaces and white, overexposed tones of this hostel converge in an almost afterlife-like feel.
- Niras Bangkoc Niras takes advantage of its location in an antique shophouse to arrive at a charmingly old-school feel. Both the four- and six-bed dorms here feature dark woods and vintage furniture, with access to friendly staff, a cosy ground-floor cafe and a location in an atmospheric corner of the city.
- Silom Art Hostel Quirky, artsy, bright and fun, Silom Art Hostel combines recycled materials, unconventional furnishings and colourful wall paintings to culminate in a hostel that's quite unlike anywhere else in town. It's not all about style though: beds are functional and comfortable, with lots of appealing communal areas.
- Loftel 22 Stylish, inviting dorms have been coaxed out of these two adjoining shophouses. Friendly service and a location in one of Chinatown's most atmospheric corners round out the package.
- NapPark Hostel This popular hostel features dorm rooms of various sizes, the smallest and most expensive of which boasts six pod-like beds outfitted with power points, mini-TV, reading lamp and wi-fi.
- Chao Hostel Blending modern minimalist and Thai design elements, not to mention tonnes of open space, the new Chao is one of the most sophisticated hostels we've encountered in Bangkok.
- Pause Hostel Attached to a cafe/coworking space is this modern, open-feeling hostel. Dorms span four to eight beds and are united by a handsome industrial-design theme and inviting, sun-soaked communal areas.
- S1 Hostel A huge new hostel with dorm beds decked out in a simple yet attractive primary-colour scheme. A host of facilities (laundry, kitchen, rooftop garden) and a convenient location within walking distance of the MRT make it great value.
- Bed Station Hostel A handsome industrial-chic theme unites the dorms at this modern-feeling hostel. They range from four to eight beds and include access to tidy toilet facilities and a laundry room.
The widest part of the accommodation spectrum, the term 'hotel' can mean a variety of things in Bangkok.
Bangkok’s midrange hotels often have all the appearance of a Western-style hotel, but without the predictability. If you’re on a lower-midrange budget, and don’t care much about aesthetics, some very acceptable rooms can be had for between 1200B and 2000B. If your budget is higher, it really pays to book ahead, as online discounts here can be substantial. You’ll find several midrange hotels along lower Th Sukhumvit, near Siam Sq and in Banglamphu.
Feature: Smaller Is Better
Although the big chains dominate the skyline, Bangkok is also home to several attractive hotels and guesthouses with fewer than 10 rooms. Some of our faves:
- Arun Residence Although strategically located on the river directly across from Wat Arun, this multilevel wooden house boasts much more than just great views. The six rooms here manage to feel both homey and stylish, some being tall and loftlike, while others cojoin two rooms (the best are the top-floor, balcony-equipped suites).
- Loy La Long Rustic, retro, charming – the six rooms in this 100-year-old wooden house can lay claim to more than their fair share of personality. United by a unique location elevated over Mae Nam Chao Phraya complete with breezy, inviting nooks and crannies, the whole place is also privy to a hidden, almost secret, feel. The only hitch is in finding it: to get here, proceed to Th Songwat and cut directly through Wat Patumkongka Rachaworawiharn to the river.
- W Home It's admittedly off the grid, but that's part of the charm at this 60-year-old renovated house. Welcoming hosts, four small but attractive and thoughtfully furnished rooms (although only one has en suite bathroom), inviting communal areas and an authentic homestay atmosphere round out the package. Soi 79 branches off Th Charoen Krung about 1km south of Saphan Taksin; W Home is about 250m east of the main road.
- Bhuthorn Travel a century back in time by booking one of the three rooms in this beautiful antique shophouse located in a classic Bangkok neighbourhood. They’re not particularly huge, but are big on atmosphere and come equipped with both antique furnishings and modern amenities. The sister hotel, Asadang, a couple of blocks away, offers a similar package.
- Café Ice Residence This spotless, classy villa is more home than hotel, with nine inviting, spacious and comfortable rooms. Outfitted with subtle yet attractive furnishings, they also share a location with a Thai restaurant and a quiet street.
- Loog Choob Homestay Staying in a former gem factory outside the tourist zone might sound iffy, but the five rooms here are stylish and inviting, and come supplemented with a huge array of thoughtful amenities and friendly, heartfelt service.
- Baan Noppawong If your nana ran a hotel in Bangkok, it might resemble the seven rooms in this fastidiously tidy antique house. Rooms don't have much space, but are light-filled, comfortable and homely, and attractively decorated with antique furnishings. A secluded location augments the homestay vibe.
Feature: Airport Accommodation
The vast majority of visitors to Bangkok need not consider the airport hotel rigmarole as taxis are cheap and plentiful, and early-morning traffic means the trip shouldn’t take too long. That said, those worried about a super-early departure or late arrival may consider a stay at one of the following:
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel Has 600-plus luxurious rooms; located within the Suvarnabhumi International Airport compound.
The Cottage This solid midranger is near the Suvarnabhumi International Airport compound and within walking distance of food and shopping; has an airport shuttle.
Sleep Box Finally, an alternative to snoozing on the chairs at Don Mueang International Airport. Rooms may induce claustrophobia, but include en suite bathrooms, water, wi-fi and even food coupons. Short stays (1000B for three hours) and showers (300B) are also available.
Amari Airport Hotel International-standard hotel located directly opposite Don Mueang International Airport.
Luxury, Business and Boutique Hotels
Bangkok is home to a huge number of top-end hotels ranging from boutique (small but cosy) to luxury (big and brash). Most hotels of this type are located on Th Sukhumvit and Th Silom, or along Mae Nam Chao Phraya. Rooms generally start between 5000B and 9000B before hefty online discounts.
Feature: Mandarin Oriental
Now a famous grande dame, the Mandarin Oriental started its career as the seafarers’ version of a Th Khao San guesthouse. The original owners, two Danish sea captains, traded the nest to Hans Niels Andersen, the founder of the formidable East Asiatic Company. Andersen transformed the hotel into a civilised palace of grand architecture and luxurious standards. He hired an Italian architect, S Cardu, to design what is now the Authors' Wing, which was the city’s most fantastic building not commissioned by the king.
The rest of the hotel’s history relies on its famous guests. A Polish-born sailor named Joseph Conrad stayed here in 1888. The hotel brought him good luck: he got his first command on the ship Otago, from Bangkok to Port Adelaide, Australia, which in turn gave him ideas for several early stories. W Somerset Maugham stumbled into the hotel with an advanced case of malaria. In his feverish state, he heard the German manager arguing with the doctor about how a death in the hotel would hurt business. Maugham’s overland Southeast Asian journey is recorded in The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong, which gave literary appeal to the hotel. Other notable guests have included Noël Coward, Graham Greene, John le Carré, James Michener, Gore Vidal and Barbara Cartland. Some modern-day writers claim that a stay here will help overcome writer’s block – though we suspect any writer booking in these days would need a very generous advance indeed.
Need to Know
- The best time to get a discount is outside of Bangkok’s peak seasons, which are from November to March and from July to August.
- Be sure to book ahead if you’re arriving during peak tourist season (from approximately November to February) and are keen on a smaller, boutique-type hotel.
- Tipping is generally not expected at Thai hotels, but a service charge of 10% is added to the bill at some midrange and most upscale places.