Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Accommodations in Hanoi, Bangkok and Chiang Mai

When backpacking, finding the perfect accommodation to fit your budget, personal requirements or state of comfort is a tricky business. I am not a picky traveler but there are certain requirements I have to fulfill if I were to be happy with where I will be staying. They have to be affordable. Not necessarily cheap.

“Cheap” connotes grubby establishments that smell, paints chipping off the walls, bathrooms that grow an abundance of mildew, poor ventilation, mediocre security, dust mites from the pillows, musty smelling bed sheets, dark corridors and a generalized second-rate neighborhood. These are what I try to avoid. I need to be comfortable.

I need a place which can somehow help me with my travel arrangements, reserve me a taxi cab, offer suggestions to my itinerary. Little things that, in the whole scheme of things, may make my crossings faster and easier. I prefer air conditioned guesthouses, with good electrical sockets for my camera and cell phone to charge with. I put a premium on cleanliness and comfort. I have to feel safe. And I need a place I can comfortably lay my head down at night. I walk so much when I travel, so I really need to rest well at night so I can recharge well for another hectic day tomorrow. I need clean bathrooms; somewhere I can – hehe – read my Lonely Planet in for 30 minutes without feeling like I need to get out of the bathroom. If they seem like I require a 5-star hotel from my aforementioned manifesto, you’d be so wrong with such assumptions. During my last travel February and March 2008, I stayed in the following hotels, guesthouses and pension houses. The following places were "picked" differently. Some were from online or travel book recommendations which I was able to reserve early. Some were out of necessity. Some were from a previous travel. This entry is my tribute to these establishments which took care of me.

New World Lodge Hotel - 2 Samsen Rd Banglumphu Prana, Bangkok, Thailand - 10200. Located in the heart of backpacker's area, Banglamphu, New World is a few block's walk from the hustle and bustle of the traveling pack, quite hidden from the frenzy. It is located beside the river (though i did not see the riverside from the entrance or from my room). Newly renovated, this hotel is actually a far cry from the guesthouses that congest in the area. Its high-rise building, its elegant foyer, the homey restaurant (Sara) - all these separate this hotel from the rest of the accommodations. It IS a hotel! For a 2-bed airconditioned room with breakfast, the damage was B1,600. I was supposed to stay elsewhere but I could NOT get any rooms in one of the budget guesthouses at Soi Rambuttri. Not a single darn room! So I had to get this one, which is 2-3x more expensive than my original choices. But really now! B1,600 isn't bad! It also has an in-house taxi that you can hire for your airport transfer - for a charge of B300, which is way way cheaper than negotiating for one on your own.

The disadvantage of staying at the Khao San Road-Soi Rambuttri area is its distance from most of the shopping malls and tourist attractions. The advantage - feeling the vibe of a decadent, eclectic mix of tourists from all over the world. This area is a virtual sea of different nationalities.
Most taxi rides from the airport would cost you between B250 to B400, depending on traffic. Tips are optional. A 30-baht tip for the airport ride would suffice.

The receiving room - lounge area near the check-in counter.

Sumptuous breakfast buffet, rate-inclusive at the New World Lodge Hotel, Bangkok.

My 2-bed room at the 5th floor

Pattaya Centre Hotel. If you're planning for an overnighter in Sin City Pattaya, this is a good alternative. Located along a sidestreet in the city center, it's a stone's throw from the baywalk. Google for their rates.

Euro Luxury Pavillion Hotel - 122/23-26 Soi Somprasongruam, Rajrarop Road, Pratunam, Between Baiyoke 1 and Baiyoke 2, Bangkok, Thailand, Tel. no. (662)02-656-3013-14-15.

I found this little hotel out of necessity. I arrived in Bangkok without any reservations and decided to go straight to First House Hotel (which is popular with Pinoy tourists). Unfortunately, the hotel was fully booked... so, I had no place to go in the wee hours of the morning. I walked the dark alleys, and through the sinewy bowels of Pratunam. Near 7-11, I saw a little street that had signs of this hotel. I was my lucky discovery.

In the morning, I didn't realize that I was at a prime location - right in the heart of Pratunam. From the main road of Rajprarop, it is a few strides from Indra Regent Hotel and the Baiyoke Towers. This is shopping central.

Unfortunately for Euro Luxury Pavillion, their establishment isn't an easy find. Most other tourists would stay away from this area. It has a neighborhood of Africans, Arabs and Indians. But despite appearances, it is a very safe place. A tip in finding the place: Look for 7-11. Right across it, is a soi (a side street)! That's where you will find Euro Pavillion!

If you are not picky with your neighborhood, Euro Luxury is a great place. With just 800 baht, I'm surprised this place doesn't get fully booked most of the time I am there. My room had a huge bed. There is a disconcerting smell of incense that lingers. The windows are covered by a thick velvety cloth. The bathroom is spacious - probably a third the size of the room - and clean and dry with new fixtures! Its major advantage is its very central location in Pratunam. I doubt if I could find another respectable place as inexpensive as this one. There are a couple of internet cafes nearby. Narula, the hotel manager, was accommodating. I was just grateful to have found the place at 3 AM!

Tung Tram Hotel. A very popular family-run guesthouse in the heart of the Hoan Kiem Lake District (google it for address and contact numbers), this 16-room hotel is my home in Hanoi.

The people manning the place are always polite and helpful. The hotel is located at a quiet street. Just across the hotel is a temple. I always stay at room 201, 2nd floor - air conditioned, with clean bathroom, and 2 beds. The other empty bed is usually where my luggage sits. At $12-15 a night, staying at Tung Tram is a coup. Teyet, the girl at the counter (who's now married and has been replaced with an equally kind lady), will help with all your travel needs (plane, bus, train tickets, etc.) For my next trip this June, I emailed them early and got no answer. I knew why. I saw their email inbox when I was there. They had an unbelievable backlog of several months! They are unable to constantly check on their reservations that's why travelfish has been receiving complains.

I emailed them again, and finally got a reply confirming my reservations within 2 days! They do reply when they can but it seems impossible to reply to every mail that gets through. My first email reservation last year was through travelfish, and I didn't have any problem. Tung Trang also offers an airport pick-up service ($13) which I would highly recommend! It's safer than chancing on the several scams that permeate arrivals in Hanoi!

My 2-bed aircon room at the Tung Trang Hotel!

Lamphu House. An oasis in the heart of Banglamphu, Lamphu House is a well-placed garden guesthouse, quite hidden from the teeming crowd of Soi Rambuttri. A tip on finding it: the entrance is just beside 7-11 of Soi Rambuttri. My aircon room was 900 baht, with 2 huge beds and a veranda. This felt like a luxury room. A single bed fan room is just 350 baht. All guests would have to pay a refundable 100 baht (for the card key).

The disadvantage: one needs to reserved at least 2 months before your arrival in Bangkok. This guesthouse is almost always full! Upon my arrival in Bangkok (I first stayed at the Euro Luxury Villa hotel), I gave them a ring and I was asked to visit them and pay for my onward-travel reservations. (I had a Bangkok-Yangon-Chiangmai itinerary.) This practice was tedious and defeats the purpose of reservations if you have to go to them first just to pay in advance!

One more theing, they DO NOT accept credit cards! I love the laidback atmosphere of Lamphu, very relaxing! Google for their website.

The view from my veranda at the Lamphu House.

My other unoccupied bed in my room!

My bed - at the Lamphu House! I love the elegant interiors, the wooden floor, the veranda, and huge bathroom!

The restaurant at the Lamphu House!

CM Blue House, Chiang Mai, North Thailand. This guesthouse has nothing but good reviews. I chanced upon this guesthouse from my London-based Malaysian friend Irene. Run by 2 Americans, this amazing place is tranquil- your home away from home! The check-in counter is available (before 7PM) for your questions. They have complimentary maps upon check in. I got a fan room for 350 baht per day. You don't need an AC in cool Chiangmai.

Located in a quiet street from Moon Muang's backpacker area (the street beside the day market), the Blue House has a self-service restaurant, and will arrange for hilltribe treks. Google for their website.

CM Blue House - 30/1 Moonmuang Road. Soi 6. Chiangmai 50200Thailand Tel : 05-341-8511-2Int'L : 66-53-418511-2.

CM Blue House's 2nd floor veranda.

My 2-bed room at CM Blue house.

Umbrella-lantern adorning the ceiling, making the room too dimly-lit for a decent reading! I would sit at the bathroom reading my Lonely Planet.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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