You just decided to travel through Southeast Asia? Great! Here are our tricks and tips for finding and booking rooms in guesthouses and homestays.
During your trip you’ll find every kind of accommodation possible, from dirty and sketchy dorms to luxurious palaces. Luckily there are a lot of great offerings in between those two extremes if you know how and where to look.
What is your budget?
First things first: determine how much money you’re able (and willing) to spend for one night. In our case, we settled for around 30CAD (around 25USD) per night (for two people). Depending on where you are, this will usually get you either a nice comfy room with A/C, television and a private bathroom, or a small simple room with a shared bathroom. We were lucky to be travelling as a couple as we could split the price of a twin or double room instead of having to sleep in a dorm with the same individual budget.
Try to remain flexible with your budget. Some days it might cost you a little more (or you could choose to treat yourself a little) and some others you might go for something way cheaper. Prices can also vary a lot from country to country, or even between cities. You’ll obviously get a cheaper rate in a remote village in Laos than on the trendiest Thai island. Just keep your overall budget in mind to make sure you don’t run out of money before the end of your trip.
Next thing you will want to do is decide where to stay. Be very careful about the location of your accommodation, it can be a gift or a curse! Big Asian cities are usually extremely congested and it can be hard to get from one place to another quickly.
So if your plan is to take an early plane, bus or train (if you do, check out how to book cheap train tickets in Indonesia), you might want to chose a location close to the airport or the station. If you rather walk around town and sight see you should probably look for something around old towns or tourist areas (although those places are usually more expensive).
What kind of accommodation to book?
There are many options when it comes to accommodation: hotels, guesthouses, homestays, hostels, etc. Every option has it’s advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your budget, what’s available, the location you want and your personal taste, here are our tips to choose the accommodation that fits:
- Pro’s (assuming you have the budget for it)
- Offer a certain standard of comfort and cleanliness compared to hostels
- Usually more amenities and services
- Often located in or near city center (which can be useful)
- More privacy
- More expensive than other options (unless you don’t mind sketchy or dirty)
- Everything extra is expensive too (breakfast, transportation, etc.)
- Not as fun or exciting as hostels, guesthouses and homestays
- If you’re looking to socialize, it’s definitely not the place to go
- You don’t experience local culture or rhythm too much
- Usually not the best or cheapest place to book organized activities
- Can be very very cheap (especially if you pick dorms and shared bathrooms)
- Can help you book and fix all sorts of stuff: group excursions, organized tours, transportation, rent scooters or bicycles, change money, etc.
- Nice to meet other fellow travellers, share tips and sometimes regroup for activities
- Safety, cleanliness and privacy vary a lot from one place to another
- You’re stuck with strangers that can sometimes get on your nerves
- It can get really noisy and busy at times
- Usually fairly cheap (breakfast is also often included)
- Feels more like home than a hotel room
- Learn about the local culture and meet locals (in Ubud we were even invited to a traditional wedding)
- Experience the less touristy side of things
- If you want to meet fellow travellers, this might not be the best place
- Make sure the home rules are ok with your lifestyle (curfew, guests, food, etc.)
- You’re in someone’s house so except privacy to be limited
- Don’t expect fancy amenities, there are usually none
- Decent pricing (breakfast is supposed to included)
- Meet other travellers in a less busy setting than a hostel
- Can usually help you with all sorts of stuff: excursions, transportation, rent scooters or bicycles, etc.
- Privacy can be challenging sometimes, especially with shared bathrooms
- Amenities are usually pretty limited (if any)
- Sometimes a little far from city center
Where to find accommodation?
Now that you know what kind of options exist, let’s see how to find them. From our experience there are two main ways of finding a place to say: in real life or online.
Find a place IRL
The more you travel the more you learn to trust (or not) your fellow travellers tricks and tips. Some of them will recommend or tell you to avoid some places because they stayed there before. This feedback is usually fresher and more sincere than the one you’ll find online. But then again, everybody has a different idea of what clean, safe or nice place means.
Sometimes you can also find great and cheap places by walking around the city. Just get in and ask to see the rooms and prices, you can usually get a better deal than you’d have online (more on this later).
Find a place online
Word of warning: there is no unique perfect and magic place to book the best and cheapest accommodation. These are the options we used and what we learned from it.
In our experience, this is the go-to site for Southeast Asia (although not all places are represented equally). There are a lot of fresh reviews (many of them from backpackers) and you can find accommodations even in the most remote areas. Unlike Expedia and Booking.com, when you get offer a limited deal or offer it’s an actual deal and not some kind of trick to get you to book through them.
We didn’t book anything from those sites but used them as sources to double check the reviews for nice places we found on Agoda. Watch out for the limited deals they show you, usually it will point you to a page where the price is actually different.
If you’re looking for youth hostels (or cheap hotels), this is where you want to look. They also have other kind of accommodations but their specialty is definitely youth hostels.
When booking online, make sure the price you pay is cheaper than you’d pay if you showed up there (and the other way around). It’s happened a couple of times that we had booked a room for one night on Agoda and ended up having a cheaper price there than the official price. The opposite has happened too: we had one room booked online and wanted to stay longer and the price we got at the guesthouse was way cheaper than on Agoda.
What to watch out for ?
This is by no means a definite guide but here a a couple of things we’ve learnt to watch out for when searching for and booking accommodations:
Take any review for what it is, a review! While most of them are sincere and will give you a good idea of what to expect, don’t believe everything you read. Also keep in mind that there are different kinds of travellers writing these reviews: backpackers, couples during their honeymoon, families with kids, etc. This has an impact on how they perceive their experience. We’ve read a lot of reviews of people complaining about bugs, insects and noise in rooms, for example. That doesn’t mean the place was bad, that’s just Southeast Asia. Just keep that in mind.
We cannot overstate how important a good wifi is. Ok, it’s not vital, but it really sucks when there is no internet (or most likely a poor connection) and you want to upload or backup your pictures, update your Instagram, book a room online or plan the coming days of your trip. Usually the reviews are crystal clear about how good or bad the wifi is haha!
Mosquitoes can be lethal in some parts of Southeast Asia and let’s be honest, they suck. If you’re staying in the middle of the jungle, near a pond, close to rice fields or pretty much anywhere with open areas, you will be happy if your room has a mosquito net. Most places have them, just make sure they don’t have any holes. If you find yourself in a place with mosquitoes and no net, our suggestion is a good anti-mosquito and putting the fan on and directed straight towards you (those bugs can’t really fight the wind).
If you’re reading this article, you’re most likely a budget traveller, right? Before booking, always make sure you found the accommodation with most free (or cheap) perks possible: free shuttle from the airport, free breakfast, cheap laundry service, extra bottles of water, fresh fruit, etc.
Unless you want to catch bed bugs, make sure you check out the reviews before booking a room. Keep in mind that you’re in Southeast Asia so yes, you’ll see geckos, cockroaches, spiders and other weird insects. That doesn’t mean the place isn’t clean.
Although we didn’t experience any horror stories, we noticed safety varies a lot from a place to another. Some places will barely have locks on doors while other provide a safe (always go for the ones with a code lock, if the safe has a key, the cleaning crew might have a double). Again, always check out the reviews before booking. Another thing, look out for badly wired electricity and other unexpected hazards (like electrical plugs in the showers – yes, we’ve had those).
Our favourite places to stay
We must have stayed in probably a hundred different places in our six months of travelling Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Here a are a couple of our favourite ones 🙂
White Villa (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Duta Guest House (Yogyakarta, Indonesia)
Box Hotel (Hanoi, Vietnam)
TriJaya Guest House (Pemuteran (Bali), Indonesia)
Rachana Hostel (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
Same Same Bungalows (Kuta (Lombok), Indonesia)
Inthira Thakhek (Thakhek, Laos)
Villa Suan Maak (Luang Prabang, Laos)
If you have any extra tips, make sure to share them down below. Also, are you planning a trip soon? Would you also like to know what our favourite mobile apps are whilst travelling? Check out that blog post right here!