The hotel infrastructure of Thailand is nothing less than excellent. Hotel accommodation is available in all categories, from the most basic, cheap guest house to hotels that range top by international standards. And accommodation of all categories, right up to the top, cannot only be found in Bangkok but in provincial towns and tourist destinations as well.
For many years, Thailand offered hotel accommodation with international standards at prices far below international levels. This situation changed by the end of the 80’s. Prices for luxurious hotel rooms, at least in Bangkok, are meanwhile pretty much on an international level, closer to 200 US Dollars per night than to 100 US Dollars. In provincial cities or resort towns, however, one pays for the same standard only a bit more than half of what is common in Bangkok.
All five-star hotels in Bangkok have a wide array of facilities which typically include one Western and one Thai first-class restaurant, at least one swimming pool, a gym and all the amenities one could possibly expect from a five-star hotel. A large number of them is managed by Swiss or Swiss trained executives.
On the negative side one may say that some of the five-star hotels of Bangkok are fairly snobbish. This may not be felt by those who are visibly foreigners. But Thais seem to be treated with a certain amount of suspicion by some five-star hotels in their own capital - a fact that so far has only occasionally been taken as an insult against the Thai national pride.
It happened for example during the joint meeting of IMF and Worldbank in Bangkok in mid-October 1991. The Nation of October 16, 1991 reported that the drivers of a number of delegates to the IMF/Worldbank meeting were treated arrogantly by the staff of several hotels.
One must know in this context that these drivers were not just ordinary chauffeurs. To ensure that the high profile delegates would not be taken around by just any cab driver who probably could not even speak English or otherwise would give a bad impression of the country, the chauffeurs for the delegates, among them many finance ministers of industrialized nations, were specially recruited among junior and even some senior Thai bank executives. A large number of them held higher degrees in business administration and some were even PhD’s.
Even though they acted as chauffeurs during the IMF/Worldbank meeting, they actually belong to a social group that might frequent the hotels themselves or decide on the booking of convention or seminar facilities.
According to the Nation of October 16, 1991 these drivers have "complained bitterly at the insulting treatment they have received from staff at three of the city’s most prestigious hotels while trying to look after their charges. Similar incidents have been described by many local journalists who complained they had encountered rudeness and abuse by the hotel employees and security guards. A senior Finance Ministry official... joined in the criticism of the three hotels, decrying their lack of expected hospitality and rough manners. The Oriental Hotel was singled out for the worst incident, involving bad manners by security guards and employees... The two other hotels accused of poor treatment are the Landmark and Hilton International. Phornsri Luphaiboon, PR director of the Oriental, told reporters that she was not aware of the incident as she was somewhere else. ‘That sounds incredible. Our hotel has selected employees with polite manners. But if our investigation turns out to be true, the persons responsible for the abuse will certainly be sacked,’ she said."
The bank executives alias chauffeurs complained in no unclear terms about the treatment they received at the Oriental. According to the Nation of October 16, 1991, the security guards of the hotel insisted they leave the lobby where they were set to meet the delegates. Described one of them: "They refused to listen to us and practically chased us out... When I asked them if I could wait in the lobby and order food or drinks, a guard retorted with sarcasm. ‘Do you think this hotel has a place for you people...’ When we left the lobby to wait at the entrance, they came after us and yelled that we should wait outside the hotel compound."
According to the Nation, "it was not the only incident at The Oriental, renowned as the best hotel in the world for 10 years, as other chauffeurs reported similar bad treatment. Reporters from local newspapers... were subject to similar abuse. The hotel had given firm instructions to the guards that local reporters must not be permitted to enter through the front entrance, but through a door normally used for the delivery of supplies. A hotel employee was seen making an obscene gesture at a group of reporters."
In defence of the Oriental it must be said that they are of course concerned with the security of their guests (this author guesses) and this may entail inconveniences for some people. And as long as one has a Western or non-Thai look one cannot be mistaken by the guards. It also seems that non-Thai journalists are permitted to use a better entrance than the one for the "delivery of supplies".
But then, not all five-star hotels have to apply as rigorous methods in special occasions as the Oriental. Reported the Nation on October 16, 1991: "In contrast, the chauffeurs said other hotels like the Regent Bangkok had treated them with great hospitality, providing them with refreshments while they waited for the delegates."
It’s sort of surprising that the Oriental allegedly has given a shabby treatment not only to the white-collar drivers of IMF/Worldbank executives but also to local journalists. After all the Oriental praises itself as an author’s hotel. One of their food and beverage outlets is named Authors’ Lounge. In the hotel’s price list it says: "Over it’s 114 years of existence, it has acted as host and inspiration for such great writers as Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham." They have named Authors’ Suites after Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, James Michener and Noel Coward and Deluxe River Wing Suites after Graham Green, Barbara Cartland, John Le Carre, Gore Vidal, S.E.A. Write and Wilbur Smith.
They also offer an Authors’ Residence, though certainly no local reporters will likely ever have the opportunity to derive some inspiration from living there as it costs 70,000 Baht - per day, not per month. Sure, most local reporters are not of the caliber of those whose names were borrowed for the suites, but that the Oriental would tell them to use the delivery entrance instead of the front door is hard to believe.
Bangkok’s Silom Road Area
Most five-star hotels in Bangkok are in the Silom Road area, especially off New Road where can be found the Oriental as well as the Royal Orchid Sheraton which has tried for years to take the place of the Oriental as Bangkok’s best hotel, and the Shangri-la (for details on single hotels, please see the Bangkok chapter).
The Silom Road area is the most convenient area to stay for those visitors to Bangkok who have a number of bank dealings to proceed as Silom Road is where most large Thai banks have their headquarters. (Some Silom bankers might no longer recommend the Oriental.) Aside from banks, gem traders as well as the priciest antique shops are in the Silom Road area, as well as Patpong, infamous for live sex shows.
While the Silom Road area is convenient in as far as the distances to the headquarters of banks are short, a definite disadvantage is the incredible air pollution found there. This author has found it worst on New Road which has heavy traffic of diesel buses which emit a black smoke, and racing two-stroke engine motorcycles which emit a rather blue smoke - a cocktail always good for migraine.
Five-star hotels in other parts of town, though not located as close to the bank headquarters, often have a surrounding which is less polluted (but not exactly fresh country air).
Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road Area
The Sukhumvit Road area is were most middle class hotels of the Thai capital are concentrated. It’s also the preferred area for foreign residents (see below). There are many decent rooms available at less than 1,000 Bath per day (for lists of hotels, please see the Bangkok section). While Sukhumvit Road itself also has bad air pollution, it doesn’t seem quite as bad as in the Silom Road area, probably because the area is not as built up as the Silom Road area. Furthermore, many hotels are in side streets, so-called Sois, and as many of them are dead-end streets, they do not have much traffic.
One of the better Sukhumvit Road area hotels, the Ambassador, is interesting beyond what it offers in rooms. The parking lot actually is a small zoo with many exotic birds in large cages, among them parrots and even some name-sakes of this book. Furthermore, the hotel has an international fast-food mall with an excellent selection of low priced dishes from all over the world - a prime choice for those who want to eat well but budget their money. Nightlife in the Sukhumvit area is said to be less hard-core than at Patpong off Silom Road.
Bangkok’s Siam Square Area
The Siam Square area has a number of five-star and a few middle class hotels. Certainly for tourists but probably even for businessmen the area is more pleasant than the Silom Road area. In Bangkok, the best shopping (and this does not mean the most expensive) is around Siam Square; most sightseeing sites are reached easier from here than from the Silom Road area.
In general, tourists should give much more consideration to buying modern consumer products in Bangkok than is the case so far. Clothes and footwear are much, much cheaper than for example in Hong Kong. For high quality clothes, the Siam Square area has a number of excellent department stores, and for bottom price clothes, there is Pratunam Market.
It must be noted that Thai shopkeepers and sales staff are much more civilized than those of Hong Kong - with respect to manners as well as the aim to give a customer a fair deal. While there are black sheep among Thai shopkeepers, it’s not like in Hong Kong’s Tsim Tsa Tsui where most shopkeepers attempt to overcharge unscrupulously the first moment a customer believes any of the promises they make.
For those unfamiliar with Bangkok or even the Orient, shopping at the department stores around the Siam Square is not only pleasant but safe as well. There is no danger of being cheated at Siam Square department stores as they have fixed prices and cater mainly to locals. For details on shopping, please refer to the Shopping chapter; for the lists of hotels in the area, see the Bangkok section.
Budget Accommodation in Bangkok
The main area for budget accommodation in Bangkok is on and around Khao San Road in the Banglamphu district, north central Bangkok. Guest house accommodation there (and in all of Thailand) has a much higher standard than in some neighboring countries (for example the Philippines where it is rather on a South American level) - without being more expensive. Aside from Khao San and the surrounding streets, guest house accommodation can also be found on and around Soi Ngam Duphli off Rama IV Road.
Depending on what one expects, it’s an advantage or a disadvantage that the traveler district around Khao San Road is so stuffed with young Western people, many of the hippie category, that it doesn’t have much of a local atmosphere anymore. The same kind of traveler or hippie enclaves can be found all along the old overland trail from Bali to Istanbul.
There is widespread hypocrisy of a particular kind in traveler enclaves like Khao San Road. For one thing, many people staying there would be offended if they were classified as tourists. They consider themselves travelers (as the designation hippie has become unpopular). To them, the term tourist does not only classify a visitor as coming on a package tour but also that he or she is pretty dull. Many of those considering themselves travelers have the utmost disrespect for those they consider tourists.
Commonly, travelers hold the opinion that tourists are bad for a country as they allegedly destroy the naturalness and originality of a less developed society. Commonly, they believe that travelers have no such effects. This is, of course, highly hypocritical.
First of all, in places from Bali through Boracay (Philippines), Ko Samui (Thailand), Goa (India) and Kathmandu (Nepal), so-called travelers have always served as vanguards of package tour visitors. In northern Thailand, it’s mainly travelers who degrade cultural minorities to a human zoo. By the time, package tour visitors arrive, there isn’t much naturalness left to destroy. The natives have learned the tourism trade already from those who claim not to be tourists themselves - the travelers.
It’s a traveler schizophrenia to be in search of undisturbed destinations and destroying them by going there. For those who believe that tourism is bad for a country, there is only one honest option: stay at home.
Many of those who visit the country on a low budget and consider themselves travelers hold the opinion that traveling on a shoestring actually is a virtue not a short-coming, and they are proud of it. But it’s sickening to hear travelers boast that they have found places where the people still were really friendly, and that they were invited to stay with them free, and that they are not yet after the tourist dollar.
After a few of that kind of visitors, those really friendly natives are going to change their minds, and rightly so.
Greed can be trained two ways: either by giving too little or by giving too much. But while those who get greedy because they are treated too generously can be criticized from a moral standpoint, those who do so because they are taken advantage of cannot be criticized on an ethical line. And while becoming greedy because one gets too little is a logical consequence, it’s merely an option based on a weak character for those who get too much.
As said above, travelers looking out for the last resorts of hospitality because they want to exploit it are always destroying exactly what they came to search for.
It’s generally not as visible as in nightlife districts but there also is prostitution (in the sense that local women enter relationships with the objective of short term financial gains) in traveler streets - obviously because clients can be found. It’s a special kind of women that aims at travelers. They dress in traveler’s fashion, and as many of them have been in business for quite a while, they also speak English fairly well.
Of course, sex for money is so contrary to traveler philosophy that the transactions usually remain hidden behind behavioral conventions. There are no before hand negotiations, and there is no talk about payments. The girls usually get their share by coming up with stories about some ill family members after they have stayed with a traveler-style young Western man for a few days.
To give the woman some money for the special occasion becomes a matter of solidarity between lovers (the young Western man will usually classify their relationship as love). And in cases in which a Western male partner should be hard heartened there is still the possibility to make away with some of his money or property when the chance arises.
For the more practical aspects of accommodation on Khao San Road and other traveler areas (such as names, addresses and prices), please refer to the Bangkok section.
Pattaya has an amazing selection of hotel accommodations of any style and price. Actually, that’s what the place mainly consists of - accommodation for tourists. Lots and lots and lots of it.
Pattaya is both, a resort and a city. And it’s both, Thailand and international. There isn’t anything quite like Pattaya anywhere in the world, mainly because elsewhere resort towns don’t reach the size of Pattaya. The single largest hotel in Pattaya calls itself a city - Ambassador City. 2573 rooms it has so far, and it’s still expanding. In late 1992 when construction of five new wings will be completed, the hotel will have the incredible number of 5,000 rooms - the world’s largest hotel. (Not that this would make it the most personal one.)
Certainly, not everyone is impressed by sheer numbers. But those who want more privacy can be satisfied at Pattaya, too. At Jomtien, south of the actual Pattaya, or at Naklua, to the north, or at a further distance, towards Rayong in the east, more quiet beach areas can be found.
The wilder set, and those who do not want to miss an urban infrastructure, will certainly decide for the actual Pattaya. Accommodation ranges from first-class luxury hotels to small pension houses run by foreigners who have settled in Pattaya after marrying Thai women. Accordingly, one can spend for a night anything between 200 US Dollars and 200 Thai Baht.
Traditionally, the large and luxurious hotels are mainly booked through package tours and the visitors stay mostly just one or two weeks. These hotels are often full during the peak season, between December 15 and January 15. Then, many charge a fixed supplement of several hundred Baht per room.
Middle class places, in the actual Pattaya but mainly in Jomtien and Naklua derive their income to a considerable extent from Bangkok expatriates who visit Pattaya over the weekends. Often these hotels offer just as much comfort as the luxury resorts though they might have fewer facilities.
Many Bangkok residents who go to Pattaya for the weekends don’t mind fewer facilities because after all, good middle class resorts have a definite advantage: they cost considerably less than luxury resorts. A good example is the Mermaid’sResort on Jomtien Beach which has very nice rooms in a pleasant atmosphere of privacy for 700 Baht, less than half of what typically would have to be spent for a room at a luxury high-rise resort.
Pattaya also serves well those who come on their own and want to stay longer than the typical one or two weeks of package tourists. Many middle class and budget hotels offer attractive discounts to those who rent a place for two weeks, a month or even longer. Obviously, those places further away from the beach have lower rates. Off season rates at many places are about 50% lower than peak season rates.
Finally, there are furnished apartments and houses available for six month or yearly contracts. As Pattaya has over-capacities in this area, prices are very attractive. Typically, they are less than half of what a similar accommodation would cost in Bangkok.
Unlike most developing or newly industrialized countries, Thailand has international standard accommodation not just in the capital and some beach resorts but practically all over the country. The reasons are obvious: tourism is Thailand’s biggest business. Unlike some 10 or 15 years ago, international standard hotels can be found at far off places like Mae Hong Son which a few years back wasn’t even accessible by road all year round.
Luxury accommodations have even been built right in the jungles, for example in Kanchanaburi province, to give the foreign visitor both, the experience of nature and the comfort for which he or she is willing to pay. Provincial accommodation in out-of-town places is either booked abroad, at Bangkok travel agencies or at the Bangkok booking offices of these places.
Even if they are not important tourist destinations, many provincial towns have at least one good hotel. Not seldom it’s the most representative building in town and not seldom it fulfils a second function (aside from accommodating tourists) as location of weddings or important business meetings.
Room rates at leading province town hotels are often less than half of what the same standard costs in Bangkok.
Aside from modern, tourist oriented hotels there are also the traditional Thai hotels (in Southern Thailand it’s rather Thai-Chinese Hotels). Most are three story buildings in the center or near the market of a town. Rooms are usually fairly large but only sparsely furnished. That they are fairly large is probably a relic from pre-aircon times. Without aircon, large rooms are much more agreeable than smaller ones.
Often the rooms can be rented with or without aircon - which should make a difference of around 100 Baht. A number of hotels in bigger provincial towns double as brothels.
Beach places as well as small northern towns which are frequented by travelers usually also have guest houses, often a bit away from the town center. In many cases these guest houses offer accommodation in cottages, some built of cement, many just of wood. Aircon is seldom found at guest houses. The rates are often lower than those of the town hotels.
Like in all corners of the world, the traditional form of living in Thailand is in fairly large families. And like everywhere, the industrial revolution brings with it the novelty that people live in smaller families. This has nothing to do with character traits but solely with economic conditions.
The West had its industrial revolution in the 19th century, Thailand is yet only partially industrialized. Up-country and even in Bangkok, many people still live in families which not only include husband, wife and children but some other relatives as well - parents, cousins or nieces and nephews. Additionally there may be one or more household helpers.
Furthermore, as in Europe several decades earlier, many traditional Thai businesses are actually family businesses, and the place of work is not detached from the place of living. The work force in traditional small enterprises, agricultural as well as industrial, is recruited among relatives, and if not among relatives then among neighbors or people from the same village or town.
For Thais living in such a traditional social order, Western housing concepts are unsuitable. They prefer to live on family compounds, small as they may be, and often enough the dwelling changes its appearance depending on how a family can afford improvements. No one likes to rent a place if he or she can own one. This is of course also true for Westerners; however, for many Thais to live on their own property is more often the ultimate objective of industry.
They will put up with many inconveniences and even live on a construction site if it’s their own. And if it cannot be avoided that a place needs to be rented than it should be a house, if possible one that can double as business premises, and not an apartment.
Apartment-living, by and large, hasn’t caught on with Thais so far. Nevertheless, it’s a safe prognosis that this will change at about the pace Thailand’s industrialization progresses.
That Thais so far have displayed little enthusiasm to live in apartments doesn’t mean that apartments haven’t been built. Conversely, the end of the 80’s saw a real boom in the construction of condominiums. But a very high percentage of these condominium units are occupied by foreigners.
For this reason, condominiums in Thailand are mainly built in areas preferred by foreign residents. This author guesses that at least three fourths of Thai condominiums stand or are built on, off or close to Sukhumvit Road.
Sukhumvit Road means not just Bangkok. Sukhumvit Road originally was no city street of Bangkok, and even today it’s much more than the strip in the eastern part of the Thai capital. Sukhumvit Road is Highway No 3, starting from Ploenchit Road in Bangkok and leading all the 425 kilometers (266mi) to Trat, mostly not far from the seashore. Condominium buildings exist and are constructed on the Sukhumvit stretch in Bangkok as well as along the coast up to Rayong, some 180km (112mi) from Bangkok.