Availability of Accommodation
One thing Thailand is not short of is Accommodation; or rather there is more than enough accommodation in most places that you might want to visit. The exceptions are the very popular islands of Phi Phi, and Samuii during the high season of November through February and again in April.
Other busy times are any of the main Thai public holidays, International New Year, Chinese New Year and Thai New Year (Songkhran). Almost everywhere else there is more accommodation than there are visitors.
I hope you got that THREE seperate New Year celebrations!
Bangkok always has plenty of accommodation and Pattaya is only really over booked during International New Year and Chinese New Year, even then you can always get a room somewhere.
Types of Accommodation Available
Don’t skip this section if you are travelling on a package tour, you might decide to go on an adventure of your own and take a break away from the package for a few days.
Thailand is famed for some of the best hotels in the world; the Oriental in Bangkok is frequently listed as the best hotel in Asia and it is given a good run for its money by many local and international hotels in Thailand.
At the other end of the scale is the cheap and cheerful beach hut and in between is a huge range of guesthouses, boutique hotels, run of the mill hotels and the odd hidden gem.
I’m not going to even try to provide a guide of where to stay, far too many other sources are covering that subject, while I still keep a copy of “The Lonely Planet - Guide to Thailand” in our car just in case we need to find somewhere new to stay my first point of reference for accommodation in Thailand is now www.travelfish.org, which I find far more upto date and user friendly.
What I will do is give you some information on how to decide where to stay and how to go about making a booking.
I have included a few examples of Child Friendly accommodation in the appendix to this guide, I have done so to provide you with a starting point rather than a full and comprehensive guide, the latter would, I am sure you will agree take a great deal of effort and research, and without constant revision would always be running out of date. Far better then to provide you with pointers on how you can go about finding suitable accommodation.
Booking from Overseas
As a rule I advise against booking all your accommodation from overseas; if you know the place or you have had a personal recommendation that you feel you can trust then please don’t let me put you off making your bookings in advance, but I have been to too many places that turned out not to be what they say they are. The problem then arises that if you have paid up front when you booked you will have great difficulty getting your money back.
There is one exception to not booking in advance and that is your first night.
Booking Your First Night
We all of us only get once chance to make a first impression; Thailand is no exception. This is my suggestion of how to make sure your holiday starts off on the right foot, and this is something that is especially important if you are flying Long Haul to get to Thailand.
Book your first night in a decent hotel so you get a good rest and you know that you are going to have a clean bed, a hot shower and a good breakfast in the morning. Believe me after 12 or more hours cooped up in what is essentially an oversized cigar tube with four or five hundred other people you will appreciate the simple comforts that a decent hotel offers, you will, I am sure, appreciate them in a way you have yet to discover.
We always use the Rembrandt hotel in Bangkok but I strongly advise that you book this first night in a mid to higher end hotel, if for no other reason the taxi driver at the airport will know where you are going.
Expect to pay perhaps $60~100 for a family of four in a very nice hotel.
Tip: When you book this first night ask for a late check-out, 14:00 hrs will usually be free but there may be an extra charge for up to 16:00hrs, thereafter you might be asked to pay an extra night. The point is, a late checkout will give you more time to settle and find the next place to stay.
Book Directly with the Hotel, or Via an Agent?
If you type the name of any hotel in Thailand into an Internet search engine it is my betting that you will come up with at least half a dozen links all but one of which will be to an agent offering to do the booking for you. Many will carry the hotel’s official logo and will, unless you look closely, appear to be the official hotel web page.
The give away is to go right down to the bottom and you will usually find some reference to the web page something like ‘Hotels Siam’, “Hotels of Asia’ or some such name, but not the actual name of the hotel itself.
If you are still not sure look for the ‘’Contact Us” link, this will lead to an email that is again ‘Hotels Siam’, ‘Hotels of Asia’ or those same non specific names.
I've changed my views on using online agents since I first wrote this guide having used and found the following Agoda and Tavelocity to be very reliable and cheaper than over the desk prices - We once booked a room at an up market hotel via the internet point in the very same hotel's lobby, even getting the desk clerk to print the booking for us. We still got the discount.
Tip: If you use an online booking agent make sure you check the grade of room you a booking and that breakfasts are included in the price.
Faxes, Emails and Phone Calls
This is one of the biggest problems of making a booking; Hotels rarely answer your booking request, Guesthouses almost never do.
It really is just like that; I have made numerous bookings, chased them up with phone calls and still not received a confirmation email or fax. I don’t know why this is, I suspect it is because of a lack of English language skills, but then I have even written in Thai and not received a response.
This is not much comfort to you I know, and that is why I have included the recommendation for your ‘First Night’ above.
However from my own experience, if you have to make a direct to the hotel booking from overseas do so by fax and ask for a response. Faxes are easy, they can be passed to someone who has better English skills and they are more likely to get a response than an email.
In fact, I would go as far as to say, virtually no body in Thailand bothers to answer emails.
I have included a example fax for booking a room at a hotel in Bangkok, the hotel and fax number are real and this hotel actually does respond to booking faxes and emails, so feel free to them if you are stuck for somewhere to stay. I have also included some tips on writing a booking fax below.
Now I know, this might be teaching granny to suck eggs but I discussed the problems hotels have with fax bookings with two hotel managers in Thailand, these tips address the very common errors on the part of people making bookings by fax:
The biggest problem is forgetting that the person receiving the fax is not a native English speaker.
Tips on writing a hotel booking fax (or email for that matter):
Write in English, very few Thais speak any other language than Thai and when they do, they speak English. If you are not a native English speaker my example fax will no doubt help you out.
Keep it simple: One Fax for One Subject. Do not try to enquire about anything on your booking fax, simply give details of your room requirements
(If you need to make further enquiries, send a second fax)
State who the fax is from and that it is addressed to “Reservations”
Keep to one single page
Do not abbreviate dates or details
Give one name only for the booking, best it this is the person whom’s credit card will be used to pay the bill
Give your credit card number and expiry date
State how many people are in your group, use the term “PAX” for people.
State how many rooms you want and what grade of room
State bed requirements (Double, Twin, Baby’s Cot extra bed in room)
State the date, estimated time of arrival and flight number - watch for getting the wrong date across time zones
Give a contact fax number and/or email address
Sign the fax
Send your fax so that it arrives mid day Thailand time, you will have more chance of getting the hotel’s “A team”, rather than the night porter.
I spent an amusing half hour reading some very confusing faxes received by a resort on Phuket; what started as a request from the reception to help translate a fax developed into hilarity.
I’m a native English speaker but I saw two faxes from England that I just could not fathom; In one there was a request for a room, I think, followed by a page of questions about the weather and the availability of sunshades around the pool.
Like I say, I had difficulty deciphering it, the reservations clerk hadn’t a clue.
Keep it simple, one topic, ‘your room reservation’.
Requests for Credit Card Detail
All hotel booking will ask for credit card details and I know this can be a bit of a worry, but you should also be aware that your credit card details are possibly the widest known piece of your personal information.
That said we still must be careful.
You will see from the example fax that I have attached that I send my credit card details to hotels when I am making a booking, what I do not do is give any of my credit card details to a third party, and I always keep a record of when I use my credit card online or via a fax booking.
You may find that an agent asks you to send a signed fax with your booking and your credit card details or a copy of the credit card. I never do this, it is a sure sign that the agent does not have an ‘Accredited Merchant Account’, they are probably manually entering your details into a credit card receiver, not necessarily the one belonging to the agent you are booking with. This doesn’t mean they are going to swindle you, but it will make sorting the mess out more difficult if they do.
Hotels and good booking agent should be able to take your booking online or over the phone without the need for faxed signatures or any other proof of booking. If in doubt talk to your credit card issuing bank.
These are all reasons to spend a little more time searching on the internet for the hotels actual address and contact details.
I have added a list of contact details of hotels and guesthouses I have used in the past, it should at least be a start I you are having difficulty finding that first place to stay.
It is important to note that the Hotel will normally keep your booking until 18:00 hours of the day you have booked, unless that is you have stated that you will arrive late. They are absolutely entitled to charge you the full room rate if you do not show or if you do not cancel at least twenty-four hours before your booked arrival time.
So if you have booked and you can’t get to the hotel, call early to cancel.
Remember this because if you have booked a few days accommodation the hotel might charge you for every day you do not turn up!
If you have to cancel, follow the cancellation up with a fax and keep the fax together with the transmittal confirmation for your records.
Once you are in Thailand booking accommodation takes on a whole different aspect, for a start you can actually check the place out before you pay, and I advise you always do.
Every place I have ever stayed at in Thailand accepts walk-in bookings, and almost all the places we have travelled as a family we have not bothered to book in advance, there have been exceptions but these have usually been around public holidays or when visiting festivals.
The rate you pay for a walk-in in booking at all the better hotels is almost certainly more expensive than can be had by booking through a travel agent. I once walked away from the check in desk to the in-house travel agent and got them to book me a room at the hotel where their office was, and I got a discount and as I've mentioned above we once booked via an online agent from the hotel lobby internet access point.
So if you want to stay at one of the big posh hotels, I’d advise you go through a online of local agent.
If you are booking at a local hotel, ask the price and ask what is included in the price, then ask for a discount. I always ask for a discount and almost always get one.
But remember don’t forget to ask what is included in the price before asking for the discount, or you will find that breakfast suddenly becomes an extra.
To Book or Not to Book?
If you are travelling with very young children then I would advise that you book at least your first nights accommodation at every place you go to, so for example if you spend the first few days in Bangkok and are moving onto Samuii, then book your first night on the island. If you don’t like the place you can always move on later but you will at least have a place to sleep while you find your bearings.
Unless you have a real solid recommendation I would advise you don’t book more than the first night because you might find you don’t like the place.
Tip: If you want to find or change accommodation on an island, the best time to do so is before 10:00 am, or just before the first ferries arrive. It’s at this time people are checking out and new guests have not yet arrived.
Note: If you call a provincial hotel to make a booking you might be asked to pay the first night’s room rate into a bank account that the receptionist gives you. Don’t worry too much about this, it’s quite common and we have done it many times without any problems.
“All Full Up”
You will hear this every time you approach the ferry to an island or as you arrive at the airport, Thais will approach you telling you that the island or the resorts are all full, then they will recommend you to the only place that might have a room. It is of course just a sales pitch.
With the exception of the main Thai public holidays there is almost certainly accommodation to be had. My advice is, ignore the touts and go look for yourself.
Tip: If you need a recommendation, ask other people, especially backpackers, they are usually very approachable and will have the very latest news of where is good and where to avoid. They will certainly give you better advice than the touts and the travel agents who all get a payment from your booking.
Tip: If, for example you arrive on an island without a booking it is a good idea for one of you to settle with the bags and children while the other scouts for a room. This will make searching easier and will greatly reduce the frustration of lugging children, bags and yourselves in an out of guesthouse receptions.
Check the Room Before Paying
I really do advise that you do this wherever you stay, especially when looking at lower end accommodation and always if you are about to ask for a discount.
Don’t be shy about checking bedding and bathrooms and if you are not happy either ask for the room to be cleaned before you pay or move on.
Don’t restrict your inspection to the room only, especially at beach accommodation, take a look around the nearby restaurants and bars, if they are busy and have any kind of night time functions, parties etc then realize that this might be a bit of a noisy spot, a few yards further down the beach might be a bit quieter, and perhaps cheaper too.
You will almost certainly be asked to pay a, ‘Key Deposit’, this is usually around Bht500, we have never had the deposit withheld when checking out.
Tip: If you think you want to stay a full week and you have never stayed at the particular place before, pay for two days first, if you don’t like the place it makes moving on very much easier if you don’t have to argue for the return of a deposit. Thais really do not like returning room payments, there is no culture of ‘The Customer is Always right’.
If you do this and decide to stay make sure you tell the reception as soon as possible, you’ll not be very happy if they give your room to someone else.
What’s Included, and Extras
One of the great things about taking a family holiday in Thailand is that once you get there it is cheap by western standards, better still many things you have to pay extra for in the west might be included in Thailand, here are a few pointers:
We have never been charged extra for our children, but then they are still youngsters. There is usually an extra charge for an additional bed and you will of course pay more for a second room, but ask for a discount. Most hotels will, unless they are full, charge a lower rate for the extra room.
The guideline is hotels in Bangkok and hotels that cater for international tourists will generally charge children over 12years of age at the adult rate.
Provincial hotels are more likely to give you a room rate regardless of how many people are staying but you will only be given two breakfast coupons.
Breakfast is almost always included when you book a hotel room, but do ask. Most places we have stayed will give a free breakfast for young children, but you might need to pay extra for older children, again ask.
Entitlement to breakfast will be given you by the use of a voucher, but there might be an extra charge if you have more than one coffee or extra breakfast items. Don’t worry about this too much, it is going to be cheap by western standards.
Guesthouses almost never include breakfast within the room rate, it’s a shame because their breakfasts are usually better than those of the big hotels.
Baby’s Cot and an Extra Bed
You’ll be lucky to find these in all but the better hotels but, when you do find a cot it will usually included in the room charge and of course subject to availability.
Be aware that cots and their mattresses will not be manufactured to the same standard as at home.
Our children have always slept with us when on trips around Thailand, and that’s what the Thais always do, hence the shortage of cots.
The Mini Bar
If your budget is tight then the mini bar can punch a hole right through it, after a hard days sightseeing bars of chocolate suddenly develop remarkable language skills, I have actually heard this myself; a packet of M&Ms whispering “eat me, eat me”. Bottles of bear can definitely talk.
You eat of drink from the mini bar at the peril of your budget, far better to ask the hotel reception to empty the fridge to take temptation out of the reach of your children…. And you!
If they refuse, explain that you do not want your children being given access to alcohol because of the hotel’s refusal to grant a simple request.
Another risk to your budget, the phone in your hotel room will be charged at perhaps five times the rate of the phone in the lobby. I have had phone bills from my room that cost more than the room itself.
Just be aware that the phone in your room can be extremely expensive. If you have children that might ‘sneak a call to friends back home’ then it might be best to ask the reception to block their phone or simply unplug it and keep it in your own room during your stay. Honestly rates of $10/minute are not uncommon.
Many hotels will offer a babysitting service, this is usually a member of the staff, a maid, who is being offered the chance to earn a little extra for babysitting. We have often used this service at hotels we have stayed at, certainly at the Rembrandt in Bangkok.
The rates are cheap by western standards but we usually give an extra tip as we are never sure how much of the fee we pay actually goes to the sitter.
Accommodation and Safety
In general accommodation in Thailand is not built or maintained to the same standards as in the west, added to which some of the measures put in place to keep burglars out increase the risk to you if there is a fire.
This is not usually a problem with up market accommodation but it certainly is a problem with budget guesthouses and beach huts. I have added a whole section on Safety, please take time to read it and discuss the issues together as part of your planning for the trip.
Pay particular attention to what I say about fire risks, and do consider taking your own smoke detector(s) with you if you are planning to stay in budget accommodation.
Tip: Play the safety route game - Get your children to lay on their bed with their eyes closed and tell you where the fire extinguishers are, what the route to the fire escape is.
Tip: Place insulation tape over electrical outlets to keep little fingers out.
Tip: Check the bathroom floor, if it's shiny and slippery place a wet towel on the floor to prevent injury from slipping.
Tip: Take extra care with hot showers and hot baths, the plumbing will not have a temperature regulator in the taps, so check the water temperature is not too hot.
Accommodation and Security
I don’t think there is a place on the planet that does not suffer with the scourge of thievery, Thailand is no exception but I would say that we ourselves have never suffered at theft.
I have a theory that most of the theft that takes place is committed by other holidaymakers, especially travellers (backpackers). It is only a theory and I’m not condemning all travellers out of hand but I have heard far too many reports of travellers being caught with or trying to sell other people’s property.
Thieves are like cockroaches, you don’t want them in your room but it’s almost impossible to keep them out. The only thing you can do is keep your things under lock and key.
Make a habit of using the hotel safe, don’t keep all your valuables in one place and do take up my suggestion that you scan all your essential documentation.
If the hotel has a safe in your room and a safe available at reception, use both rather than keep all of your valuables in one safe.
Note: The hotel reception safe will very likely have special locks, the key to which is numbered and not easily replaceable. There will be a punitive charge for the replacement of the hotel reception safe key. If you use this service look after the key like you would a hundred dollar bill. They have about the same value.
Tip: A placing a door wedge under your room door when you go to bed at night is an excellent way of holding the door closed, better than the locks on doors in most budget accommodation.
Tip: Check all doors and windows are securely closed before you go to bed at night, even if you have checked them earlier in the evening.
Tip: If I am not happy with the security where I stay I often hang a shower gel or some other object from the door handle, and attempt to open the door will result in a noise that will wake me up.
I think it’s a good idea not to put temptation in peoples way, remember a housemaid is probably earning $125~150 a month! Don’t leave lots of money around, if goes missing the housemaid might well get the blame, in our experience she is very likely to be extremely honest and not the person that took the money. That will not stop her loosing her job, and believe me, she will be supporting her family; she needs the job. Her only alternative might be..?!
So please do take care not to leave money and valuables around and tell your children to do likewise.