Should I Book Accommodation In Advance?
No – often you can negotiate a cheaper price when you are face to face wth the owners.
No – you can see what the room is actually like before you pay. How clean, how bright, what’s provided, etc.
Yes – often you are guaranteed a booking, though not always.. We are in SE Asia after all.
Yes – popular, low cost, very clean, highly rated Trip Advisor places may be booked out, especially in high season.
Our first stop was Malaysia and I was feverishly looking up TripAdvisor, hostelbookers.com, hostelworld, booking.com, Airbnb, etc. for cheap but clean accommodation. I was going mad and Lionel can confirm that I was spending more time researching online than enjoying our surroundings in a different country!
The first place we did not book ahead was for the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. As there are mostly budget accommodation options, owned by local families without a website or booking system, and the fact that most people staying would end up telling the owners each day, ‘we’ll stay one more night, just one more,’ we decided to just turn up. This worked well in our favour as we arrived early in the morning and were able to check out a few options before committing.
I would always prefer to check out the accommodation before placing money down. Our standard practice is to walk into a place, ask if there is availability, how much it costs, and if the price is right I will ask to see the room while Lionel minded our bags. I even learnt a German saying, ‘Zu teuer’ (too expensive) so that I could speak to Lionel in code in front of the owners.
We usually only commit to one night initially as this allows us to see what the room is really like. Do cockroaches come out at night? Is there loud karaoke coming from next door? (A common, common occurance in Vietnam) Is there early morning construction work? Will we get robbed during the night? etc.
If we like the room and plan on spending more time in the town then we will request to stay more nights at the guesthouse. If we don’t like the room then the next morning we will start all over again. Rinse and repeat.
Smaller towns are easier to just rock up and check the accommodation. Guesthouses, hostels, hotels will usually be grouped together in a certain area of the town. For example, most accommodation in Lampang is located on one street along the river on Taladkao Rd.
Larger towns or cities however will have accommodation spread out, sometimes beyond walking distance, so you will need to decide where you want to start, and most likely commit to that district unless you want to pay an exorbitant price for a tuk tuk!
TIP: It is preferable to do a bit of research on a town before you get there and to base your location on your needs to minimize travel costs. Possible considerations to bare in mind are proximity to shopping malls, nightlife, quiet life, massage parlours, motorbike rental store, restaurants, tourist sites etc.
TIP: The more we traveled, the better we got at looking for accommodation. First thing we would do when we got into a town was to find a motorbike rental shop. We hired a bike, got on with our bags and rode around stopping at guesthouses that looked alright from the outside. A lot quicker and more efficient than walking around for hours with heavy bags!
The only country we found we needed to book ahead for was Vietnam. The popular places such as Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, Sapa, and Dalat had limited, well-reviewed places and when we did turn up, often they were full.
When you have seen the room and it is suitable, I will usually try to negotiate a lower price. Generally if you agree to book more than one night straight up, chances are it’s easier to get a discount. For example, if the room is 350 baht per night, I will ask to pay 600 baht for two nights. Sometimes they will say no, and that’s fine, you’ve asked and lost nothing. Other times they will laugh, and think about it. This is a good sign and most likely they will take the deal.
My most successful negotiating was in Kachanaburi. They said their rooms were 650 baht, I asked if they had anything cheaper. They said they could offer the room minus the air-conditioning for 400 baht. I counter-offered and said, ‘350 baht a night and we will stay two nights!’ They said yes, boom, done deal. We ended up staying there several times – before and after our motorbike trip to Sunkhlaburi, as they had made a great impression on us.
If you’re not entirely happy with the room but you get a good vibe from the owners, you can always ask to see if there is another room available. I prefer corner rooms as they are usually brighter with more windows. Bedding standard, furnishings and bathrooms may also differ in quality from one room to the next. It is budget accommodation in South-East Asia after all, don’t expect consistency!