I'm going to Thailand for around 5 weeks. I know the islands and places I am planning to visit, but I want to wing it with timing, so I'm not booking any accommodations in advance. I was wondering what the best way is to find accommodations. Do you just ask a taxi to take you to the nearest hostel? I'm thinking of having three or four possibilities. But even then do I just ask a taxi to take me to one of them?
#1 travelbug777777 has been a member since 21/4/2014. Posts: 2
First, there aren't too many hostels on the islands. There are a whole bunch in Bangkok and I recently checked out a handful on Ko Lanta, but most budget travelers stay at cheap bungalows on the islands. Definitely DO NOT ask a taxi to take you to the nearest place to stay - they'll take you to whichever place will give them the highest commission. Sometimes they'll try to do that even when you tell them the specific name of the place you want to stay.
The best way is to research the island / destination you're going to in advance, decide which beach (or part of town) you want to stay on, then write down a few places to stay that look good to you along with their phone numbers. When you arrive, tell the taxi to take you straight to your top choice. If they're full, you'll probably be within an easy walk of other similar places to stay. If you want to stay on some really remote beach, you're probably best off reserving in advance, but most popular islands have clusters of cheap places to stay and backpackers just show up and huff it around until they find a room. The more you research before you arrive, the better off you'll be.
In case you haven't seen them yet, Travelfish has in depth guides, all free and all online and all downloadable for free, with hotel / guesthouse / bungalow reviews and info on orientation, food, activities and transport. Here's an example. Some are more up to date than others; you can always supplement by looking at other resources like traditional travel guides (Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc.), Tripadvisor (though I'd take crowd-sourced reviews with a grain of salt), Hostelworld and Agoda, to name a few. If you're going to a popular island in peak season (mid December through February), you might want to book in advance or at least call or email the place you want to stay ahead of time to make a reservation. With Agoda it's generally fine to book one day before you arrive. But if you're going to, say, the Andaman islands in late March, you can just show up and find a room.
Finally, not all islands have "taxis"; in fact I can't think of any that have traditional car taxis like you'd see in Bangkok. You should read the orientation and transport sections for any individual destination to get a feel for what it's like there. Some islands will have a pick up truck (songthaew) waiting at the pier; others have a few side-car motorbike taxis; and the less-touristed ones have nothing more than a friendly local or two who will be happy to give you a lift on their motorbike. Still others have no roads at all, and on some of these you'll be picked up by a longtail boat taxi and asked which part of the island you're going to. So as I said, it pays to have at least a vague idea of where you want to go.
Yes online reviews need a grain of salt but guidebook reviews are even worse. Need a whole bag and they can be years out of date.
If a hotel scores 8 from 10 across 3 sites thats a pretty good guide.
Personally I think a combination of online reviews and guidebooks provides the best background. My opinion is that just relying on crowd-sourced reviews is unreliable because a) they might be fake or there might not be enough of them to actually reflect how good a place is, b) a lot of places (especially some of the best budget places) are not listed online, especially on booking sites that charge commissions like Agoda, c) most crowd-sourced reviews are written by people who have only visited one or two places to stay in a given destination. On the other hand, guidebooks are written by people who have (presumably) looked at practically every place to stay, allowing writers to compare them and pick out the ones that stand out from the pack for whatever reason. They may be out of date and not everyone will agree with a given writer's opinions, but at least they're from someone who really knows a destination.
My point is that any travel content, whether crowd-sourced or written by professionals, has its flaws, so the best way is to take both into account. In terms of activities and restaurants, I find professionally written content, blogs and local websites to be far more reliable than Tripadvisor, which currently lists some scavenger hunt thing as Bangkok's #1 attraction, and a German sausage factory as one of Bangkok's top 10 restaurants. I'm not saying that these places are bad, just that their high rankings are based on reviews by people who spend maybe a few days in Bangkok. This results in a "travel guide" that isn't based on common sense. It's hard to imagine anyone honestly saying that the scavenger hunt thing is Bangkok's #1 can't-miss attraction.
The bonuses with Travelfish over traditional guidebooks is that we update a lot of destinations on an ongoing basis; we don't have to wait for a whole book-publishing process for the updates to go live; and we incorporate user reviews to provide balance. I personally can't stand Tripadvisor after talking to many small business owners who have been screwed by it in all sorts of different ways, from fake negative reviews not being taken off a page to being penalized after a guest wrote a review while still staying at the hotel they were reviewing (Tripadvisor assumes that the business itself wrote the review and banishes the hotel's page to a place where no one will find it). Given Tripadvisor's extreme popularity, things like this can severely damage small, honest businesses while at the same time doing a disservice to travelers who can no longer find them in the listings.
"On the other hand, guidebooks are written by people who have (presumably) looked at practically every place to stay, allowing writers to compare them and pick out the ones that stand out from the pack for whatever reason."
That's not true. They can't possibly go to every hotel when there's 500 of them in a city. They don't even cover all the hotels in smaller towns or update them every 5 years. Plus the opinion of one person isn't reliable. Rather have the opinion of 50 people who stay in diff rooms and get to see the good and the bad. If you have reviews from hundreds of people across 3 sites then the average is a good guide to how it is.