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How much pre-booking do I need to do for a March trip?

Posted by NamManao on 25/12/2016 at 15:35

Hi all, I'm no newbie as I've been to Thailand four times, but I haven't been there since 2003. I'm looking at going in March 2017, but am wondering whether I can still "wing it" on the accommodations and domestic flights the way I have always done there in the past. That is to say, not pre-booking any hotel rooms (or flights, or anything else from the US before leaving) and just waiting until I'm there to survey the situation and choose suitable things from what's available.

I've never been to Thailand in March. On my past trips I was always there in June/July, except one trip in November (1988, during which I experienced biblical-scale floods in the south that I read in the paper the next day wiped out a whole village, sadly enough). I understand today that June and July are low season, but I didn't back then (1988, maybe I understood it a bit better as of my third trip in June 2001).

My concern about trying to pre-book a lot of the trip is that it locks you into a certain itinerary and removes most of the flexibility. I can imagine trying to adjust anything on the fly could become nightmarish, but I don't know, I mean considering the dramatic advancements in internet technology from 2003 to today.

My current understanding about March there is that it's a transition month between the end of the high season and the beginning of the low season. I guess my distilled question here is: does the tourist surge taper off enough by/in March that it will allow me not to have to worry about pre-booking all my moves before getting there?

#1 NamManao has been a member since 25/12/2016. Posts: 5

Posted by exacto on 25/12/2016 at 19:03

Hi NamManao,

I think it depends on where you are going and how flexible you are. In my opinion, it isn't quite as easy to just wing it in Thailand as it used to be. One reason is the internet, and even many small mom and pop type accommodation is now available to book online. The other is that as the country has developed, you are now competing with locals along with other Asian tourists for those rooms and airplane seats.

Having said that, I think you'll still be able to plan as you go, but for a few things like overnight sleeper trains, I'd book as soon in advance as I could, just to make sure you get the date and time you want (not to mention a berth towards the middle of the car - away from the doors and the bathrooms). For flights, they will be usually be cheaper if you book in advance, particularly on the budget airlines. But last minute bus is still an option, and you can break up trips with quick overnight stops. For rooms, you might consider having a few places in mind before you turn up in a place, and on our last trip we found that either calling ahead or booking online helped make sure we got a room at the places we wanted to stay.

Our last trip was last September/October, by the way, and the places we visited were not busy at all. It was important to book long-haul buses the day before, but otherwise not too bad. Then again, we were fairly off the beaten path in the northeast. You may want to plan a little more in advance for more popular locations.

I hope that helps. Have a wonderful trip. Regards.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,841

Posted by antoniamitchell on 25/12/2016 at 19:30

On my most recent trip (a few weeks ago) to krabi and the Andaman Coast I found tourist numbers very low - I think the crowds haven't really recovered from recent events (the death of the king, the few terrorist incidents, maybe still a holdover from the coup). Everything was half empty, despite it being high season.

Exacto's probably right about the overnight trains (I never take them so I wouldn't know) and flights are always cheaper in advance, but even last minute flights are often not too expensive.

But in terms of accommodation, unless you've got your heart set on a particular small guesthouse, or you're planning on visiting a place with little accommodation available, you really don't need to pre book in my opinion.

Have a great trip.

#3 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by DLuek on 25/12/2016 at 23:40 TF writer

In March I wouldn't worry too much about pre-booking anything other than a sleeper compartment on a Bangkok to Chiang Mai overnight train, or a room on Ko Pha Ngan if you'll be there during full moon party or on Ko Tao immediately after full moon.

Islands like Ko Lipe and Ko Samet will still be pretty busy especially on weekends, but nothing like they are right now (peak season) when it's essential to pre-book. On islands like that I'd book well in advance only if you really have your heart set on a specific resort. Otherwise I'd take exacto's advice and just call or email a week or two ahead of time if hitting popular islands.

True that domestic flights are significantly cheaper if booking a few weeks in advance, but even so, I've found that most routes sold by budget carriers (Nok Air, AirAsia, Thai Lion Air, etc.) are usually only in the 1,000 to 2,000 baht range even if booking the day before, and they don't often sell out.

#4 DLuek has been a member since 19/6/2008. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,346

Posted by NamManao on 26/12/2016 at 00:07

Thanks for the replies everyone, they're very helpful.

#5 NamManao has been a member since 25/12/2016. Posts: 5

Posted by exacto on 26/12/2016 at 14:04

For more out-of-the-way places like Phimai or Nakhon Phanom, even just a few days in advance was enough.

Interesting that we all noticed a drop in the number of tourists on our last trips, because a recent travel article I read noted that Thailand's infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the record number of tourist arrivals this year. But it also specifically mentioned Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.

In any case, I will always book ahead if I know I am arriving late at night, it is a busy time of year (New Year's, Songkhan), or if there is a particular place I really want to stay. Cheers.

#6 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,841

Posted by antoniamitchell on 26/12/2016 at 16:44

Hi Exacto,

I think what's happening is a demographic shift - the independent tourists are down, while there's been an increase in visitors from mainland China (most of whom probably travel either in groups or on pre-organised itineraries), so the "must-see" destinations popular with Chinese travel agents will get the bulk of the arrivals, and the places not on the Chinese itineraries are left complaining "where are the tourists?"

Has anyone been to Chiang Mai recently - it is busier than it used to be? I haven't been in 6 years, and it was pretty busy then. ...

#7 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

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