How to keep it comfy on the flashpacker trail
South-east Asia specialises in cheap yet chic lodgings. Andrew Spooner picks his favourites
Sunday 11 October 2009
Despite the recession, one of the long-haul destinations that can still guarantee British visitors good value is South-east Asia. Thailand, for example, offers some of the best-value accommodation on the planet. It certainly lives up to its tourist office's marketing slogan "Amazing Thailand, Amazing Value".
But don't confine your travels to this one country. Visit the hills of Laos, the beautifully preserved towns of Malaysia, the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the emerging beach destinations of Vietnam.
Wherever you travel in this vibrant and engaging part of the globe, you won't need to break the bank to stay in comfortable accommodation. Here are some of the best budget-luxury options in the region – from colonial villas in Malaysia to serene riverside bungalows in Laos. All these recommendations will cost you no more than £20 per person – and sometimes you'll get even cheaper deals.
Soria Moria, Cambodia
This Norwegian-run boutique hotel in Siem Reap – the small town located right next to the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat – offers neat, comfortable and stylishly simple accommodation. There's a pleasant, breezy rooftop bar, a great restaurant, and the location is perfect for wandering the riverside eateries and bars in central Siem Reap. What's more, the owners are involved in various non-aid-based NGO-style programmes designed to train and invest in local people, including the excellent White Bicycle and Love Card projects (see the Soria Moria's website for more details).
How much: Doubles from £18 to £40 per night (00 855 63 964768; thesoriamoria.com).
Nong Kiau Riverside, Laos
While the former Laos royal town of Luang Prabang attracts all the plaudits, it is also a magnet for crowds of tourists. Savvy travellers now head north instead, about 45 miles up the Nam Ou river from Luang Prabang (boats still provide regular transport), to the misty riverside town of Nong Khiaw. The best place to stay here is at the stunning modern bungalows at the Nong Kiau Riverside. The beautifully decorated wooden chalets are furnished with four-poster beds dressed with mosquito nets. They have hot-water bathrooms and views over the river and the dramatic limestone pinnacles and mountains here. The restaurant has a good selection of fine wines and serves great French and Laotian food, which, given the remote location, is something of a triumph. The only downside is that Nong Kiau Riverside is often full, so make a reservation well in advance.
How much: Doubles from £20-£25 (00 856 20 570 5000; nongkiau.com).
Vang Vieng Eco-Lodge, Laos
About five miles north of the infamously raucous Laos backpacker town of Vang Vieng, Vang Vieng Eco-Lodge offers a quiet place to retreat. Set in a serene and exceptionally beautiful location, its 10 simple wooden chalet-style bungalows, each with their own large balcony, have been built on the banks of a river surrounded by luxuriant greenery and precipitous limestone formations. The friendly local management also cook up some awesome Lao curries and fantastic French-inspired breakfasts. At weekends, and during the high season, this place can fill up well in advance, so be sure to book ahead.
How much: Doubles from £20 to £25 (00 856 21 41 3370; villalao.com).
Old Penang Guesthouse, Malaysia
The atmospheric backstreets of Georgetown on Penang Island, Malaysia, complete with rows of shophouses and covered walkways, offer some of the best-preserved colonial-style architecture in the whole of South-east Asia. One of the most atmospheric places to stay here is the Old Penang Guesthouse, a gorgeously restored property that has been turned into a simple guesthouse. Each room is reasonably basic – bathrooms and toilets are shared – but the location and stylish touches still make it a great base for a couple of days while exploring the city.
How much: Doubles from £10-£14 (00 60 4 2638805; oldpenang.com).
Orchid Hibiscus, Thailand
Run by its engaging Italian host, Paolo, Orchid Hibiscus is set just outside the ancient ruins of Sukhothai in central Thailand. There are about a dozen, cute, wooden, air-conditioned bungalows here, decorated Thai style, within gardens filled with pretty orchids and home to colourful tropical birds. It even has a pleasant swimming pool – a god-send after a hot day spent cycling around the nearby ruins – with plenty of space to soak up the sun. And a satisfying breakfast, often served with wild honeycombs, is included in the price.
How much: Doubles from £18-£20 (00 66 55 633284; orchid_hibiscus email@example.com).
Pai River Corner, Thailand
Until recently, the small town of Pai, buried deep in the hills of northern Thailand, was known as something of a backpacker party town. But with a small airport now open, Pai is changing, and has a more upmarket, bohemian vibe with some great boutique properties opening up. One of the best of these is the Pai River Corner, a collection of brightly decorated, comfortable, Thai-style bungalows set beside a pretty river. Each has a balcony overlooking a private garden and there's a small pool, outdoor Jacuzzi and bar. The jovial Thai/Australian management serve up regular barbecues and excellent Thai food.
How much: Doubles from £28-£60 (00 66 53 699049; pairivercorner.com).
An Huy Hotel, Vietnam
Slowly emerging as a destination, Vietnam is home to many relatively undiscovered treasures, including the beautifully preserved French colonial town of Hoi An. Just a couple of minutes' walk from Hoi An's old town is the charming An Huy Hotel. Contemporary-Asian styled rooms are attractive, upbeat and comfy. There's a pleasant courtyard, a restaurant, free WiFi, and breakfast is included in the price. As in many places in South-east Asia, you might be woken early by the local cockerel population – pack earplugs.
How much: Doubles from £18-£25 (00 84 510 3862116; anhuyhotel.com).
Andrew Spooner is co-author of Footprint Books' Southeast Asia Handbook 2010, due out this month, price £16.99 (footprintbooks.com).
How to get there
Andrew Spooner travelled to Southeast Asia with Etihad Airways (0800 731 9384; etihadairways.com), which offers return flights from Manchester and London to Bangkok in Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, both via Abu Dhabi, from £428.
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