From homes with only one room to capsule hotels, budget accommodation in Asia varies widely between countries and between cities or rural places. You'll encounter small guesthouses, budget hotels, bungalows, backpacker hostels, and family-run homestays.
While the word 'hostel' conjures up images of young people sleeping in dorm bunk beds and sharing bathrooms, boutique hostels are often a great budget choice in Asian cities.
Modern hostels are clean, have private rooms and bathrooms available, and in many instances cost less than hotels.
Rooms rates are typically set by the level of luxury you expect. With an exciting new country outside, you'll probably only be in your room to sleep and shower.
Many times you can save money by choosing a fan room instead of air conditioning; you probably won't care about a hot shower if the temperatures outside are scorching!
Should You Book in Advance?
The old dilemma of whether you should book your stay in advance or once you arrive isn't an easy decision. The peace of mind that comes with already have accommodation arranged and an address to hand the taxi driver after a long flight is priceless. However, booking a hotel in Asia from thousands of miles away comes with risk -- particularly if you pay in advance.
- See other tips for using taxis in Asia.
If the budget hotel is noisy, doesn't live up to the photos you saw online, or only has a horrific squat toilet, you're probably stuck there if you have already paid for the duration of your stay.
A safe compromise is to book only the first night or two online, then talk to reception about extending your stay if you like a place. Assuming that you are not traveling during a holiday or peak season, reception will be delighted to keep you around longer. If at all possible, only make a reservation and avoiding paying until you arrive and can check a place out in person.
Avoid touts with hotel cards that wait for arriving tourists outside of airports and transportation hubs; the hotels are often in an inconvenient area or you'll be charged more to cover the tout's commission.
Whether you choose to book in advance or not, it's a good idea to look online so that you have an idea of what you can expect to pay in a particular area.
Getting the Best Price on a Room
Although not as common in the West, budget accommodation owners are often willing to negotiate your room rate. Don't be afraid to ask for a discount or at least an upgrade to a better room! If staying during the low season or for at least a week, you stand a good chance of getting a discount on the advertised rate.
Leave room for the owner to 'save face' by eating your first meal in the restaurant or promising to tell other travelers about how nice the hotel is. You can also volunteer to sacrifice the free breakfast which often isn't that exciting anyway. See more about the concept of saving face.
You'll often be given the standard rate with little chance to negotiate for a discount if you book a budget hotel on the internet -- another good reason to wait until you arrive to book the duration of your stay.
Many budget hotels may not accept credit card payments or will tack on an extra commission. Paying for your room is a great opportunity to cash those large-denomination notes from the ATM that you'll have trouble breaking on the street! See more about using money in Asia.
Tips for Booking a Budget Hotel in Asia
- Look Between the Listings: Remember that the hotels you see online are often just a fraction of the available options in a tourist destination. Many hotel owners count on walk-in business or do not know how to advertise online.
- Filter the Reviews: Competition between hotel owners is ruthless in popular places; take any reviews that you read online with a grain of salt. It's not uncommon for hotel owners to have family and friends bump up their ratings while competitors tear them down with warnings of bedbugs and bad stays.
- Pay as You Go: Many hotels will only ask for your first night's stay and possibly a small key deposit when you first check in. If at all possible, avoid paying up front unless doing so gets you a better rate after negotiating.
- Consider Staying with Someone: Couchsurfing is an exciting option for finding free accommodation in expensive places such as Singapore where foreign residents often have extra rooms. Staying with a local gives you access to invaluable, insider knowledge of a place. See what is couchsurfing?
Choosing the Best Room
- Always ask to see a room before you agree on a rate. Unlike large hotel chains with uniform rooms, rooms in budget hotels often vary in size, furnishings, and layout -- ask to see several rooms before you make a decision.
- Avoid rooms with street-facing windows or ones that are adjacent to the restaurant or reception area. Even if a place appears quiet by day, late-night parties may not die down until the staff takes over the noisemaking at sunrise!
- In tropical places and islands, opt for a room with a mosquito net. See how to avoid mosquitoes. Concrete bungalows and rooms are better sealed against insects but may be scorching hot during the day.
- Power may not be available 24 hours on smaller islands or frequent outages may damage your electronics when generators are started. Avoid charging devices while you are outside of the room. See more about the power in Asia.
- Check to ensure that the door and windows -- which may already be open -- will lock properly. If you're concerned with your valuables, ask about using lockers at reception to safeguard your money, passport, and electronics.
Are Bedbugs a Problem in Asia?
Typically, budget hotels in Asia are no worse a threat for bedbugs than five-star hotels in the US after the recent resurgence of the pests.
Don't put your bags on the floor or bed immediately. Before you begin to unpack, do a precursory check for bedbugs by examining the mattress seam and tag for wet, black matter. You'll sometimes find discarded, translucent skins or the eggs clinging in crevices and under the mattress. Tiny bloodstain specs on the sheets could be another sign that the hotel has had trouble in the past.
If you encounter signs of bedbugs, leave immediately. The reception desk will inevitably try to move you to another room, however, the bugs can travel between rooms through cracks in the walls. At this point, you are safer just grabbing your bags and finding a new place to stay!
- Learn how to check for bedbugs at hotels in Asia.