Having traveled around with backpackers living on a true shoestring budget, we quickly realized how cheaply you could stay in southeast Asia. A bed in a dormitory-style hostel seemed to run anywhere from about $6 to $10 USD per night (we even met up with an easy-going Argentinian who was elated to find he could get a mattress on a floor in Houay Xai, Laos for only $2/night). If you’re kicking around southeast Asia and want to do cheap, you can really do cheap.
That said, we weren’t trying to stretch our budget quite that far. A couple in our mid-30s, we weren’t looking for the communal dormitory, nightlife-heavy type of travel experience. And even if we were, for two people traveling together, most double rooms with private bath will actually often run about the same as two beds in a decent hostel – something to consider if traveling with your spouse or a friend.
We originally planned to book Air BnB accommodations in SE Asia, but we quickly learned it was typically far more expensive to rent a private unit with a kitchen than it was to stay at a small guesthouse/hostel and just eat out. In total, we stayed in about 20 guesthouses during our three months in SE Asia, and had universally great experiences – clean, well-appointed rooms, friendly staff, and great food. The average cost we paid (in USD) for a standard double room with a private bath (many including breakfast) was as follows:
|Country||Avg. per night room cost (USD)|
And of all the lovely guesthouses we visited, we wanted to list a handful of our favorites below. If you find yourselves in any of these amazing cities as you blissfully rove the Banana Pancake Trail, consider stopping in for an unforgettable stay:
Villa Ban Phanluang
Luang Prabang, Laos
Price: $23 USD/night
Amenities: room w/ private bath, air conditioning, WiFi, breakfast included
Villa Ban Phanluang is an adorable guesthouse in Luang Prabang, just across the Nam Khan River from the city’s peninsular historic center at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Our room here was just beautiful – cozy bedroom encased in a dark hardwood, large washroom, and a door leading out to a semi-private terraced area with a small breakfast table. Each morning after selecting your choice of breakfast items (fresh juices, banana pancakes, eggs & sausage, fresh baguettes), the staff would deliver a delicious meal for you to enjoy on the outdoor porch.
And while the room was quiet and comfortable, and the breakfasts delicious and filling, nothing beats the service of the guesthouse staff. Everyone working at Villa Ban Phanluang is tremendously friendly, and the staff go above and beyond to ensure that visitors enjoy their stay. Each time you return from a hot morning or afternoon outside, someone is there to greet you with a cold glass of juice, ask about your day, and make recommendations for restaurants or local sights.
If your stay coincides with the dry season (as ours did), you can quickly cross the river to the town center via a bamboo bridge (foot traffic only) that’s just a couple hundred meters from the guesthouse. During the wet season, you must cross the river via a paved road about 700 meters down the street from the guesthouse, as the bamboo bridges only survive the dry months. If you choose to cycle into town, though (regardless of season), you must use the paved road. We’d definitely recommend hopping on a bicycle during your stay; Luang Prabang is a great city for cycling. The cool breeze on your face as you pedal from temple to temple is a welcome relief from the searing heat. Conveniently, Villa Ban Phanluang has a handful of bicycles on site that you can borrow for the day free of charge.
V & A Villa
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Price: $18 USD/night
Amenities: room w/ private bath, air conditioning, WiFi, pool, breakfast included
A popular destination with backpackers and luxury travelers alike, Siem Reap is the gateway to the famed temple complex of Angkor Wat. If you’re looking for a gorgeous guesthouse that’s still less than $20/day, look no further than V & A Villa. It’s a tranquil little hideaway just a few kilometers from the city’s bustling center that is run by the nicest hosts and staff you’ll meet. The rooms here are practically palatial, and the price includes a lovely little breakfast. A small, on-sight eatery also offers lunches and dinners, if you’re too exhausted after a day of temple hopping to venture down the road for a bite.
Aside from the warm, attentive service, the guesthouse’s location is also just perfect. After venturing out our first evening in the city, we quickly learned that the downtown area is absolutely jumping during the evening hours (for us, Pub Street was one noisy, inebriated hell). We tend to enjoy a bit quieter, more laid-back atmosphere, and we definitely got that at V & A Villa. Just off National Highway 6, the peaceful retreat is a mere 1.5 km (1 mi) from the Giant Ibis bus terminal, 6 km (4 mi) from the Angkor Archaeological Complex, and only 2 km (1.2 mi) from downtown attractions (the night market, the old market along the Siem Reap River, restaurants, Pub Street, etc.). The guesthouse also rents bicycles for only $1/day, so grab a ride and pedal yourself around the city. It saves on the cost of a tuk-tuk, and it’s also just a great little town for cycling. We even cycled to Angkor a couple of days, which – although tiring after 8 to 10 hours in the relentless sun and heat – was a totally awesome way to explore the ancient ruins.
Four Seasons Hotel
Price: $14 USD/night
Amenities: room w/ private bath, air conditioning, WiFi, breakfast included, free pickup from the airport, train or bus stations
Ahhhh, the Four Seasons in Hue, Vietnam. Their website claims a reputation for “outstanding service at budget price.” That has got to be the understatement of the century! After arriving at the Four Seasons on a scorching June afternoon (around 45˚C (113˚F) with the heat index), we entered the doorway only to be greeted immediately by a handful of friendly faces offering cold, wet towels to freshen up, glasses of freshly-squeezed juice, a plate of fresh fruit, and a warm welcome to the guesthouse. In subsequent days, we quickly learned that this was the routine greeting each time we returned to the guesthouse from a sizzling summer day of exploring.
The Four Seasons’ accommodations were charming and cozy and the breakfast (included in the nightly rate) was just delicious! Each morning we’d head down to the small eating area in the lobby and order fresh juice, coffee, and a couple items from the extensive menu. Each time we finished, the staff kindly offered more food or a refill on our drinks. We could not believe everything we were getting for the price. The Four Seasons’ location was also great – tucked down a quiet alley a block from the river, and nestled amongst a network of cute cafes and coffee shops (check out Risotto for some tasty Vietnamese and (interestingly) Italian cuisine). Importantly, it’s just a quick 3-km bike ride from the Four Seasons across the Perfume River to the Imperial City. The guesthouse also rents bicycles, which is a great way to check out the city – we enjoyed a 6.5 km (one-way) ride along the river to Thien Mu Pagoda, as well as the short ride over to the Imperial City (though cycles must remain outside as only walking is allowed within the walled complex).
And while the room was extremely lovely and comfortable and the food simply wonderful, the best part of Four Seasons is the staff. Mimi, at the reception desk, is one of the nicest, friendliest people you’ll meet; she is always willing to lend a hand, be it with suggestions about restaurants or sightseeing, or advice about local prices. The rest of the staff was equally hospitable, and they make you feel like part of the family from the moment you arrive.
Lele & Frog Hotel
Price: $21 USD/night
Amenities: room w/ private bath, air conditioning, WiFi, breakfast included
When we stayed here in June 2016, the hotel had just opened, had only hosted a handful of guests, and the staff was still trying to get everything organized. For a place that had only been open for a matter of days, the team was incredible, and you’d think the hotel had been running for months. The location at the edge of the Old Quarter was great – close enough to walk anywhere and in a cute alley with a bunch of small cafes and vendors. The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating, the room was gorgeous, and the breakfast was also quite good. Perhaps the best part, though? The framed portrait of Kermit the Frog playing the banjo hanging in the lobby. A devoted Muppet-lover, nothing says ‘welcome home’ like a picture of the endearing, musical amphibian.
We’d also like to express our gratitude to the hotel’s manager, Ben, who was incredibly kind and also helped us immensely with a passport issue. When we visited the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, they told us they could not issue us an expedited visa, even though the website and signs hanging on the Embassy suggested expedited service was available. They insisted processing would take 5 days. We’d planned a 3-day trip to Ha Long Bay, after which we’d return to the city for a weekend before departing to China. Because the Embassy was closed the days we were back in Hanoi, Ben graciously offered to retrieve our captive passports from the Embassy and hold them for us. He went above and beyond to help us – refusing any compensation – and in doing so, saved both our Ha Long Bay excursion and subsequent journey to Beijing.
Ganesha Eco Guesthouse
Price: $16 USD/night*
Amenities: room w/ private (outdoor) bath, bed (sleeping mat) with mosquito net
*waterfront bungalows ($18 USD/night), riverside yurts ($13 USD/night), and tribal huts ($16 USD/night)
When you consider the price of standard rooms in southeast Asia – typically including A/C, WiFi, and breakfast – Ganesha seems comparably expensive, as it offers none of the amenities. But here, you are paying for the experience of, in our case, staying in a rustic, eco-friendly treehouse in the south of Cambodia.
It’s a bit off the beaten path, down a rutted-out dirt track about 5 km (3 mi) from the center of Kampot, but this only adds to the charm of feeling like you’re out in the middle of nowhere. The grounds are quite lovely, surrounding by farmland and enveloped by a lush garden that’s teeming with birdlife (sunbirds and rollers abound here), and our stilted tribal hut offered a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. Because the property offers only 9 stand-alone units (as well as two rooms in the main building), Ganesha feels even more like a cozy, secluded paradise. To navigate around the laid-back provinces of Kampot and Kep from this isolated oasis, we picked up a moto in Kampot town. The region is a beautiful area for exploring on a motorbike, and with the pepper farms and Kep each a solid 30 km (20 mi) to the south and east, a rental is a bit of a necessity.
While we really enjoyed the concept of Ganesha, as well as the isolated location, I do have to mention our one gripe – that the owner is a prolific smoker, and that smoking is allowed in the terraced lounge/restaurant area. I get that the space is open air, but really… it’s an ECO resort. Aside from the fact that smoking is absolutely my biggest pet peeve, carcinogenic fumes and cigarette butts don’t exactly scream environmentally-conscious or seem to belong in an otherwise-pristine nature retreat. Had there been no shared smoking/eating space, Ganesha would have been the perfect little hideaway.
And while the five guesthouses detailed above were some of the most exceptional and/or unique accommodations we found during our three months southeast Asia, we’d like to award honorable mention to two others (both in Vietnam): Vy Khanh Guesthouse in Ho Chi Minh City and My An Dong Hotel in Da Nang. Both offer private rooms with A/C and WiFi, and while the rooms are a bit smaller and more basic than the other guesthouses we highlighted, the gracious owners make these guesthouses worth a visit.
A small, family-run hostel, Vy Khanh Guesthouse is tucked away down a small alley in the backpacker area in the heart of the city’s District 1 – offering a short walk to many of the city’s sights and hole-in-the-wall eateries. A standard double with private bath costs only $17 USD/night and the proprietor, Miss Vy, is eager to give tips for exploring the city. During our four days in Saigon, Miss Vy was always waiting to welcome us with a friendly smile, ask about our day, and offer suggestions for some great local food. And for you vegetarians, Taj Mahal – an awesome little Pakistani/Indian restaurant – is just steps from the hostel (the veggie samosas are to die for).
In the beautiful seaside city of Da Nang, My An Dong Hotel offers guests incredibly affordable accommodations (with A/C, WiFi, and private bath) at only $14 USD/night. For those looking to relax by the sea, the guesthouse is only 600 m (less than half a mile) – a five-minute walk – to My Khe Beach. If you’re looking to explore the vibrant city (beyond lounging at the beach), the owners will help you with a motorbike rental just around the corner from the hotel. The rooms here are pretty simple, but the owners are some of the nicest people you’ll meet. Miss Kim and her daughter were so friendly and kind, and treated you like you were a part of the family.
We hope this list provides some useful suggestions if you’re planning a backpacking tour of southeast Asia. If you are looking for comfortable accommodations on a modest budget, as well as staff that provide you with an unforgettable stay, consider a visit to one of these charming guesthouses.
After making a solo trip to Thailand last July, I had to add one more amazing guesthouse to this list…
Baan Khun Krub
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Price: $30 USD/night
Amenities: room w/ private bath, air conditioning, WiFi, breakfast included
I stumbled across Baan Khun Krub late one Friday night on booking.com, as I hastily pieced a trip together to return to Elephant Nature Park to volunteer with the dog rescue. It had several solid reviews as a quiet, centrally-located guesthouse, so I quickly clicked ‘book now.’
Baan Khun Krub is owned and run by an outgoing Aussie expat, and Gavin goes above and beyond to ensure his guests have a wonderful stay. He purchased the traditional Thai house and beautifully transformed the home into a charming and inviting guesthouse. The rooms are basic, yet cozy, and maintain the home’s traditional character, with dark teak woodworking and colorful ceramic tiles. The location is perfect for exploring the Old City – inside the ring road near the East (Tha Phae) Gate, and just a short walk from some amazing cafes and juice bars. Bonus: it’s just steps from the Sunday night walking market (a must-do if you’re in Chiang Mai).
And while I loved everything about Baan Khun Krub’s location, ambiance and friendly staff, my favorite part may have been the incredible breakfasts. Each morning I enjoyed a hearty meal in the charming courtyard – a steaming cup of ginger tea, banana custard over sticky rice, a heaping plate of fresh fruits, freshly-made juice, and a banana pancake the diameter of a basketball. As I worked to get through all the delicious offerings each morning, Gavin would stop by and ask about my plans for the day, and was always eager to offer recommendations and helpful tips. Similarly, he always asked about my experience at the end of the day, as he valued any feedback he could pass along to future guests exploring the city.
Although not the cheapest guesthouse you’ll find in Chiang Mai, Baan Khun Krub promises a lovely stay, with hosts that will make you feel like you’re part of the family. Whenever I head back to Chiang Mai, I will certainly be making a return visit to Baan Khun Krub.