Travel Tips

Thailand Hotel Guide: From Luxury to Budget, From Bangkok to Phuket

Locations in this article:  Bangkok, Thailand

Spires of BangkokThailand is not called the Land of Smiles for nothing.

The country’s history, varied architecture, flavorful food, and great shopping experiences are a draw, but it’s the locals who make a lasting impression.

Kind, helpful and welcoming, with Buddhist values of compassion, care and humility are ingrained in the national personality, which translates into a hospitality industry known for outstanding service.

Many visitors to Thailand try to spend time in the big city, on the beach, and in the north, so a typical itinerary would include Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. With plentiful hotel choices, Ann Cochran scoped out examples of high-end, moderate and economical options:


The sprawling Thai capital can be exhausting, even for fans of big cities. Zen acceptance of the crowds, noise, traffic, and street cooking is helpful.

For more information on traveling in Bangkok, don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Bangkok, Thailand. Peter also recently broadcast his radio show from Bangkok, so check out Thailand Culture, Bangkok Locals and Travel News from the first hour of Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. And don’t forget we’ve also got great insider information in Ask the Locals: Bangkok, Thailand.

The best tip is to let someone else handle the logistics: have the hotel concierge hire you a private car and driver—these guides tend to be inexpensive, and it’s money well-spent.

Bangkok boatFortunately, most of Bangkok’s big name hotels are along the Chao Phraya River, the heart of the city, which means there’s always free entertainment in form of watercraft passing by at varying speeds.


Mandarin Oriental
Since 1876, the Oriental (rebranded Mandarin Oriental in 2008) has been recognized as one of the top hotels in the world. Well known for its Michelin-starred chefs, cooking school, spa, lush landscaping, anything-for-you service, and famous guests of the past and present, this impeccable grand hotel can be a good value in this economy. High-season rates (December 2009) currently start from $389.

Also at a higher price point is The Peninsula Bangkok. You can find pictures of that hotel from the radio broadcast on Peter’s Facebook fan page.


Thai lotus flowerSurrounded by gardens with lotus ponds, the Sukhothai is known as an oasis in the downtown business district. A recent addition to Bangkok’s fine hotel scene, it was credited with the much-emulated modern interpretation of Thai interior décor, even in its selection of antiques and sculptures. Rooms and suites are furnished with contemporary polished teak and Thai silks in elegant neutrals. It has a lovely spa, but even walking the corridors of the hotel bestows that spa-like calm, just what the doctor would order after a hectic day in the big city.  Rates are from $255 per night in the high season.

Dream Hotel
Eye-popping color at this hip 100-room hotel will help keep you awake after a long flight. The Dream Hotel Bangkok, in one of the most high-energy parts of town, combines international design trends for what they claim is a “dreamlike surreal experience.” Blue light radiates from under the beds to achieve the effect of floating on a cloud. Aside from fun lighting, rooms have plasma TV, Wi-Fi and iPod players; the hotel has a cool bar, restaurant, a well-regarded spa, and a small gym. From $147 per night in the high season.


Old Bangkok Inn
Old Bangkok Inn Lotus Suite With rooms prices starting at $107 in peak season, the Old Bangkok Inn offers amazing value for an authentic, though recreated, Thai experience. The inn was built in the historical quarter of Bangkok on land that had been in the owner’s family for seven generations. Each of 10 individually decorated rooms has a private bath, satellite TV, a DVD player, and a PC computer with Internet connection. Owner Nantiya Tulyanond speaks fluent English and enjoys helping guests plan their days, both in the city and beyond. This inn’s best feature may be its proximity to many top sights including the Grand Palace.

Legacy Suites
A budget hotel with a pool, fitness room, and rooftop tennis court? The 108 studios and suites are decorated in contemporary urban style as opposed to traditional Thai or Thai modern. Take the 15-minute walk to the chic Emporium Shopping Center, which can be an interesting anthropological outing instead of a shopping excursion. High-season rates are from $81 a night.

Buddy Lodge
Buddy lodge room w/balconyThere is no reason not to go for the deluxe rooms, with balcony, at $70 a night at the Buddy Lodge. Some may be turned off—or on—by its location on Khao San Road, long popular with hippie/backpacker types. More and more budget-minded travelers are finding their way to this neighborhood as it has gotten increasingly trendy and a Starbucks has popped up in a restored mansion. Amenities include a gym, spa and rooftop pool.


High-Rise Drinks or Dinner at State Tower: Shimmering, sparkling Bangkok, accented by golden temples, lies all around you from the 63rd-floor Sky Bar or the open-air Sirocco restaurant. Dinners average $120; drinks from $11 (soft drinks and beer), $22

Custom-Made Clothing: If you can only afford one splurge, make it that perfect dress shirt or black pants. Out of thousands of tailors, Thai Square Fashion is one popular mid-priced option, with $100 pants and $50 shirts; prices include unlimited fittings, and satisfaction is absolutely guaranteed.

Oriental Experience: If you aren’t staying at the Mandarin Oriental you can still luxuriate for hours in its spa—often voted best in the world. Many treatments are $100; two examples are the 90-minute pedicure and rose facial. A seat at the daily, weekday seminars on Thai culture, arts, architecture and beliefs is $120.


Buddha Head ruinsChiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, once the powerful and distinctive Lanna Kingdom that spanned 1250-1860 AD. More than 400 miles north of Bangkok, blessedly drier and cooler, it has some of the highest mountains in the country.

The Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya, runs through it. The city is a Mecca for temples and markets, for handcrafted goods such as silver and woodcarving, silk, and even opportunities to bond with elephants.


Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
Jaws really do drop as guests drive in and see a stunning homage to the Lanna Kingdom. The authenticity of this model royal village, built as a working museum, is due to the dedication of the owner and the young architect who drove around the province studying every architectural detail. Their visit to Mandalay, with Chiang Mai woodworkers, resulted in the replication of an ancient palace for the Dhevi Spa building, whose seven-tiered roof represents the journey to nirvana. Cultural guides explain it all on daily tours of the 60-acre grounds.

This resort features a cooking school, a 5,000-volume library and even a white water buffalo—everything you might expect, and more. Accommodations include British colonial style rooms and two-story villas overlooking lush rice paddies. High-season rates start at $495 per room per night plus tax and service.

Monks at a temple in Chiang MaiMODERATELY PRICED

Dusit D2
In the heart of downtown Chiang Mai, the lively Night Bazaar is literally outside the D2’s lobby doors. In public spaces as well as the 131 rooms, the décor is Asian but as untraditional as it gets, with sleek lines, brushed steel and glass—and lots of orange. Rooms have spacious bathrooms and all the high end amenities; the hotel has a restaurant and bar, outdoor pool, spa and fitness center. Rates are from $165 a night.

Muang Gudi Lodge
In the hills north of Chiang Mai, the Muang Gudi Lodge is a graceful, peaceful getaway near attractions that include the Butterfly Farm, Snake Farm, an elephant camp, and Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden. Golfers can play at the nearby Green Valley Country Club. The two restaurants, one open-air, serve Northern Thai and international dishes. Decorated in the ancient Sukothai style, the 26 rooms have beautiful furniture and wall carvings. Guests enjoy the affordable spa and outdoor pool with tropical landscaping, and biking in the area. Although it’s not centrally located, taxis into town are very inexpensive. Nightly rates are from $139.


Galare Guest House
Galare Guesthouse Starting at only $33 a night Thai-style guest house on the Ping River has wide, covered verandas that overlook a garden and courtyard. The 35 rooms have air-conditioning, private baths and cable TV. The restaurant serves Thai and Western dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a covered deck overlooking the river. It is away from the action of Chiang Mai but close enough to walk to the Night Market area.


Inner Flow Therapy at the Dhevi Spa: Possibly life-changing, and at the very least an achievement of the deepest relaxation this side of anesthesia, the therapist stretches the client and uses dance movement to free the mind and body of all stress. Some laugh, some cry afterward. Linger and appreciate the room with its luminous gold tiles. Rates are $115 for an 80-minute session.

Young Elephant TrainerElephants 101: At Patara Elephant Farm, visitors can spend a full day learning about, cleaning, riding, and loving one elephant. You’ll never be the same. The $180 price tag helps support these elephants, rescued from unsuitable situations, and includes pick up and delivery from area hotels and a photo CD documenting your day.


In the 1970s, Phuket was a refuge for backpackers and hard-partying youth, but it steadily spiffed up into a white-sand playground for everyone, including families, honeymooners, spa-goers, and the yachting set.

There was a hope that after the 2004 tsunami rebuilding would be slow and well-planned. Not a chance. Construction is fast and furious by the crystal waters of the Andaman Sea.

Did you know you can study the muay thai fighting style in Phuket? It’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Check out Fighting For Your Vacation.

The island is Thailand’s largest, at 325 square miles, and a prime destination for snorkeling and diving. Nature is bold and dramatic.

Phuket Thailand beach Limestone cliffs rise from blue seas, and emerald vegetation carpets the hills. Sunsets are streaked with hot pink and baby-blue swirls.

More than anywhere else in Thailand, where you stay at the beach depends on what kind of vacation you have in mind.


Six Senses Destination Spa
To truly get away from it all, book a multi-day program and work on transforming your type-A self. This remote spa on its own island (about 10 minutes from Phuket) features four concepts: Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Thai. No need to dress up as yoga clothes are issued on arrival. The spa menu includes fish but no meat, or you can choose a raw foods diet.

Six Senses is also one of the most “green” resorts on earth. In fact, thick booklets describing all kinds of efforts—from water and energy conservation to social responsibility— are in each of the 61 villas. Rate from $1,100 per night includes all meals, two spa treatments, and an arrival consultation for two people in a villa with private pool and butler service.


JW Marriott Resort & Spa
Sunset in ThailandFear not a worldwide chain. There is nothing cookie-cutter about this hotel, which has the longest stretch of beach on Phuket. If you crave some familiarity of home while traveling very far from it, this five-star resort is ideal. As large resorts do, it has variety: 11 restaurants, three pools, an extensive kids program, Thai cooking school, and a lavish spa. The rooms are classically Thai and start from $257 a night.


Kantary Bay
At Kantary Bay every room is a suite—junior, full or family—each with living and dining areas, a small kitchen and private balcony. Décor is a mix of terra cotta, teak, wrought iron, rattan, and the ubiquitous silks. This is a great find as it’s only $76 a night, about half the price of its sister property, the Sino-Portuguese-style Cape Panwa Hotel, ( Best of all, Kantary guests can take a free, two-minute shuttle ride to enjoy the other property’s amenities: a private beach, water sports center, two pools, tennis courts, and a spa.

Boomerang Village Cottages and Bungalows
Although this property is not right on the beach, the 10-15 minute walk or five-minute bike ride (complimentary) is worth it. The small island Koh Pu is swimming distance from the beach, with a colorful coral reef in between. Small and personal with a friendly staff, it’s a manicured property on a lush hill overlooking Kata Beach. It’s close enough to nightlife, but quiet. Breakfast is different than at most Thai hotels: the owners are Italian! Rates are from $28 and $60 a night.


At the JW Marriott in Phuket, anyone can walk into the lobby and see, for free, the Sunset Ceremony with fire and dance elements. This 30-minute show takes place in the enormous reflecting pool every night at 5:45 p.m. except Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For $46, go to Phuket FantaSea, a cultural theme park with a 3,000-seat theater where 150 cast and 30 elephants put on quite an extravaganza. Tickets include a pre-show buffet. For more unusual experiences like this, check out the World’s Wackiest Theme Parks.

By Ann Cochran for Ann is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. Visit her on the Web at