When you’re constantly on the move, exploring new cities, regions and countries – writing from guest house bedrooms, coffee shops, parks or wherever you can find – having a base to unpack and set up your laptop for a few weeks is an extremely welcome prospect. After a year on the road, Iain and I stopped in Luang Prabang to catch up on writing work but, despite falling for the idyllic Mekong River town, our location independent writing routine was still moulded by the impermanence of our travelling life: we lived out of backpacks, ate meals out and had to rely on the local coffee shop for a comfortable table at which to work. Sixteen months after leaving our apartment in Shanghai, the idea of having a kitchen, a living room and a wardrobe was surprisingly appealing. I decided to search Roomorama for short-term rentals in Chiangmai, where we were headed next, and soon found exactly what I had in mind.
Roomorama’s peer-to-peer rental system
Chiangmai is extremely popular with location independent professionals, who tend to stay for a few weeks or more at a time, drawn to the charming city by affordable accommodation and a huge number of coffee shops and expat hangouts relative to its size. The city also has some of the fastest internet in mainland Southeast Asia. Chiangmai has over 160 accommodation listings on Roomorama’s website alone, many of which are more affordable than mediocre guesthouses, and far better value. Most are peer-to-peer rentals, in which you contact the owner directly through Roomorama’s booking engine. Once the owner has confirmed availability, you pay securely on Roomorama’s site via credit card or Paypal, but payment is only finalised once you arrive at the premises and give the host a payment ID. Roomorama facilitates bookings for rooms in hosts’ homes, entire houses, as well as smart new apartments, like the studio we booked, used exclusively for short-term rentals. Continue reading A Short-Term Apartment Rental with Roomorama in Chiangmai»
Places to visit near Lub d Silom
- Sri Mariamman Hindu temple, dedicated to the goddess of rain and disease, is surrounded by Indian shops, restaurants and CD stalls filling the air with Hindu chanting. Built by Tamil immigrants in the 1860s, it is one of only two Hindu temples in Bangkok and bustles with both local Hindu and Buddhist worshippers.
- Annapurna Restaurant serves tasty home-cooked Indian food. Check all prices before ordering – as you would in India – or face rampant overcharging on soft drinks. (On Pan Road.)
- Persia Iranian Restaurant, where you can sample mouth-watering Iranian cuisine. This modest-looking restaurant is run by a Tehrani. The lamb kofte and baked eggplant with whey (kashk-e bodenjoon) made us even more eager to reach Iran. (Next door to Annapurna Restaurant on Pan Road.)
- Assumption Cathedral was designed by a French architect and completed in 1821.
- Haroon Mosque is located within one of Bangkok’s oldest Muslim communities, established by Indonesian immigrants around 200 years ago. The mosque itself is ornate and beautiful, and the surrounding neighbourhood has enough home-cooked Halal food – briyani, curries, stuffed roti and local desserts – to be worth the trip alone.
- The Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of the State Tower boasts spectacular views for the price of a 300 baht beer.
- Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute Snake Farm – also Thailand’s leading anti-venom centre – has venom extraction and snake-handling shows at 11:00 and 14:30 Monday to Friday. (1874 Rama IV Road – BTS Sala Daeng or MRT Silom.)
- Lumphini Park has a lake with boats for rent and a cycle track within its large, leafy grounds. (05:00-19:00 daily – BTS Sala Daeng, MRT Silom or MRT Lumphini.)
- Patpong red light district is where you’ll find Bangkok’s famous Go-Go bars and ping pong shows.
Ultra-modern and self-consciously chic, Silom abounds in malls, coffee shops and trendy nightclubs. It is also beguilingly diverse and, in parts, feels like Bangkok’s most cosmopolitan neighbourhood. Hindu temples, mosques and churches speckle the cityscape. Hualampong’s Chinese and Vietnamese temples are a short walk away. Where there are large enough communities for places of worship to exist, you’ll also find culture and cuisine.
Lub d boutique hostel is located in the centre of Silom, a fifteen minute walk from to Chong Nonsi BTS station to the east, and fifteen minutes from the Chao Phraya River to the west. Convenience is one reason that Lub d – which means “a good night’s sleep” in Thai – is usually full. Its central location and on-site facilities are especially appealing if you’ve got limited time in the city. The hostel is also popular with people travelling alone because, like the classic European hostels it was modelled on, Lub d is a sociable place.
Owned by the same family that owns the Narai Hotel on Silom Road, Lub d was set up after the owner’s nephew went backpacking around Europe and decided that a modern, service-oriented hostel was exactly what Bangkok needed. When its Silom location proved a success, a second branch was opened in Siam, in the centre of modern Bangkok.
Lub d Silom has three levels of accommodation: bunk beds in dormitories (single or mixed sex), Railway Twins (two bunk beds in a private room with a desk, safe and shared bathroom) and Double Rooms, which are more spacious and equipped with desks, sinks, safes and en suite bathrooms.
The shared single sex bathrooms at Lub d are immaculate, spacious and air conditioned. Power showers adjoin private changing cubicles, and clean bathmats, towels and complimentary peppermint shampoo make showering more of a hotel than a hostel experience.
Internet access is free and a computer station is available on the ground floor. WiFi reaches some rooms better than others.
A restaurant-bar on the ground floor serves microwave meals, drinks and basic breakfasts – but no eggs. There’s no shortage of travellers in this ground floor social area, and TVs, board games and Jenga to keep you entertained.
Large lockers are provided inside dormitories.
A DVD theatre, self service laundry room with washing machines and a notice board with maps, flyers and free events are also available.
Rates tend to be lower if you book online and start at 350 baht a night. The hostel is often full, so making a reservation in advance is recommended.
After hours of sublime river views from a reclining chair on a luxurious Mekong cruise, imagining a lodge that matched up to my day wasn’t easy. But when I sailed round a river bend and saw a handful of elegant teak bungalows on stilts, half hidden within four hectares of tamed jungle, colonizing one of my own suddenly seemed quite agreeable.
I watched the sun melt into the horizon from the lodge’s deck, high on the hillside, and followed a long wooden walkway to a secluded bungalow, perched above the water. A tropical fruit basket had been laid on a table beside a window overlooking the river, with no glass between the outdoors and I. A cloud of a bed cloaked in white netting stood in the centre of the teak floor, and a hot shower with fragrant lemongrass soap revived me before a delicious Lao-style dinner on the deck. Falling asleep in fresh mountain air, listening to the rushing river, is, perhaps, the only equal to a day of luxury cruising on the river itself.
Set within a subtropical garden of palms, ruby red flowers and trees that burst with ripe bananas, Luang Say Residence and its elegant architecture bring to mind the bygone days of Laos’ colonial past. From behind large, succulent leaves, stone statues of a man in a broad-brimmed hat peep out: Henri Mouhot, the French explorer who spent three years travelling through mainland Southeast Asia in the mid 19th century. He has become something of a legend in Luang Prabang, where his journey through Laos on elephant back came to an end in November 1861, after he died of malaria on the banks of the Nam Khan River. Today, statues of him can be spotted around the town, and in Luang Say Residence’s gardens he is frozen in time – fishing, resting on a rock and writing in his journal – amongst the tamed jungle of a garden. Continue reading The Luang Say Residence, Luang Prabang»
Luang Prabang is Laos’ proverbial treasure chest, encircled by two rivers and lush green scenery, with a sprinkling of golden temples that gleam in the year-round sunlight. Visitors flock here to wander through the atmospheric Old Town, a unique and remarkably well-preserved blend of Lao and European architecture, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Luang Prabang’s magnificent temples, with their low sweeping roofs, richly coloured façades and shimmering Tree of Life mosaics are unforgettable, and the only thing better than staying close to them is staying in one. The striking architecture of Vang Thong Hotel, with its graceful tiered roof, inspired by Luang Prabang’s historic temples, may be as close as you can get – without taking any vows.
The hotel’s polished wooden steps lead past ornate pillars into a tranquil entrance hall, where there are gently trickling fountains and a jungle of plants. Laos’ brightly coloured textiles and local artworks hang from the walls, and Indo-Chinese ceramics are on display around a teak reception desk. A section of the large lobby area has chairs and tables arranged beside a small bar counter, with a welcoming sign: Daily Cocktail Specials.
Vang Thong Hotel is located in a neighbourhood with more homes than hotels and more locals than tourists, and this is undoubtedly part of its charm. Nearby Phou Si Market is a hub of local activity and, if you walk for ten minutes, you’ll reach the south-western stretch of the Mekong River, where the views are unsurpassed.
Tucked away behind Hoàn Kiếm Lake, beyond the most frantic part of the Old Quarter, where the streets bustle with fruit sellers in conical hats, locals crowd the pavements eating noodles on little plastic stools, and scooters hoot their way through every twist and turn, you’ll find the Hotel Metropole Hanoi, splendid and white, on a tree-lined street.
It is no coincidence that the Metropole is located within the city’s historical quarter; the hotel, with its strong sense of tradition, has long been at the heart of Hanoi’s heritage. When it was first opened by French entrepreneurs in 1901, it was called the “largest and best appointed hotel in Indo-China”, and was the centre of the city’s social occasions, with playwrights and heads of state rubbing elbows in its bars and restaurants. The evocative colonial building has witnessed a lot since the French days, not least the turmoil of Vietnam’s recent history, and has its own stories to tell. Continue reading Hotel Metropole: A Hanoi Legend»
Real Darling Café encourages a love-hate relationship in its quirky, thoroughly penny pinching array of guests. It must be a favourite in Japanese guidebooks because it gets a steady stream of Japanese travellers, along with Europeans, Indians, and Africans – not your usual combination in Southeast Asia’s budget traveller haunts. Rooms are very damp smelling with iffy linen and mattresses that resemble lunar craters. It might be the cheapest double in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, but you certainly get what you pay for. The linen is only sporadically washed, so check your sheets before you sleep on them. The surly male staff member will change them if you insist, but you’ll probably be stuck with one of the miniature polyester towels which leaves you covered in blue fluff like a smurf. Luong, the lady at reception, is kind and helpful, but she’s the only one at Darling.
Cost: US$9 for a double room with fan and en suite bathroom (which all the rooms have) – US$8 if you ask nicely. Single US$7, triple US$12, dorm bed US$4.
Finding it: 33 Hang Quat Street, Hoan Kiem District (See map below.)
Contact: +84 (0) 4 3826 9386
This friendly, family-run guesthouse is a five minute walk from the train station, on Hue’s south bank, and has well-priced rooms that are clean, comfortable and of a decent size. Minh Quang offers more than most Vietnamese guesthouses in this price range: air-con, fridges, hot showers, cable TV and WiFi in some rooms, or the lobby. The peaceful location is far enough from Hue’s backpacker ghetto to avoid going there at all, though the walk to the citadel takes at least twenty minutes. The family can prepare egg baguette breakfasts and Vietnamese coffee and, sometimes, bicycles – but unless you speak Vietnamese, you’ll have to get by with sign language.
Cost: US$10 for a double room with en suite bathroom, air-con, cable TV and fridge.
Finding it: 16 ð phan chu trinh, South bank, five minutes east of the train station. (See map below.)
Contact: +84 (0) 54 824 152
Thanh Noi Hotel’s location in the heart of the citadel, close enough to the palace walls to evoke a sense of Hue’s history, is worth paying midrange room rates for. A Western-Vietnamese buffet breakfast and reasonably priced outdoor restaurant with WiFi made it good value for money, and the small pool, despite being very green, was very welcome after exploring Hue in the heat of summer.
Cost: US$22 for a double room with air-con, en suite bathroom, cable TV, WiFi and a buffet breakfast included.
Finding it: 57 Dang Dung Street, inside the city walls. (See map below.)
The newest of three branches in Saigon, Madame Cuc’s 184 became our home for three weeks while Iain’s broken arm healed enough for him to carry his backpack further north. We headed straight there once the cast was on his arm, having chosen it over a few other guest houses in an adrenalin-fuelled hour at the hospital. It sounded like the kind of homely place he needed right then. Our corner room was bright and bedroom-like, with pink linen, a cupboard, a fridge, cable TV and an en suite bathroom. The staff cleaned our room every day and made us breakfast, dinner, coffee and fresh lime juice, all included in the room rate. TT, the ever-cheerful manager helped in any way she could. We were even treated to a delicious lunch for being long staying guests; it was at the personal invitation of the elusive Madame Cuc, but – unsurprisingly, I suppose – she did not appear in person and break the spell.
Cost: US$16 for a double room with en suite bathroom, cable TV, fridge, air-con and WiFi. Room rate includes a baguette breakfast, instant noodle and spring roll dinner, and juice, coffee or tea all day.
Finding it: 184 Cong Quynh street, district 1, HCMC. (See map below.)
Thuan Loi Hotel is the only budget accommodation in Chau Doc with a river view, so it was an obvious choice. After crossing the Cambodian border by boat, at Kaam Samnor, we arrived at Chau Doc’s small harbour. From there, we walked to Thuan Loi Hotel through a lively (and partially live) food market, which gave us a fantastic first taste of Vietnam. The hotel’s rooms were clean and comfortable and we enjoyed the river views from their restaurant. It was only the staff’s rather surly and unhelpful manner that was unappealing.
Cost: Ten US dollars for a double room with air-con, en suite bathroom, cable TV and wifi. Two or three dollars less for a fan instead of air-con.
Finding it: 18 Tran Hung Dao Street, about fifteen minutes walk from the dock. (See map below.)
Contact: +84 (0) 76 866 134
If your journey to Chi Phat is an all-day affair like ours – on bakkies, boats, tuktuks and buses before finally clambering onto a long tail boat to Chi Phat itself – you’ll probably experience a similar sense of delight when you first glimpse the remote village around a bend in the Preak Piphot River, in the heart of the Southern Cardamoms Forest. Basic rooms with mosquito nets, clean-ish linen – and even a towel – seem heavenly after a long day on the road and, after a cold shower, a hot plate of fried rice and a few cans of Angkor beer, they may even feel heavenly too.
Chi Phat is at the centre of a community-based ecotourism initiative which was set up by Wildlife Alliance in 2007. It was set up to provide alternative income to locals who formerly made a living off poaching and unsustainable logging. Today, Chi Phat is gaining a reputation as an eco-tourism destination where former poachers lead guided treks and other villagers share in the earnings by provide accommodation in guesthouses, their homes or providing other visitors’ services. A village committee decides how profits are spent and reinvested.
Cost: Five US dollars for a room in a guesthouse with fan and separate bathroom. Three dollars for a a homestay for one, five dollars for two. Better-equipped bungalows beyond the village start at 20 dollars.
Finding it: All accommodation is arranged on a rotation basis at the CBET (Community Based Eco-tourism) office, five minutes’ walk from the pier, on the right hand side of the main street. Treks, bike and boat trips are also arranged here, and WiFi and meals are available.
Thapae Gate Lodge feels like a retreat from the buzz of tourism that fills this Chiangmai neighbourhood, with small, but beautifully decorated rooms in wooden Thai-style houses in a peaceful garden setting. The German-Thai ownership is a good combination and service is genuinely friendly. If it isn’t busy, they’ll even let you check out late, free of charge. Being able to have an evening shower after a long sticky day of sightseeing was a godsend before we boarded our overnight train to Bangkok.
Cost: 300 baht in low season for a wooden house-style double room with en suite bathroom and WIFI. 400 baht in high season.
Finding it: 37/8 Moonmuang Road, Soi 2, Prasing Muang. Opposite Top North Guesthouse. (See map below.)
Royal Guesthouse is a welcome relief – depending on where you’ve come from, of course. After overnight treks and cold showers in Chi Phat, its crisp linen, sprung mattresses and white high ceilinged rooms were regal enough for me. Their professional staff are helpful, competent English-speakers who can book transport, tours and arrange visas. Films about Cambodia’s dark history and its traditional culture are shown in the street-side restaurant where – with its daily drinks specials – you could spend more than a few happy hours.
Cost: Eight US dollars for a double room with fan, cable TV and en suite bathroom. Air conditioned rooms cost three to four dollars more. WiFi is hotel-wide.
Finding it: Street 154, Phsar Kandal II, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh. In a central location a few blocks from the riverside, on the corner of street 154 and street 23. (See map below.)
Contact: +855 (0) 23 218 026 or (0) 12 854 806 (mobile) | Email
A ten minute walk away from the crowded, neon, beggar-patrolled ‘Pub Street’ that is Siem Reap’s tourist centre, Tropical Breeze is a comfortable and well-priced option, with cable TV, WiFi, a restaurant with complimentary breakfast and bicycles for rent. What more could you want in a base for exploring the Angkor ruins? Oh yes – a pool. There aren’t any in town in the budget category, but there is one at the Golden Banana directly next door, which will let you use their gorgeous pool if you buy a drink or two. Absolute bliss after a day in the dusty ruins!
Cost: Ten US dollars for a double room with en suite bathroom, WiFi, cable TV and a basic breakfast for two (only for advance bookings). Four to six dollars more for air con rooms.
Finding it: Wat Damnak Road, Salakamroeuk Commune, Siem Reap. On the other side of the river to the Old Market, near Wat Damnak Pagoda. (See map below.)
No relation to Phnom Penh’s Royal Guesthouse, this is a comfortable choice with hotel-wide WiFi and a shaded roof terrace to while away an afternoon online – or, if your timing is as good as mine, see a bit of holiday romance brewing. The friendly little restaurant directly opposite the hotel serves very reasonably priced food with complimentary fruit. Unlike the Royal Guesthouse in Phnom Penh, service isn’t a focus but – in what seems to be a Battambang tradition – you will get a pretty, locally-made scarf upon leaving.
Cost: Seven US dollars for a double, with fan, en suite bathroom. Thirteen dollars for a more fancily decorated room with air con.
Finding it: City centre, Battambang. (See map below.)
Contact: +855 (0) 16 912034
There are many things that Iain and I will always remember about Koh Mak: the colour of the water, the bright blue angel fish I saw while snorkelling in the marine park, the sunsets, and Good Time Resort’s elegant Thai style villas set in a tropical garden, which we hope to fill with friends in the future. Then there was George.
George is a stray dog who became our most loyal friend on Koh Mak. She wasn’t particularly feminine – a bit of a tomboy, really – so we called her George, a nickname for Georgina. Good Time Resort has a couple of dogs of its own, including Happy, a loving Labrador, and a Golden Retriever who spends most of her days swimming off the coast of nearby Koh Rayang Island before returning home in the evenings by boat. People regularly talk about finding a guesthouse that feels like a home, but this was a first for me. Returning to our beautifully furnished villa in the evenings to enjoy sundowners on the balcony, with George at my feet, are happy memories that I suspect will stay with me for a long time. Continue reading Good Time Resort, Koh Mak»
A hammock in paradise
Around 80 percent of Holiday Beach Resort’s guests are return visitors – and we are two of them. Every beach house has a hammock and, in case your roommate’s in it, there are plenty more a stone’s throw away, hanging from a row of palm trees along the beach on, perhaps, the most peaceful of Thai islands.
Cost: 600 baht for one of the smaller beach houses, with fan and en suite bathroom. 1300 baht for a larger, beach front bungalow with air-con. Prices may depend on vacancies.
Finding it: At the end of Ao Kao beach on the south west side of the island. Ten minutes by tuktuk from Ao Soun Yai pier. (See map below, and Getting to Koh Mak.)
Contact: +66 (02) 319 6714
Shin Sane guesthouse’s prices seemed almost too good to be true: a straight 50 baht per person, whether you stay in a single or double room, with basic bathrooms across the courtyard and free WIFI in your room. Needless to say, we stayed longer than planned.
Cost: 50 baht per person for a room with fan and separate bathroom.
Finding it: 32 Thanon Mae Salong. (See map below.)
Contact: +66 (0) 5376 5026
The large rooms in the main house at Gin’s have desks and fireplaces, but I doubt it ever gets cold enough. Gin’s is just over a kilometre from town so we imagined that the Mekong River, just across the road, would be the only sound at night. Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by karaoke bars, where clients wail into the night.
Cost: 300 baht for a ground floor double with en suite bathroom and fan; 200 baht for a bungalow.
Finding it: Just over a kilometre north of the town centre, near the Mekong River, on 71 Mu 8. (See map below.)
Contact: +66 (0) 5365 0847
Pathoumphone Guesthouse is away from the epicentre of Luang Prabang’s tourist strip, on a peaceful riverside street, lined with cafés and wicker chairs. We had a bright room and kittens for company. The Art House Café, a few doors down, with its bottomless coffee and excellent value Western food, was the perfect writers’ spot – when the WIFI didn’t distract us.
Cost: 60,000 kip for a double room with fan and separate bathroom.
Finding it: On Thanon Kingkitsarat, across from the Nam Khan River. (See map below.)
Contact: +856 (0)71 212 946
An elegant old bedroom, huge mugs of local coffee, a balcony with chilled beers and Vientiane’s Old World charm kept us in the Laotian capital for much longer than we expected. Mr B and the owners chuckled every time we postponed our departure, until we simply gave up trying to set a leaving date. They had seen this happen before: our neighbour was a Frenchman who fell in love with lazy Laos when he arrived at Syri I Guesthouse three years ago – he still hasn’t left and, as far as we know, never plans to.
Cost: 70 000 kip for a double room with fan and separate bathroom.
Finding it: On the corner of Rue Saigon and Rue du Puits. (See map below.)
Contact: +856 (0)21 212 682
We checked into New Siam II on our way out of Bangkok. It stretched our budget a little too far, but with the excuse that it was just off Khaosan Road, where we planned to catch a bus south to Koh Mak, Iain and I allowed ourselves the luxuries of its pool, crisp sheets and cable TV – and our single night stopover became three nights of smug indulgence.
Cost: 790 baht for a double room with air-con, en suite bathroom, cable TV and safe. WIFI is available for a small fee, plus swimming, massage and laundry facilities.
Finding it: 50 Trok Rong Mhai, Phra A-Thit road, Chanasongkram. (See map below.)
Contact: +66 2282 2795 or +66 2629 0101 | WebsiteKhaosan Road is the heart of Bangkok. For others it is a tourist ghetto, best avoided. But there’s something multidimensional about the Khaosan area, with its Thai and foreign bar hoppers – in almost equal proportion – its aging expat residents who’ve seen it all and the widest range of wares on any one street: from sandals, to buckets of whiskey to ‘love-you-long-time’ escorts.
Walking amidst the neon, it’s hard to believe that before the tourism transformed it, Khaosan Road was a humble rice market. (Khaosan means milled rice in Thai.) Its modern incarnation has inspired epithets like “the place to disappear” and “a short road that has the longest dream in the world.”
With the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – two of Bangkok’s major tourist sites – only a short walk away, Khaosan road suits visitors who only have a few days to dedicate to sightseeing. The sheer number of tuk-tuks and touts in Khaosan road and its surrounds puts many people off, but if you’re looking for modern comfort slap bang in the middle of one of Bangkok’s most chaotic areas, Sakul House – where we spent a few nights – might suit you well. When we arrived, the hotel was only a few months old and still had a few kinks to iron out. You’ll find it on a street parallel to Khaosan road: six storeys of mustard yellow, rising above a sprawl of street food vendors, restaurants, bars and stalls stacked like sardines.
Oh, Tollyclub, you make me love India again. You’re distinctly Indian, but you’re worlds apart from the India I usually travel in. It’s out of fondness that you’ve kept the best of Raj traditions: golfing greens, scones at tea time, horse riding, squash and gin and tonics before supper. And, though it’s around ten times what I usually spend, 3000 rupees is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for such atmospheric luxury. See you next time!
Cost: Cottage rooms, which are spacious, with small lounges areas looking onto the garden, ensuite bathrooms, air con, coffee and tea making facilities, cable TV and room service facilities, cost 3100 rupees for two people. Ordinary rooms are smaller and slightly cheaper. Being a guest gives you temporary membership to the club’s many facilities: indoor and outdoor pools, restaurants and bars with reduced membership prices and various sport and leisure facilities, including a golf course. Old-school dress codes are imposed.
Finding it: 120 Deshapran Sasmal Road – in south Kolkata, near Tollygunge metro station, officially called Mahanayak Uttam Kumar metro station. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 (0) 2473 4539/2316 | Email reservations
This guesthouse-cum-homestay was recommended to us for its Ganges views and reasonable rates. These it had, but when I dropped my second bar of soap down the squat loo – while struggling to find standing room above it – I started to wonder whether it was worth the Rs100 saving.
Cost: 400 rupees for a double room with fan.
Finding it: Kedar Ghat (See map below.)
Contact: +91 988 921 3175 or +91 542 245 4108 (mobile)
Branded soap and cockroaches
Longing for a bit of midrange comfort, we headed straight for JK Palace after an overnight train. Well, we tried to head straight there and, three rip-off rides by two swindling autorickshaw drivers and one minor skirmish later, we arrived. The relief of a king sized bed covered in maroon satin was only temporary, as was the manager’s courtesy. This 900 rupee beaut only reconfirmed my rejection of the popular axiom ‘You get what you pay for.’ And, when the cockroaches started to scamper that night, I realised that my already sour relationship with Allahabad would never be reconciled.
Cost: 900 rupees for a double room without use of the air-con, if you bargain hard. Push to get a window thrown in.
Finding it: Tashkent Marg, Civil lines district. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 (0) 532 226 0616
Only five minutes’ walk from the Taj Mahal, this guesthouse gave us a few extra minutes in bed before joining the 5am queue to catch sunset behind one of the world’s best known sites. Our room was a non-descript cheapie, but when we arrived close to midnight, the staff were only too happy to cook us a delicious thali. ‘Special lassis’ – which might make for a more unusual experience of the Taj – are also on the menu.
Cost: Double rooms with fan and en suite can be bargained down to 300 rupees, smarter air-con rooms to around 600.
Finding it: On the road leading to the Taj Mahal’s West Gate. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 (0) 562 2331010
Majnu-ka-tilla, Delhi’s Tibetan quarter, provides a peaceful escape from India when you need it most. The food, the people and their lifestyle will all make you think you’re further east than you are. Wongden House is nothing flashy, but very clean and well-run – and so popular they often won’t take bookings. Beware the black dust if there’s construction along the river, and Delhi’s feistiest mosquitoes.
Cost: 500 rupees for a double with fan and separate bathroom.
Finding it: 15a New Tibetan Colony, Majnu-ka-tilla. (See map below.)
Contact: 91 11 2381 2896 | Email
When we saw the state of the bathroom at this crumbling old place, Iain declared: “I’m happy if a hotel has one redeeming feature and here, it’s the view.” It was a lovely view. From the room’s balcony, we looked onto a centuries-old mosque and its pretty garden. I would have preferred it, however, if the bathroom has not been attached, so I didn’t have to look at the blackened toilet or the crusts of grime on the bathroom walls when I lay in bed.
Cost: 220 rupees (fixed price) for a double room with fan and attached bathroom.
Finding it: Near the well known Lal Darwaja bus stand and next door to the lesser-known Sidi Saiyad mosque. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 79 (0) 2550 6048
This hotel has several rooms facing Jamnagar’s blaring traffic-filled street, and one cosy room directly behind the reception desk. It feels more like a bedroom than a hotel room, with carpets, quaint furnishings and little touches that you don’t usually find in India’s budget hotels – like towels and soap. It was a clean, quiet place for a good night’s sleep.
Cost: 500 rupees for a room with fan and en suite bathroom.
Finding it: Opposite Irvin Hospital and the Medical College, Hospital road. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 (0) 288 266 2696
Four years ago, Hotel Samrat gave Claire and I our earliest impressions of India. The cows just outside its doors and the oversized ledger used to record our names along with our fathers’; the crows outside our room’s window and even the trains passing by: all were firsts, which shaped our view of an incredibly idiosyncratic country.
After our stay there, I wrote a description of Khar Road, the area around the hotel:
Herds of cattle roamed Khar’s streets. The animals were large, horns long and haphazardly twisted, or small, with the stubby, pointed horns of imps. Owners milked and presumably fed the cows each morning. Then, allowed to wander, the animals snuffled amongst Mumbai’s festering waste and watched shopkeepers; shopkeepers – particularly the men who spent long days standing in the street, behind carts laden with fruit – watched the cows, because, able to spot an unmanned stall, they might lumber over and, tongues flapping spittle, gleefully help themselves.
Auto-rickshaws buzzed past the hotel and vendors sold street food – oily vada pav and refreshing pane puri – just metres away. At night, people slept side by side on Khar Road’s pavements. Hotel Samrat was a long way from Colaba, the affluent neighbourhood where most of Mumbai’s tourists sleep, and we were happy to have found it, especially after being told that Mumbai wasn’t India, because there were no cows in its streets.
Four years later, Claire and I were in India again, starting another journey at Hotel Samrat. The cows were still just outside, but the pavement dwellers were gone. Mumbai, we were told, was a city moving north; its centre was shifting to Bandra, not far away. The hotel had entered a new era: now the Unicontinental, a complex of restaurants, renovated rooms and bars patronised by Mumbai’s liberal youth, it was nevertheless still a long way from genteel Colaba. Wedding parties at the hotel’s nightclub echoed through our now much plusher room until 2am and the staff gave shockingly variable service, all sickly sweet smiles one minute and scowls the next. The elevator was the same rattling trap, although it had new buttons, and hot water was, on average, on only slightly more often than it was off. But our room was clean and comfortable, and worth the five hundred or so rupees separating it from the other hotels in the area. Our routine – travelling into the centre on a metropolitan train in the morning, busying ourselves with the business of exploring Mumbai during the day, and returning to an air-conditioned room and cold beer at night – resembled the routines of many Mumbaikers. We quickly felt at home – home, after all, is just somewhere to return to.
This was the last room in the city for under Rs1000 when we arrived during the Attukal Pongala Festival, the largest annual gathering of women in the world. The coconut mattresses were sunken and the room bare, but after a day of heat, smoke and festivity, we sank into them happily.
Cost: Rs500 for a double room with fan and bathroom, when it’s busy.
Finding it: Beside a tall building advertising a nightclub and rooftop bar on MG road. (See map below.)
Contact: +91 471 245 1803
One of the lovely Shastri family’s cottages on the hill became our home for almost a month. We woke to the sounds of chanting from a temple in the distance, made tea in the kitchen and set about our day’s work at two little desks in the open-plan room. In the evenings we watched the sunset from a lookout deck at the top of the garden.
Cost: Rs 1000 a night for a cottage with desk, coffee table, chairs, kitchen, bathroom and patio or balcony.
Finding it: The Shastri compound is just south of the bus station on the main road, opposite Sri Sai Baba guesthouse and the ATM.