Old Articles

How to Choose Your Backpacker Hut

Aug 16, 2005

For some the essence of travelling in Thailand is moving from island to island in search of the beach hut from heaven. We’ve all been there before, (a long time ago thankfully), had a 300 baht a day budget, a backpack the size of a phone booth and passed endless hours sneering at those on two week vacations who chose to reside in aircon luxury complete with hot and cold running waiters at their beck and call and therefore missed out on seeing the ‘real’ Thailand.

What constitutes a good backpacker resort? What criteria do you use to choose one?

If you’re a newbie backpacker, here’s some ideas about what to look for.   If you’re an ex-backpacker who’s either sold out or seen sense, depending on your point of view, and now prefer to sleep safe in the knowledge your room will withstand a sudden shower and isn’t home to a family of mozzies then it’s time to wallow in nostalgia and hark back to the good old days.   If you’re not a backpacker, never have been and never will be, just use your imagination and live vicariously.

How important is the build quality of the hut? Do construction standards meet or, better still exceed, some international requirements – such as those of Burkina Faso and North Korea? What are your favoured construction materials – wood, cement, cement made to look like wood or plywood? Do gaps in the wall bother you, do they just add to the charm or are they integral to the experience? Should the hut wobble with little or no internal activity and is having glass in the windows a necessity or simply pure opulence? Finally, should your hut look like a hut e.g. possess a palm frond roof or are waterproof, bugproof roof tiles the sensible way to go?

Do you really need the floor to be clean enough to eat off, should you so desire? Bathroom tiles – polished and shiny or chipped, dull through years of neglect and coated with crusty splashes of unidentifiable fluids? Is sleeping naked under whisper thin, linen sheets a prerequisite or are you perfectly happy with a sagging, bug infested mattress on the floor? Do you enquire about the regularity with which the rooms are cleaned or just assume the floor has only ever been swept clean by the wind which blows in through the gaps in the walls, floor and roof?

Do you look down on so-called travellers who opt for an ensuite room and believe a shared bathroom is the only place any self-respecting backpacker should be seen throwing up in? If your hut is ensuite then should you request an Asian style toilet to gain credibility and forge a sense of kinship with the locals or do you need somewhere to sit and catch up on your reading for half an hour before breakfast? How much extra can a resort justify adding to the price of a basic hut if they put a few white pebbles on the floor, a large leafy plant or two, take half the roof off and offer the outdoor shower experience to guests?

Sea, garden or mountain views?
Any more than a couple of metres from high tide line and you reject the hut or would you take one roadside? How much more would you pay to open your door and walk out onto the sand, as opposed to having to walk 10 metres to reach the beach. How many potted plants and square metres of concrete constitute a ‘garden’? Are mountain view rooms really a way of saying no view other than the tops of hills which can be glimpsed over the roofs of neighbouring bungalows which are clustered together only centimetres apart?

Home comforts
Do you need more than one 40 watt bulb to light your place? A couple of sockets for the travel iron and recharging the iPod, a fan and a mozzie-net? Or are you happy with the mere possibility of a couple of hours electricity per day, a bunch of candles and a mosquito coil? What’s your stance on gecko hunting – kill ’em all in a mini My Lai Massacre or allow them to roam free range on your ceiling? The area around your hut is home to a family of disease ridden beach dogs and a handful of scrawny chickens . . . does this add or detract from it’s desirability? Do you love having chickens scratching around under your hut at 5am, or would you prefer a sanitised de-animalised zone for your comfort. What about aircon?

Feed me
Would you ever consider glancing through the menu prior to making a decision to stay in a particular hut resort? If the room is only 150 baht a night then how often should you eat at the resort’s restaurant knowing that hey make most of their profit from the food & drinks? And what if the food is crap? Flicking through the menu you realise all four pages of breakfast items are variants of pancakes, muesli   and baguettes. Do you thank God? Food wise – do you count yourself a member of the pancake and muesli mob or are you khao tom and pad thai all the way? Do you even look at the menu before you choose where to stay?

One man’s paradise is…
Do you like to have a yarn with the neighbours, or do you find yourself wishing they’d all bugger and leave you alone? Do you need internet access, travel agencies, tailors, bars and brothels all within spitting distance of your spot in “paradise” or is a slimy dirt track the most development you want within five kilometres?
In reality, all the above pale into insignificance compared to . . .

Is it in the LP?
Loathe it or hate it the Lonely Planet guide makes or breaks guesthouses and once in there many owners know they can let standards slide faster than a runaway train on ice and still the masses will stay.

Me, myself and I
Personally, when not working, I’ve always leaned towards a basic but clean wooden bungalow (no Egyptian cotton required) with shared bathroom (less stagnant water nearby) and always with a mosquito net (though half the time I use my own). Food is important, but as I’m not a pancake and muesli kinda guy, good food is never too hard to find. The fewer developments nearby the better, though I like to have internet within thirty minutes walking distance – tailors are the bane of my life and I certainly don’t need them on the sand. I don’t so crave the bars and stuff, as I’d much rather camp on a nearby neighbour’s balcony for a few cold ones and a chat, than listen to Pete Tong in a lame beach bar. Get rid of the chickens and dogs, but all other creatures are fine.