Booking Hotels vs. Rental Homes In Southeast Asia

Nov 28, 2015

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When traveling to Southeast Asia, you can find some great bargains on home rentals — but in third-world countries, are rental lodgings a better idea than a traditional hotel stay? TPG International Contributor Lori Zaino guides us through the pros and cons of staying in apartments and homes versus hotels in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. (Photos by the author, except where noted.) 

The sharing economy has expanded rapidly in Southeast Asia, a region where most countries’ economic base is tourism. One result is a lodgings market flooded with often reasonably-priced rental homes that are giving the region’s often reasonably-priced hotels some fair competition. To help you decide which type of accommodation is right for you, here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of rental homes and hotels in Southeast Asia.

At the Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok, rates start at $99 or 7,000 Starpoints per night — and there's a riverboat to take you back and forth from the city's Skytrain.
At the Royal Orchid Sheraton Bangkok, rates start at $99 or 7,000 Starpoints per night — and there’s a riverboat to take you back and forth from the city’s Skytrain.

Pros — Hotels in Southeast Asia

Points. Use your Hilton, Starwood, IHG or Marriott points — all major chains have a number of properties in Southeast Asia — or earn points by using a co-branded hotel card like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the Chase Marriot Rewards Premier card for everyday spend.

Cost. Even if you don’t have points, staying at larger, chain-branded hotels in Southeast Asian countries can often be cheap compared with their counterparts in the US. For example, a room at Starwood’s 5-star Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok starts at $99 or a Category 3 redemption rate of 7,000 Starpoints per night; a Sheraton with a similar level of luxury generally starts at $250 or the Category 6 rate of 20,000 Starpoints per night. If you’re eager to stay at a Le Méridien but can’t afford their US properties, maybe the Le Méridien Chiang Rai, which starts at $100 or 4,000 Starpoints per night, would better fit your budget. Note that if you choose a locally owned property or a smaller-chain hotel, your stay could be even cheaper — starting at as little as $25 per night.

Quality. When staying in a name-brand hotel in Southeast Asia, you’ll generally find the same standard of cleanliness, bed comfort and service that you would at the brand’s properties in other parts of the world — giving you peace of mind in unfamiliar territory.

Complimentary breakfast and water. Quite often, hotels in Southeast Asia will include daily breakfast (sometimes with Western food options) and two bottles of water per room, per day in the cost of your room.

Luxury amenities. Hotels will often come with perks (e.g., a gym, spa and/or pool, room service, housekeeping, etc.) that rental properties might not offer. Much of Southeast Asia is hot and humid year-round, so having pool access can be especially welcome.

A view from the Hotel Sahara in Mandalay ($30 per night)
A view from the Hotel Sahara in Mandalay, Myanmar, where room rates start at $25 per night.

Cons — Hotels in Southeast Asia

Missing out on the local flavor. It’s rare that a hotel in Southeast Asia will afford you the opportunity to have relaxed interactions with locals. Additionally, chain hotels often look the same in every country — so you might as well be staying anywhere, rather than in an exotic, far-flung destination.

Overpriced and/or unimpressive food. In Southeast Asia, where local street food is cheap, plentiful and generally delicious, hotel dining can be at best inauthentic and at worst, extremely expensive.

Lack of useful amenities. It’s a good bet that you won’t have a washer, dryer or kitchen in your Southeast Asia hotel room.

The Glass Cottage rental in Koh Phangan, Thailand, is an beach hut overlooking the ocean made of teak wood and glass panels
The Glass Cottage rental in Koh Phangan, Thailand, is a beach hut overlooking the ocean made of teak wood and glass panels (rates start at $75 per night). Photo courtesy of FlipKey.

Pros — Rental Homes in Southeast Asia

Unique properties. Ever wanted to stay in a treehouse? Or how about a beach hut? Houseboat? Or maybe have a pool table in your studio apartment? Or a hard drive with more than 500 movies on it just in case it rains and you’re stuck inside? You can find some extremely special properties out there and some with really cool amenities.

Useful amenities. While you aren’t getting room service, rental homes often have the perks of a washer, dryer or kitchen — all of which can save you money, especially on a trip that lasts a week or more.

Great for groups/families. If you’re traveling in a group or with your family, booking a villa, house or apartment with a few bedrooms can be a lot more fun than several hotel rooms — assuming, of course, that you want to spend lots of time with your travel companions!

Space. Most of the time, a rental property will be larger than a typical hotel room and most likely having a living area you can spread out in. If you plan on staying somewhere for a longer period of time, this extra space could be helpful.

Cost. Rental homes are often cheaper than hotels and provide a lot more room. For instance, a three-bedroom, two-bath rental in a major Southeast Asian city might go for $80 per night, while a one-bed, one-bath hotel room in the same area might cost upward of $100 per night.

A truly local experience. A rental home is generally just that — someone’s home. When you have the opportunity to interact with your property owner or other neighborhood locals, you’re bound to have a more authentic experience, often with recommendations of local spots, foods and more that you’d otherwise be unaware of as a tourist staying in a hotel.

Some cool decoration at the Huenchandee rental in Chiang Rai (rates start at $21 per night)
Some charming decor at the Huenchandee rental in Chiang Rai, Thailand, where rates start at $21 per night.

Cons — Rental Homes in Southeast Asia

Extra charges. In some Southeast Asian countries, rental hosts may charge an extra fee for the use of their electricity. On the last day of your stay, they’ll come look at the meter and annoyingly, you’ll have to fork over some extra cash. Some properties may also require cash security deposits, which can be frustrating when dealing with foreign currencies — and missing out on points earned by using a credit card.

Fees. Many rentals charge a cleaning fee, which can range from a reasonable $30 to as high as $200 for a two-night stay in a tiny apartment. Be sure to ask about or note the cleaning fees for your rental, as they can dramatically inflate your booking rate.

Security/regulations. Compared to the US and Europe, the short-term rental market is relatively new and relatively unregulated. Many Southeast Asian countries haven’t yet modified laws to keep up with the growing gig economy that short-term rentals present, meaning many leases don’t have clauses allowing short-term rentals. This could mean problems for the host and the renter if something goes wrong.

Misrepresentation. Owners/hosts sometimes misrepresent their rentals in either their photos, descriptions or both. This may be due to a dishonesty or a language barrier (e.g., saying a property has two bedrooms when there are really just two beds). There’s much less chance of either scenario happening when you book through an official hotel website.

Language barrier. I’ve had some rental experiences where hosts spoke little to no English, which some might find extremely frustrating, especially if there’s a serious issue with the rental or in the event of an emergency.

The Lotus pond at the Maison Dalabua Hotel in Luang Prabang,Laos ($65 per night)
The Lotus pond at the Maison Dalabua Hotel in Luang Prabang, Laos, where rates start at $65 per night.

Tips for Booking Lodgings in Southeast Asia


If you decide to stay in hotels in Southeast Asia, know that hotel-booking sites Agoda and list a wide array of properties in the region, and in addition to offering reviews/ratings, they often offer discounted room rates. Note that some small hotels may only list their rooms on these sites rather than having their own websites. In Myanmar, hotels are a generally a safer bet than home rentals, as locals rarely have access to the reliable Wi-Fi required to list their homes for rent online.

Home Rentals

Some common rental sites that offer lots of options for Southeast Asia are PandaBedTravelmobRoomoramaHousetripWimduFlipKey and Airbnb. To ensure a stress-free stay at any of their offerings, look for user reviews, detailed descriptions and lots of clear (or even verified) photos; ask your host if you have any questions about the rental; avoid hosts with multiple listings if you’re looking for a truly local experience; make sure you’re not booking an entire home when all you want is a room, and vice versa; and before booking, be aware of any added costs (e.g., fees, deposits or extras) you may have to pay.

To maximize your points-and-miles earning, use a rental site that’s categorized as Travel in order to earn double points on cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred. For example, Airbnb rentals are coded as “travel agencies and tour operators,” meaning that you’ll earn the double points. However, many other rental agencies, including VRBO and Homeaway, are coded as “real estate agents and managers,” so you won’t earn the double points. It might be worthwhile to call an agency directly to see if you can get this code changed.

Few hotels or rental homes will be as spelndid as the gold Shwe-zi-gon Paya temple complex in Bagan, Myanmar, but it still pays to do your research.
Few hotels or rental homes will be as spelndid as the gold Shwe-zi-gon Paya temple complex in Bagan, Myanmar, but it still pays to do your research.

While planning your trip to Southeast Asia, be sure to see these related posts:

Maximizing TripAdvisor: How To Find Your Perfect Hotel
Live the Good Life At Rentals Around The World
Tips & Tricks For Booking Rental Homes
4 Great Sites For Booking Long & Short Term Accommodation
12 Tips for Your First Trip to Southeast Asia
10 Practical Travel Tips for Visiting Myanmar
5 Peaceful Spots in Busy Bangkok
3 Must-See Small Cities in Southeast Asia

TPG readers, which do you prefer in Southeast Asia — hotels or rentals — and why? Please share in the comments below. 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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