Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Selecting family-friendly hotels in South-East Asia

When traveling with the family, selecting the right hotel or guesthouse can be a challenge. It's not just about booking a simple dorm bed or a nice double. The place should be right to satisfy the needs of each family member, from the oldest to the youngest one.
During our trip through Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, we chose and booked hotels as we went. We had a lucky hand and stayed mostly in pleasant rooms. Over time, we elaborated a mental checklist. What were the most important criteria for our family when selecting a place to stay?

1) The availability of a family room, a family suite or the like. Booking two doubles is rarely our preferred option as we, adults, need to sleep in separates rooms with our share of children. Luckily, in South-East Asia, we found many creative alternatives: from a huge 5-person family room (The Balcony in Kratie, Cambodia) to a tiny triple where children shared a single bed (Jasmine Garden Villa in Siem Reap, Cambodia), over a twin where we judged the single beds large enough to accommodate 2 persons (Mariya Hotel in Kampong Cham, Cambodia) or a large double fitted with one (Vayakorn House in Ventiane, Laos) or 2 extra beds (The White Mansion in Phnom Penh, Cambodia). The luxury family option is the suite, which is not necessarily an expensive choice (Paradise Palm Resort in Koh Chang, Thailand or Thmorda Garden Resort in Ko Kong, Cambodia). In short, selecting a hotel for our large family has been much easier in Asia than it has ever been in Europe!

2) The cleanliness of the place in general and of the bathroom in particular. As a general appreciation, we found that hotels and guesthouses, even in the low budget range, offer clean rooms and bathrooms. Shared bathrooms were fine, although we often preferred to enjoy the luxury of a private bathroom to shower the children. Always ask to view the room before booking it, there are so many good hotels available that it would be a pity to fall in a tourist trap and select a neglected place. One point that you might want to check upfront is whether the accommodation offers hot showers. We stayed in great places that had only cold water. Our 6-year old loved it but the cold showers caused many tears with the two younger children.

3) Kids-friendly facilities and a good service. There are a few amenities that can definitely make your life, and your family travel experience, easier. The most obvious one is a swimming pool. I guess all children love playing and swimming in the pool. Nevertheless, we seldom selected hotels with pools. We were on budget, and the availability of a pool often drives the room fares up. Instead, we swam in rivers in Laos, in the sea in Cambodia. Many hotels also grant access to their swimming pool for a small fee: a cheap alternative, unless you’re planning to devote your time to swimming every day. But, honestly, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, there are so many things to see and do that you’ll hardly want to spend your days in a hotel pool! With younger kids, I find the presence of garden or a yard more important, a place where children can play safely while parents enjoy a moment of rest – or blog. Mut Mee Guesthouse in Nong Khai, Thailand has a beautiful garden with hammock and swings, on the banks of the Mekong. On some occasions, we appreciated eating in a fine in-house restaurant, where we could enjoy a late candlelight dinner while the children were already sleeping in the nearby room. A last word about the service: I can hardly voice a complaint, most places we stayed in offered good to outstanding service!

4) What about something more exotic? Sleep in a jungle bungalow, or right at the beach, spend the night in a tree-top cabin, share a meal with locals in a homestay, are few of the unusual alternatives that we tried out. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s easily found in Asia!