An Insider’s Guide to Thai Boutique Hotels

“Boutique” hotels have been springing up like mushrooms after a rain all over the world and in cities in Thailand, with the greatest concentrations in tourist hotspots such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket. Every guesthouse and bed & breakfast has aspirations to hoteldom, advertising themselves as boutique, unique, and charming. You will find one and it’s going to astound you how cheap they are for the experience they offer: spa packages at low prices, freebie snacks and meals, beautiful décor, great location. But wait a minute. Have you researched this boutique hotel? There is a reason their prices can sometimes seem unusually low. Do yourself a favor and consult this checklist first before making your reservation.

1. Do they have a hospitality license and are they certified by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)? For a traveler, this may look unimportant at first glance; after all, you don’t really care about the bureaucracy and paperwork, right? But licensed hotels are subjected to constant inspections and have to adhere to rules and regulations-not the least of which being safety laws! Fire exits, fire extinguishers, room and kitchen hygiene, ventilation: these aren’t things you want to gamble with. Hotel XY may have the most fantastic swimming pool you’ve ever seen and they send masseuses to your room for free, but are you sure they have fire exits and alarms placed properly? Once you cut corners, it’s easy to keep cutting, and many unscrupulous owners forego official licenses for a reason. Some properties likewise dodge these requirements and taxes by registering as “serviced apartments.” By doing so, any claims they make to being three, four, or five stars can be considered little more than false advertisement at worst and optimistic self-promotion at best: unlicensed properties cannot apply for stars rating of any sort and are not subject to qualifications guidelines.

2. How big is their staff? Small hotels also cut cost in another area: staff salaries. While you don’t want people to bustle around you and invade your personal space, you will probably want the service to be prompt in all parts of your accommodation-the restaurant, the reception, and most importantly the housekeeping. A small staff means that less work will be done to keep the accommodation spick and span, including but not limited to plumbing, washing out the swimming pool, and more. Did you know how dirty water in pools can get? Trust me, you don’t want to. With all those dead skin cells, body fluids, diseases: let’s just say you don’t want to look at them through a microscope. Best practice is to drain out the water every day and making sure the water going in has gone through disinfectants, but if a hotel doesn’t have enough staff you can almost be certain they’ll skimp on this.

3. Do they do maintenance? Fire drills? Power systems, elevators and drainage are inspected routinely by the authorities in licensed hotels. The ones operating without a license have no such motivation to keep them up to standard.

4. How’s their location? Many small hotels are owned and run by newcomers to the field, who have relatively little capital to invest. This means they will minimize cost on all fronts, including by building on cheaper land-land that is located well away from the tourist attractions and the city center. You don’t want to stay at a hotel that’s located in the middle of nowhere!

5. Security. Again, this relates to the problem of limited staff: how many do they have in their security personnel? Do they have someone to constantly monitor their CCTVs (if there are even any)? This is one more area for which you wouldn’t want to accept compromises. There are plenty of trustworthy and officially licensed boutique hotels in Chiang Mai and elsewhere that fulfill all these requirements. Make the most of your Thailand vacation; never let yourself be lured into ones that don’t.