A few years ago there weren’t any hostels in Koh Phangan, let alone Baan Tai. Indeed, the traditional backpacker scene in Thailand never really featured dorms with long lines of beds. This was because there were plenty of cheap rooms and bungalows to be had all over the country.
Thailand is famous for having cheap accommodation – cheaper than South America and Africa. In these places you have to use hostels or camp to travel on a budget.
However, over the last 10 years Thailand has changed from an exotic destination to a mainstream tourist destination. The influx of Chinese and Russian tourists has further re-enforced this perception.
The result has been a move away from catering to budget travellers. In Koh Phangan the basic wooden bungalow without shower /toilet or air-con for $3 a day has virtually disappeared. In their place are air-con bungalows with en-suite bathrooms that feature hot water. There has also been the rise of hotel style rooms in larger buildings that have a higher profile on the landscape.
The only profitable way to provide cheap beds has been to set up dorms where 10 people or more share one room and one bathroom. The cheapest hostel is A1 Koh Phangan Guesthouse and Hostel. They have dorm beds for just 200 Thai Baht ($6.6) a night. For this guests get a bed, locker space, air-con and free Wi-Fi.
For a single person this is the cheapest deal. However, if you are a couple (or 2 people prepared to share a room) then you can rent a fan bungalow at Palida Resort in Baan Tai for 400 Thai Baht. That is 200 Thai Baht each and you get privacy; you get the chance of a better night’s sleep; you don’t have to keep all your stuff in a locker; you don’t have to share a bathroom with a dozen other people.
So really hostel beds aren’t good value for money. Moreover, hostels in Baan Tai don’t provide access to a communal kitchen. This is a key point for budget travellers. Hostels elsewhere in the world allow their guests to save money by doing their own cooking. With Tesco Lotus just down the road this would be feasible in Baan Tai.
On the other side of the coin, those who opt for hostel dorm beds aren’t just concerned about accommodation costs. They want to be social; they want to party. Most of the hostels in Baan Tai are geared towards those young people intending to visit the Full Moon Party or one of the other parties in Baan Tai. They will get drunk and stay up all night, and so only need a bed to crash in at the end of long sessions of inebriation. No doubt many of them snore too.
The hostels have bars. They sell buckets and they rustle up a DJ to throw pre-party events to get the money flowing. This is not really budget travel since the price of one bucket is the same as a dorm bed.
To risk dealing with stereotypes it appears there is a shift as to the type of holiday people visiting Baan Tai are looking for. Previously backpackers wanted to spend a month on a quiet beach in a bungalow smoke weed, eat Thai food, read a book and swim in the sea. They wanted a good beach and a nice bungalow at a good price. The idea was to relax, to get away from everything.
Now, young people have added Baan Tai to a list of holiday destinations that include Ibiza, Ayia Napa, Kavos and Magaluf. They are happy to share accommodation; they want crowds; they want to get smashed every night; and they typically stay just a week or so. Hostels provide an entrée to this type of experience. They are places where the party is ready made; where like-minded souls are to be found; where they can get food, travel tickets, taxis and English instructions.
Naturally the Tourist Association of Thailand (TAT) frowns on both types of tourists. They want those looking for hotel rooms, spa services, swimming pools; people who will spend thousands of dollars in just a few days.
So to answer the question: hostels are only value for money if you want to meet other young party people.