From hours to minutes: How I book the right hotel quickly

I remember the time I was planning a trip to Spain in 2011. Booking air tickets and drawing up a rough itinerary were the easy parts. Then I had to book my hotel rooms.

I agonized over dozens of hotels in Barcelona, Sevilla and Madrid. I looked at so many options across so many websites, so many blogs and so many travel portals that it took me days to decide the hotels. If I had spent as much time in preparing for my college exams, I would have aced them all.

Anyways, when I finally selected the hotels, I promised myself I would never spend so much time on figuring out hotels for my trip. Of course, hotels are a very important part of my visit to a new place. I want comfort, I want easy access to public transport and I want to be safe.

But spending days, or even hours on hunting hotels? Sheer waste of valuable time.

Wora Bura Resort Spa Hua Hin

(Wora Bura Resort & Spa in Hua Hin, Thailand)

For my next trip, I tried to be a bit more systematic. I cut down from several days to just a single day on hotel research. But that was still too long.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And when planning my holiday to Italy in December 2013, I was also planning my wedding (!) and so, I had very little time to ponder over hotels.

That’s when I hit upon my formula.

I’ve been following this method since almost four years now and it’s saved me a lot of time, stress and the end result has never been bad (touchwood).

Try it and tell me what you think.

Here’s how I do it.

Step 1: I decide on a budget

I break down the trip’s budget into all sorts of costs—from sightseeing to food. All are estimates, of course, but that works. After calculating all these costs, I arrive at a cost for my hotel stays.

Or sometimes, I just decide the amount of money I am willing to spend on a hotel room per night on that trip, such as $80 per night.

Time taken: 10-20 minutes.

Hotel Kempinski Nay Pyi Taw

(Hotel Kempinski, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar)

Step 2: I pick hotels for that given budget.

I enter the city and travel dates into a hotel booking website. The booking website is usually one I find reliable and trustworthy. My preferences are usually agoda.com or booking.com. Once I get the search results, I filter by my budget, and now, I have a (long) shortlist. This doesn’t take long and the list could be anywhere from five to 15 hotels.

Time taken: 10 minutes

Step 3: I look up shortlisted hotels.

If there are too many (long) listed hotels could be dime a dozen, so I also filter out the hotels by the number of stars or ratings. The top ones stay on the list, the bottom ones are eliminated. From this shorter shortlist, I am now ready to research hotels. I look up traveller review sites like Tripadvisor for each hotel, and I especially pay attention to the bad reviews to get a balanced view. I then cut down to three hotels.

Time taken: 15-20 minutes

Step 4: I now have a final list.

With just three hotels on my list, I visit each hotel’s website and look up important details. For example, do they have a swimming pool and an elevator? Is it near the places I want to visit? Will I have access to public transport? How near or far is it from the airport?

Time taken: 10-15 minutes

Art hotel Chiang Mai

(Art Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Step 5: And now, I have a winner.

I go back to my booking site and book. Or, if the hotel offers a “lowest tariff guarantee” I write to them informing them of my travel dates and the best offers I’m getting online. Most hotels respond within a day and they often give me a better rate (this is especially true of boutique and single/ standalone hotels).

I get the hotel I want, they get a paying customer. Win-win all around.

Time taken: 5 minutes (to email), 5 minutes (to pay)

How do you choose hotels for your holiday?

 

Living in an art gallery

There’s something about Chiang Mai. This Thai hill town seems to have me in its grip. When I visited Chiang Mai with my mom last December, I didn’t know I’d be back a year later. There were no omens or portents, just the nagging feeling that I hadn’t explored the city well enough. Call it fate, call it provident, but yes, I was back mid-December 2015. And this trip was completely different from my earlier one a year ago. I lived in another part of Chiang Mai, and as a result, I got the opportunity to explore the artsy side of the city: I stayed in an art gallery just off Nimmanhaemin Road.

No, I mean hotel.

Oops, I mean an art hotel.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

Art Mai Gallery Hotel houses an art gallery on the ground floor, but the art is not restricted to exhibition space- it’s everywhere… on the walls, in the corridors, and oh, in the guest rooms too. And the artsy touches are everywhere.

As you’ve guessed it, this recently-opened hotel is paradise for art lovers. From the painting exhibition on the ground floor to the art-themed rooms, you will see paintings by Thai artists at every corner you turn. I must say, this is such an enterprising way to promote Thai art to people from around the world.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

The hotel’s décor was in the vein of industrial minimalism. See these exposed pipes and the shades-of-grey colour scheme?

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

The decorative accents blend in perfectly with this look. Like this side table.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

But much as we’d like to, we can’t really sleep and shower in an exhibition. So we were assigned a room on the second floor.

Review of Art Mai Gallery Hotel art rooms

Each floor in the hotel has a different art theme, and we got nude art:

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai nude art painting

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai room painting

Then there was this cute easel. To which S said, “Why does it say P-O-D?”

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai art easel

And I said, “It’s an illustration, see? They’ve drawn two eyes. They want us to draw a face around it, or a cartoon or whatever we want.” It’s an art hotel after all. I didn’t have the courage to express my (non-existing) artistic side, but it got me thinking about learning drawing again. (Maybe a 2016 resolution?).

The industrial theme continued in the room, like this old-looking desk and “aging” bathroom tiles look too, with some hints of modern design.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai desk in room

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai bathroom

Anyhoo, a hotel is not just about art. So we had a large comfy bed, big screen TV (which we unfortunately didn’t have time to watch), a kettle station, mini fridge etc. Pretty much the standard stuff. My favourite amenity? The powerful shower. 😀 And my favourite service? The evening snackie the housekeeping lady left on my bed. 😀

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai bathroom shower

As for food, the hotel restaurant Jarid may seem a bit on the smaller side, but they put up a good breakfast spread, making the most of the buffet table space and using cute chalkboard-style placards for dish names.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai Jarid restaurant

There were the usual suspects of cereal, breads, fruits, potatoes, Thai staples like rice, noodles, soup and we could ask for our choice of freshly-cooked eggs. The food was freshly cooked, packed with flavour and a very satisfying start to the day.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai breakfast

Just what the doctor ordered before an action-packed day in Chiang Mai- trekking, river rafting, visiting the 3D museum, shopping and exploring the boutique stores around Nimmanhaemin.

Chiang Mai 3d museum giant foot

I’d stay in this hotel again if I could: tres chic, great location (in the heart of the hip part of town) and fabulous art.

To know more about Art Mai Gallery Hotel, visit the hotel website.

Sunday Street Stories: Chiang Mai’s arty district

Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand, may not be a beach destination like Phuket or Krabi, but it’s developing into quite a cultural hotspot. Nimmanhemin Road is the city’s chic quarter, with art galleries, decor stores, indie boutiques and, of course, a vibrant night life. This building had an attractive facade.

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And another building round the corner that housed a cafe (Mango Tango) had a very creative form of advertising their location.

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If you’re in Chiang Mai, don’t forget to visit Nimmanhemin Road and explore the sois (lanes) that lead to spas, cafes and restaurants. There’s so much to see!

Pictures taken on: December 11, 2015
Location: Nimmanhemin Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Device: Google Nexus 5

Wora Bura Resort: Quaint Thai haven in Hua Hin

When I first visited Hua Hin a few years ago, I never thought I’d be going back again. But in a strange of twist of fate (if such a thing exists), here I was on the bus with S, on my way to this beachside town in Thailand.

Hua Hin is a four-hour bus or car ride away from Bangkok. Since it’s not as popular as Pattaya and Phuket, there are fewer tourists, which means no jostling crowds, no overcrowded beaches and less chances of bumping into people you know. 🙂

We stayed at the Wora Bura Hua Hin Resort & Spa, a tiny David compared to the Goliath that is Sheraton Hua Hin at the outskirts of the town (fabulous hotel). But while it’s not as big as the Sheraton, it’s got what you need in any beach resort, but with lots of old-world charm and personal attention.

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

We were welcomed at the Wora Bura reception with warm smiles and a lemongrass cooler. Traditional square tiling, whitewashed pillars and greenery subtly highlighted the hotel’s Thai provenance.

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

With only 70-odd rooms in Wora Bura identified by Thai cities and towns instead of room numbers, the Wora Bura has that homely feel you don’t get in a chain hotel. The beach is just a short walk away (from any room), as is the swimming pool, the spa, the breakfast room and the beach-facing restaurant. A gazillion extra brownie points for this, because we didn’t need to walk around the hotel forever or call for a buggy.

Wora Bura Resort: Quaint Thai haven in Hua Hin

Our stay began with a late lunch at the restaurant by the beach, where Mr S tucked into Thai seafood fare. The restaurant may have just half a dozen tables, but with their attentive service, gentle sea breeze and the beach view, we relished our extended lunch hour.

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

We strolled back to our room through the manicured garden, across tiny bridges and the swimming pool as kids played Marco Polo. We briefly stopped to admire a gorgeous villa room named Phuket, with fancy drapes and a cute porch.

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

Our room had a Thai décor theme, true to the spirit of the resort. It was not just earthy accents, but rustic-looking doors and padlock, a wooden key (no plastic key cards!) and the old-style tiles that made us feel like we were in Thailand. A refreshing change from standard-décor hotel chain-rooms that often lack a local touch.

The hotel steps lead to the main beach of the town, which is quite clean and not really crowded. You can lounge on the hotel deck chairs, chill on the beach, frolick in the water, scream at the tiny crabs, collect shells…. We did all of this!

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

The highlight of our stay at Wora Bura was our spa experience. Our hour-long couples’ massage was in an airy room (with private bathroom) cooled to the right temperature, and expert masseuses who spoke some English. The massages we’d selected were the “light” ones, but they were still rigorous enough to rejuvenate us. By the end of the massage, I was ready for the (tiring) bus ride to Bangkok airport. I slept through most of the bus journey back to Bangkok (something I can never do), that’s how relaxed I was.

Wora Bura resort Hua Hin

When we checked out, we knew that our stay at Wora Bura had been way too short. We were there only one night, but managed to pack in the 18 hours we were there. We’d have loved more time to relax in the hotel and explore the town. The hotel had a free shuttle service that dropped us to town and night market.

A third trip to Hua Hin? Who knows?! If yes, my chosen place of stay will be Wora Bura Resort. 🙂