I went to Thailand last year to celebrate my birthday (dream trip!) and there's so much to tell you, but I'm going to share some practical info in case you are planning a trip there and want to know where to stay! I'm a champagne taste on a beer budget kinda gal, and it was such a pleasure to travel in a place where you can have both at the same time. $30/night will get you a pretty marvelous place to stay.
I lucked into a lovely Airbnb in Bangkok after staying one night at a meh place that didn't have room for me the following evening. It's an old building that a family lovingly restored. The (phenomenal) design was by their son, a ceramic sculptor with great vision and a love of having plants EVERYWHERE that rivals my own. My experience here was particularly memorable because the family who runs it is genuinely kind and generous with their time; I ended up getting invited, on my birthday, to tag along for a Thai massage (2 hours. $15. Sigh.) with the mom and her friends who were having a childhood reunion, and then for fish ball noodle soup afterwards, followed by wacky Thai ice-jelly-fruit dessert craziness(this wasn't in the original plan, but they insisted upon learning it was my birthday)! I could have stayed here for weeks on end - feels far from the hubbub of Bangkok but conveniently located right on the BTS line (Krung Thonburi stop) in a much more peaceful part of town than the heavily tourist-trodden path.
Obviously one of the main purposes of my trip was to eat. In my next stop, Chiang Mai, this was a highlight. Though I didn't love where I stayed there, I did find this city as charming as can be, and my foodie tendencies were more than satisfied by some wonderful discoveries. The first was a roadside shack serving my favorite northern Thai dish, khao soi -- a red curry soup with egg noodles, fried shallots, and some meat -- usually chicken or pork. It's called Khao Soi Lam Duan and a here's a link to the Google map, but just tell your tuk-tuk driver to take you there, and keep your eyes peeled because it's easy to miss : ถนน เจริญราษฎร์ Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Another food highlight from Chiang Mai was this foodie dream destination Tong Tem Toh (non-omnivores beware: the vegetarian friend I was eating with wasn't too thrilled about this place -- the strong meat odors bothered him to the point that he left before eating.) Here's a map link. This place specializes in real, spicy Northern Thai cuisine, not dumbed down for anglo palates. It also happens to be an adorable spot, with black umbrellas and tropical plants making the patio a perfect spot to grab lunch on a sunny day -- which is pretty much every day in CM. Here's a review with great pics from blogger Mark Wiens.
From CM I headed up to Chiang Rai. A friend had lent me his Monocle magazine Thailand inserts and I saw a description of this place called Naga Hill. My thought was - I'll never be able to afford this place but it sounds heavenly! I looked up their website and whoa! a small bungalow would only set me back 800 baht -- approximately $30 - so I jumped at the chance, and the German-Thai woman who runs it, Pat, was a really pleasant host during my time in that lovely city. She mentioned that she had been to Bali and designed the place based on hotels she had stayed at and loved there. Here are some photos. It's a bit outside of town but taxis are cheap, or you can rent a motorcycle! Make sure you hit the Black Gallery and the White Temple while you're there -- mind-blowing.
I traipsed around to some islands after that, and the highlight was undoubtedly the place I stayed at in Koh Lanta. I was a bit hesitant to come to this island, worried it might be too touristy (they almost all are fairly heavily trodden at this point, but you can rent a motorcycle and get away from the hordes in minutes! I stayed in the Old Town part, which is quiet at night, but perfect for me. A bit of peeking around Airbnb led me to the dreamiest accomodations called Old Times B&B. A smidge hipster, designed with simplicity and peace and utter relaxation in mind, and -- my favorite element -- you can get a room that sits on top of the water, since the building is on stilts, literally sitting in the sea. So dreamy.
There's a back deck with colorful pillows you can lounge around on, and hammocks as well. Here I am, taking full advantage.. .