I have always felt that hostels are for Europe, South America and Africa. In countries like France hostels are a great idea because normal hotels are expensive. If you are on a tight budget hostels are the best option. You can also save further money by using the hostel kitchen to prepare your own meals. In South America security is a serious problem especially in big cities like Rio and Buenos Aires. By staying in a hostel you get 24 hour gated security as well as plenty of useful travel advice. When I went to Africa in 2000 there was a shortage of hotels in many places and so camping or hostels were the only options. Indeed many hostels let you camp in their garden.
In Bangkok there is no shortage of rooms for rent. There are over 36,000 luxury rooms in the city. I suspect there must be double that number of cheap rooms. All these rooms mean there is fierce competition for customers. If you look around you can find some great accommodation deals in Bangkok – whether you want to stay in a backpacker place, a boutique hotel, a mid-range hotel or a chain hotel. Soi 1 Backpackers charge 400 Thai Baht for a bed in a 10 person dorm. For 500 Thai Baht you can get your own room in Khao San or Sukhumvit. It doesn’t add up why do people use hostels in Bangkok, especially when street food is cheap and security is not an issue?
The answer I think lies in the fact that backpackers travelling alone want to meet a community of other backpackers. Although this is easily done in Khao San, there are those who have read about the nefarious delights of Sukhumvit and want to experience Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy with others. Apparently the bar tender at the hostel often takes backpackers out to several bars that offer such entertainment.
There are also those backpackers who have what I would call a ‘backpacker mentality’ They think they must stay in hostels that they book online; that this will save them money and guarantee the safety of their possessions. A hostel becomes a familiar environment with free wifi, locker, common room and TV everywhere you go. I have seen plenty of backpackers who spend day after day in a hostel. It is like they have become institutionalized.
Backpacker hostels have their place, even in Bangkok, I suppose; but, I feel this is a special city that offers so much more in terms of accommodation, nightlife, entertainment, eating out, shopping and shows. It is a place to be yourself and choose what you want to do. It is one of the friendliest places I know. It is easy to make Thai friends as well as tourist friends. Why not leave the backpack in a hotel room and join the cosmopolitan throng of humanity?