Searching for the Best Value Beach Resorts in Asia
As someone who has lived and worked in Asia for more than 20 years, and now working as a travel writer here, a question that I often get asked is: “What’s the best beach resort you’ve stayed at in Asia?”
My reply is always that that’s a difficult question to answer, because everyone’s definition of “best” is different. How good or bad a place is a subjective judgment. For me, I can only rate a place as good if it has an espresso machine and fresh coffee. For others, that’s totally unimportant.
I’ve stayed in some fabulous 5-star resorts in the Maldives, some nice resorts in Thailand and Vietnam, but in most of those cases they were for work-related conferences, so others were paying. Generally speaking, the more expensive a resort was, the better it was, so budget is a big factor when recommending places to other travellers.
A more useful question would be: “What’s the best value beach resort you’ve stayed at in Asia”? I thought that would be an easier question, but it did take me a while to rack my brains to think back about all the places had stayed in the past decade.
To make the process easier, I eliminated all those 5-star resorts at which I had stayed for which I didn’t personally pay, because when the money isn’t coming out of your own pocket, it’s hard to be truly objective about whether you are getting value for money. In any event, most 5-star places are overpriced for all but the wealthy.
Four-star usually best value
For me, I feel I am getting more value for money when I stay in 4-star resorts. These are a sort of compromise between the high price of the 5-star resorts and the more basic facilities of the 3-star resorts. I recall once staying in a 4-star resort that used a marketing slogan “5-star service at a 3-star price”. Whilst that may just be sales spiel, that’s actually what would qualify a place for the title of “best value for money”.
I can’t say I’ve ever stayed anywhere that was truly 5-star service for the price of a 3-star resort (although sometimes when a new resort is on a soft opening, off-season promotional deals might come close to that), but after much thinking I decided that the best value beach resort in Asia that I had stayed at in the last 10 years was Club Paradise in Palawan, Philippines.
Club Paradise is located on Dimaquiat Island, about 5 km off the northeast coast of Busuanga Island – more commonly referred to as Coron, because the town of Coron is located on Busuanga Island (Coron Island proper is located off the southern coast of Busuanga Island – confusing, yes I know!).
Club Paradise is reached via ATR72 propjet flights from Manila to Busuanga Airport. From there, vans from the resort will pick you up and take you to a jetty on an inlet on the coast and transfer you to a boat for the ride to Dimaquiat Island.
So why did I feel I was getting good value for money? Firstly the resort was not overcrowded. It is the only resort on the island and has only 48 rooms, so there are never more than about 100 guests on the island, even when the resort is fully booked.
The transfer from the airport was efficient and an enjoyable trip in itself. The beaches on the island are spotlessly clean and the water warm and sparkling clear. People rave about White Beach at Boracay, but the sand on Dimaquiat Island is whiter than Boracay.
The rooms were clean and well furnished to a very good 4-star standard, the food was good and the staff were helpful. There really wasn’t anything about which I could find fault with the place. It was a most relaxing and enjoyable stay — and all for less than $150 a night.
So in preparation to recommend Club Paradise as the best value beach resort in Asia, I went to their website to check current room rates – and got a very big shock. The rates had more than doubled since I was there just over three years ago.
Price increases and food complaints
Back in October 2015 I had booked a Hillside Cottage through Agoda for 7,050 Philippine pesos per night (about US$135) but now the same rooms on Agoda were Php17,791. And on other booking sites, and the resort’s own website, they were priced at around Php23,000 – more than three times what I had previously paid.
And not only that, most of the recent resort reviews included complaints about the quality of the food. So not only had the room rates increased to a level where it would be impossible to recommend the resort as ‘best value’, the quality of the food had deteriorated to the point where it was becoming the most common complaint about the resort.
A lesson to be learned from that is to always check recent reviews about a resort when looking for places to stay – do not rely on recommendations that are more than a year old.
I could not think of any other beach resort that stood out in my mind as good value (perhaps an indication that all of them are over-priced) so I decided to do a web search to see if other travel bloggers had recommendations that I could pass on in this article.
I googled ‘Best Value Beach Resorts in Asia’, which produced 14 pages of search results. The majority of the search results were merely lists on commercial sites that didn’t contain any explanation as to why they were being listed as ‘best value’. A few that appeared to be personal recommendations turned out to be advertisements disguised as blog posts.
So I turned to one of my favourite Southeast Asian travel sites for independent accommodation reviews, Travelfish, but found that it was mainly low-end budget resorts that they were recommending as “best value”.
However, I did come across some recommendations on Travelfish for mid-priced resorts on Ko Yao Yai in Phang Nga Bay in Thailand that might appeal to senior travellers looking for somewhere quiet to stay, away from the party scene that is typical of many Thai beach resorts.
Travelfish also identified some good value beach resorts on Railay Beach, on the mainland directly east of Ko Yao Yai, and specifically recommends the resorts at Khanom and Sichon further east on the Gulf of Thailand coast for older travellers looking for real peace and quiet.
Maybe there is a message in the fact that all the top recommendations on Travelfish for good value beach resorts were in Thailand. Perhaps that is not fair to the Philippines, which is the only country in Southeast Asia that Travelfish doesn’t cover, but if the experience with Club Paradise at Palawan is anything to go by, Philippine resorts might be pricing themselves out of the international market.
The other country that did come to mind for good value beach resorts was Sri Lanka. However, searching online for the ‘best value beach resorts in Sri Lanka’ only produced the same results as for a more general search – page after page of commercial listings, all claiming to offer the best value.
A few genuine travel blog posts that did appear in the search results dated back to 2012, so they wouldn’t be useful based on the experience with Club Paradise and the extent to which the reviews of that resort had changed in only three years.
Therefore the best way to search for a resort that offers good value is to firstly decide where you would like to go. Then use any of the direct booking sites to search for resorts with room rates around the budget you have in mind, and then search for recent reviews using the name of the resorts that you have found.
TripAdvisor is a good review site for checking reviews, and I find that Agoda usually offers the best room rates. But always check at least one other booking site and the resort’s own website for prices, because sometimes one may be offering a promotion that’s not available on the others.
Santorini Dave, a hotel directory website that lists the pros and cons of hotels, recommends Mui Ne and Phan Thiet in Vietnam as destinations where there are good value hotels around. That’s mainly because the area is more difficult to reach than other beach destinations in Vietnam, involving a 5-6 hour minibus ride from either Ho Chi Minh City or Nha Trang.
Phu Quoc island, facing the Gulf of Thailand, is worth checking out too, because that has some of the best beaches in Vietnam. Room rates are very reasonable there because Phu Quoc is harder to reach than many beach destinations on the mainland.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph recently described Phu Quoc as one of Southeast Asia’s best-kept secrets. New resorts have been opening in the past few years catering to travellers in every price bracket. Keep an eye out for opening promotional deals – often 5-star resorts will be available for 4-star prices for a few months after their soft openings.
And if you have stayed recently at a beach resort that you consider offers good value for money, please let us know about it by adding a comment below, so that other readers can benefit from your experience.
Header image: © Wanida Prapan | Dreamstime