Is it still possible to find decent accommodation for $5 a night on a tropical island? My partner and I went hunting for a thrifty shack in Koh Tao, Thailand and tried not to kill each other in the process.

“This place is perfect!” Ivan said, dancing around the bungalow’s small space. “And it’s so cheap—only $5 a night!”

I shot him a glance to see if he was serious. “Really? Are you kidding me? Of course it’s only $5 a night. It’s a shithole.”

Tension was brewing. Our search for The Perfect Place to Live had dragged on for two months and we were both irritated and exhausted from the hunt. With plans to stay until the end of the year while Ivan becomes a diving pro and I work on creative projects, there was only one thing was missing from our idealistic lifestyle: a place to live.

Our lodging criteria was simple: cozy, beautiful, rustic, set in nature, a breathtaking view, a bed softer than a stack of bricks. It also had to be a suitable space for me to work from all day, so a steady internet connection was mandatory. And since we’re both pursuing passions over dollars right now, ‘dirt cheap’ was at the top of the list.

Okay,  maybe the criteria wasn’t so simple.

Maybe it was a ridiculously ambitious.

Maybe we’d spend the rest of the year homeless, while searching for a magical fairy-dust bungalow built from naive fantasies and unobtainable goals, painted in a lovely shade of purple called You’re Dreamin’.

In our search, we sampled and inspected everything from a lavish resort, to a luxury villa, to a beach bungalow, to an air-conditioned apartment.

Ivan discovered one 160 Baht ($5) bungalow buried within overgrown jungle, reachable only by a ten minute uphill hike along a boulder-strewn, snake-infested path. It was ideal … for someone wanting to escape the law. It’s also make a great first home for someone who wants to start his own Yanomami bush tribe (psst: Ivan).

But this bungalow—the one we were standing in—was not buried in the jungle, though it was exceptionally hard to find. Long story short, Ivan went on a wild goose chase to find the owner, querying every Thai person in the vicinity before finally tracking him down. He gave us a key to inspect and we found this …

What a five dollar bungalow looks like:

“Ummmm, this isn’t really what I had in mind,” I said. “It has only a bed.”

“A bed that’s softer than a stack of bricks, just the way you like it.”

“Great. But no other furniture?”

“Forget that for a second. Just look at the view.” He opened up the french doors leading to the bungalow’s best feature.

The view:

Is it possible to find accommodation for $5 a night?

Okay, so the view was stunning. Jaw-dropping. Eyeball accosting. The kind of view I’d hike up a mountain to behold.

Easily reachable by motorbike, it’s located close enough to the main town to be convenient, but far back enough to ensure that the party doof is silenced by swishing fronds, gecko calls, and chirping crickets. The only doof  is the sound of falling coconuts.

HOWEVER … apart from one bed, some bad curtains, a broken chair, and a kilo of gecko shit, the bungalow is completely bare.

I’m all for simplicity, but can I live with empty? Was it beautiful and peaceful enough to compensate having no fridge, no writing desk, no nothing?

For me, no.

For Ivan, yes.

“This won’t work,” I said. “Where will I write? It has no desk.”

He shot me a look of disappointment and I volleyed it straight back at him. “I can do simple, but I need a desk and an internet connection.”

“You’re not seeing it,” he said.

“I see a lot of gecko scat in the corners?”

“No, you have to imagine it after the make-over. We can decorate this place anyway we want. We can make it into a romantic nest. We can turn it into a writer’s retreat. Your desk will face the Gulf of Thailand and you’ll be kept cool by a breeze off the water.”

I stroked my chin. “Go on.”

“We can add shelving and nice bed linen and artworks and plants. It’s only $ 5 a night, so we can justify spending a little money. Beautiful sheets, lanterns, curtains, bean bags. We’ll go to Bangkok and shop at the markets. Picture it.”

And with those words, my imagination came alive …

The make-over plan:

Writer's Retreat, Thailand

“Okay, fine,” I said. “But what if we can’t get internet?”

We returned later with my computer and 3G card. I plugged in to discover the fastest internet in all of Thailand. Perched up on a hill, the phone tower must beam an uninterrupted signal to the bungalow.

“We’re taking it,” we told the landlord, and we paid him our rent, noting with glee that an entire year here is cheaper than a month in our Melbourne home.

I began to draw up plans for our romantic nest / writer’s retreat. Inspiration had already begun dripping from my paintbrush.

Stay tuned for the make-over!

Meanwhile, connect with me on Pinterest to follow my inspiration boards. 

If you could set up a nest or retreat anywhere in the world, where would it be? What would it look like? A cozy shack in the forest? An architectural masterpiece overlooking the sea?


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79 Response Comments

  • Audrey | That Backpacker  June 20, 2012 at 4:41 am

    The place is going to look great! I would live in your drawing version of it. 😉

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      I’ll post you a watercolour in the mail and you can move on in!

  • Rona House  June 20, 2012 at 4:57 am

    So who cares about the time “lost” to looking at that view……

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      Lost time? No such thing here. 🙂

  • Christina  June 20, 2012 at 5:10 am

    Can’t wait for the ‘make-over’ photos!! How I love that you work together to stir imaginations and commit to what others wouldn’t. Love that view–lucky, lucky youse. XXX

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      I hope it won’t disappoint—I did put together an awfully beautiful inspiration board, if I do say so myself.

      • Christina  June 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

        I know it won’t disappoint. And I agree about your inspiration board. Somehow everything you draw and paint ends up looking like an art work.

  • jan  June 20, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Go for it – but what about the internet – gotta have that – or you could just check out the view all day! Geckos are cool – they eat cockroaches!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:25 pm

      If I didn’t have the internet, I wouldn’t be able to read comments from people such as your fine self, Jan. It’s great that geckos eat cockroaches BUT … I just discovered the ones we get here BITE and hang on for up to an hour (unless you kill it, which I totally would).

  • Bree  June 20, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Ha ha, you’re so funny. I love how your imagination went wild with the make-over ideas! But, yes, it will be sublime.

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      It does that. If only I could keep in on a little leash. The leash would have studs, and it would be pink, and it would have glitter, and, and, and …

  • Elizabeth  June 20, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Wow, I can totally envision it! It will be amazing, and seriously, that view is worth a million baht! My view up here in Bangkok is nowhere near that and I wish it was only 5 bucks a night… good luck with redecorating!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Bangkok has its charms. Stunning views are not one of them. But those roadside waffle dogs … ooohh lordy!

  • Linda Benton  June 20, 2012 at 5:47 am

    I love your inspiration boards Torre, looking forward to seeing the transformation.
    PS. As I sit reading your blog in chilly Sydney, I’m seriously considering selling all my stuff & moving to Thailand too … just have to convince the hubby!

    Happy decorating 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Surely it won’t be too hard to talk the hubby into it? What does he do for a living? Maybe he can do the same / similar here in Thailand?

      • Linda Benton  June 21, 2012 at 12:37 am

        He’s in software sales, but hey, I’m sure we could take 6 months off & have an extended holiday – $5 a day isn’t going to break the budget 😉

        • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 7:59 am

          Exactly! You can learn something new here: yoga, diving, Thai language, Thai massage. It’s not an extended holiday, it’s an opportunity to learn something new and unexpected that will enrich your life. 1 x vote for DO IT. 🙂

          • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:01 am

            I can see from your blog that you’re already very familiar with all of this!

  • Lindsey  June 20, 2012 at 5:56 am

    As far as blank canvases go, this one looks pretty amazing! Especially awesome as you can now make it ‘yours.’ I can’t wait to see the makeover photos! Also completely jealous…that view!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      Yes, you’re right. It is a pretty good blank canvas. Hard to go wrong with wooden floorboards and wooden walls. Everything looks warm and cozy alongside wood. If it was made from marble or white plaster, we’d have a problem.

  • Dyanne@TravelnLass  June 20, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Seriously. With that view AND a *western toilet*??? I’m surprised you hesitated for even a moment. Shoot, I’m most definitely leaning towards moving from here in Saigon to… likewise some $5/night chunk of Thai heaven.

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:02 am

      I’m a big fan of the squat, as a matter of fact. Great for the digestive feng shui. It doesn’t get much better than $5 a night Thai heaven.

      • Dyanne@TravelnLass  June 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

        Actually, I too favor the brilliant engineering of the squat WC (I mean, no moving parts to break down and you can’t get more simple than gravity, yes?) But alas, my quadriceps don’t agree. 😉

        • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 9:06 am

          I hear you! I need the walls for support because my quads are made from butter and soft cheeses. Falling in would be quite unpleasant!

  • janet  June 20, 2012 at 10:04 am

    the makeover.. so you’ve decided to get it? LOVE the view and its worth a makeover for sure. You definitely have what it takes, with your creativity, to spice things up and make it nice. I love how secluded it is.. perfect for a writer’s (and artist) retreat!!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

      Yes, we got it! You’re right—it’s a perfect spot for a creative. 🙂

  • Cristina Garcia  June 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I totally get your vision. A bed on the terrace for full moon…gosh, I should move over there

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:04 am

      It would be lovely to put a little mosquito net bed outside, as per the pic above. Watch the moon. Feel the breeze. Ahhhh. No painted dogs or cheetahs, though, so you might be disappointed by that.

  • Carmel  June 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    I enjoy that your makeover plans involves drinks and what appear to be tacos. Way to go! Can’t wait to see the big reveal.

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:04 am

      I don’t even know what those taco things are, but I’ll take 10.

      And yes: stylish cocktails are a part of EVERY plan I make.

  • Sally  June 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Love the remodeling ideas… but I don’t see any plans for a guest bed? What’s the deal with that? I certainly hope you don’t expect me to sleep on the hammock. I fall out of those things. 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Bring a blow up mattress and a fly net and you can sleep on the balcony. Seriously—I was thinking of doing this when my friends come. A tent without the fly would be perfect.

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures  June 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    You are sooooo creative, love it!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Thanks, Andi.

  • Shanna Schultz  June 20, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    The bungalow is eh, soso, but the view is AMAZING! Can’t wait to see what you do with the place…I am sure you will quickly turn it into a cozy nest. Fast internet, beautiful view…the rest you can buy.

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:07 am

      My thoughts exactly! A good view makes up for A LOT.

  • tatiana  June 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    I loved the place you picked! As soon as I saw the first picture I was like, THIS IS AMAZING. I’m shocked you needed convincing in order to move in! Haha.

    I’m excited to see how the place transforms as you live there. :3

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:07 am

      Retrospectively, I’m shocked and a little embarrassed by that too. What was I thinking? 🙂

  • Katherine - Kapcha The World  June 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

    I can’t wait to see the makeover – yes the place is bare and to be honest I would have freaked out too. But that view – jeez it’s worth a million dollars. And the chance to bling up your own place. Awesome! Can’t wait to see the finished room. I love the theme – something I would totally want myself too. Otherwise I love Moroccan themes and colours at the moment. Building a BBQ area in the back garden and will be going mad with the Majorelle blue, teal and mustard yellow colours soon!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Blinging up the place is the biggest appeal. It’s like an art installation. What an incredible opportunity to dress up a Thai bungalow. Weeeeee!

      Moroccan stuff is lovely. I saw some beautiful Turkish stain-glass lamp shades in the Bankok market, but they were several hundred dollars each. Really colourful and intricate. Dang about the price, though.

  • Sarah Somewhere  June 21, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Love it!!! A terrace with THAT view for $5 a night? Well done, my friends. I’m glad someone else has champagne taste on a beer budget like me 🙂 Enjoy!

    • Torre DeRoche  June 21, 2012 at 8:10 am

      Champagne on a beer budget. I love it. In fact, that could be my website slogan!

  • Roxanne  June 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I love the process of making a home, Torre, and I love the light in which you’ve cast it. I cannot wait both for the writing that will come out of that bungalow and for the photos of the redecoration!

  • Allison  June 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Ok, I pretty much just want to drop everything and move to a thai bungalow with a view. And when I did the rent math I almost cried. Thanks Torre 🙂

    I can’t wait to see the transformation!

    • Sarah  June 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      That’s a killer view. Congrats on the new digs!

  • Hannah  June 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Please can I come live with you?! I’ll keep the geckos at bay in exchange for a hammock and that view every day 🙂

  • Ayngelina  June 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I would have been skeptical as well but isn’t it wonderful that you are with someone that can see the potential in it.

  • Hellas  June 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I would take it any time for 5$. I stayed in worse Robinson style cottages on Croatian islands for 50 euros per night. Some were even more expensive.

  • Meg | One Love Meg  June 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    I love it!!! You have inspired us to get the hell out of Europe already. It is so damn expensive. Time to shack it up for $5 a night!!

  • Vacay Girl  July 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    This will be great! I’m sorry, my interest for reading your blog is all about you, but I immediately sided with Ivan on this. I’ve watched enough HGTV to know that anything is possible with a room if you have the imagination and a little money to fill it. I think it will be awesome. Now, will this be where you will reside for your whole year? I will work!

    Ooooh, I’m so excited for you. Can’t wait to see it!

  • Joe Hayes  November 1, 2012 at 11:01 am


    I cant see what you are moaning about, he has provided you with the canvas, now finish the bloody painting—— you can never make a woman happy! you write very well and funny, really enjoyed your story—– marry that man.

    • Torre DeRoche  November 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

      Hi Joe. Lucky you finished that up with a lovely compliment, otherwise I would’ve had to rip you a new one. 😉

      • Joe Hayes  November 1, 2012 at 11:27 am

        If I ever have a need to “go on the run ” from the police, tax man, x wifes,( girlfriends—very soon) or my children, I will rent that place from you at $6.00—will insist on the room with the on-suite.
        Good Luck to you, from your short correspondence I feel you will have a good life.

        • Torre DeRoche  November 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

          It’s always good to be ready-ready-ready-ready ready to run (according to the Dixie Chicks.)

          Thanks for your comments!

  • Roving Jay  December 1, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Love the watercolour. What a great way to inspire you about your space. I keep taking my watercolours on trips with me, but never seem to get in the right headspace to put brush to paper…. one day.

  • Joe  December 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Torre
    As soon as I clicked this post my first question was surely she must need internet to work though, how can she live there!?
    Lesson learnt – hilltops are the way to go!
    I’ll be in koh tao in january to do a scuba diving course + some blogging, might look for a bungalow myself 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  December 24, 2012 at 12:55 am

      Nice, Joe! Yes, my reception must have something to do with the hill. It’s weird—the 3G card doesn’t work nearly as good elsewhere, including Bangkok. It seems I’m in the only 3G sweet spot in Thailand!

  • Jessica Hill  February 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

    What a brilliant idea! I found your blog by searching for exactly his, a beach bungalow to turn into a writing retreat. Might I ask the name of this place? Do they have a website? Which side of the island is it on? I’ve been to Koh Tao before, so I’m really looking forward to returning and staying for a while.

    Are you still there?
    Thanks for your help!

  • Phuket Budget Accommodation Patong  June 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Why users still use to read news papers when in this technological globe the whole thing is presented
    on web?

  • Shaun  July 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    What would you say the total cost was once you pay electricity and buy food etc. Like for example I always wanted to get away to a place like this, and if I had $50 a day, could this easily cover all my expenses?

  • Radu from Bucharest  November 24, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Nice, any discount for 6 month?

  • Armando Moreno  January 7, 2014 at 2:02 am

    Hi, my name is Armando, I’m looking a cheep Bungalow for a couple months.
    Can you give me info.

    Thank you

  • Jason Rydberg  April 6, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    hello! I would very much like to get some contacts to your beautiful bungalow. I would like to live like that for at least one year.
    so I was wondering:
    what area is it in?
    can i buy or do i have to rent?
    are There more kind of houses in the area you can rent / buy?
    mail address and numrer or website to those who rent out?
    thanks in advance / jason

  • Abdullah  May 21, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    If your interested in doing a good deed I have something you are in a uniquely good position to do. A while back I got sick and now I’m sicker than anything. Can’t eat drink most days and am simply a burden to all that I love at this point. I want to take what I have get a cheap beach hut just to lay my head and nothing else so I can die with dignity and on a beach instead of in cold harsh London. If you could just tell me what’s what I would really bet in your debt. And no the Dr’s can’t help further so I won’t need treatment just a beach to sit on. Thanks so much and I hope that the house warming efforts are going well 🙂

  • preeth  August 19, 2014 at 6:16 am


    i am very much interested to visit your place , planning to come there on first week of October, pls send me the details to my email address

    thanking you

  • brian  October 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    we want to stay on koh tao for a month from Dec. 5 to jan 5. How do we find this little gem? any other leads to reasonable monthly rental for a bungalow there would help much! This will be the launch of our permanently nomadic lifestyle! Sold the house, quit the jobs, dumped the kids, smashed the cat, sold the dog for medical experiments…..wheeeeeee!

  • Andy Chilcott  December 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    That hut looks great and the location and views look fantastic! Are there any more huts like that or is it a one off? I am looking to escape the rat race next year,
    I have been planning and saving for 10 years now and have the idea to live somewhere in Asia in a hut with a little motor scooter to get around on while possibly doing a bit of English teaching work as extra income.
    I love the idea of living the simple life out of the rat race. Would appreciate your advice? I spent a year in Thailand in 2003/4 and fell in love with the place. I am now looking for the perfect spot in a peaceful environment to gather my thoughts and detox my mind from the material world.

    Good luck 🙂

  • johnny kinney  December 30, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Came across your story. Amazing! I’d love to see the renovation pictures. My girlfriend and I are looking to travel and stay at a location just like yours. Any suggestions or help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Garryck Davies  February 25, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Hey! I know this article is a couple years old, but I was wondering if you had any information on how I could rent this place for a few months. I know this is a weird request but I’m super interested in staying in Thailand for cheap for the summer.

  • Mario hompson  May 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi There

    Sounds like you had an awesome adventure. I am planning a 6 month trip to Thailand myself and absolutely love where you stayed. Do you have a contact number for a person I can contact?

    Many Thanks

  • Megan  August 7, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    I’m in Railay, Thailand right now, looking for the perfect spot to write. This post was hilarious and relatable!!


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