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’.
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.
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:
“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?
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.