A Five Dollar Bungalow in Thailand – In Search of the Perfect Accommodation


accommodation for $5 a night

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?


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.

Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

  • Rona House June 20, 2012, 4:57 am

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

  • Christina June 20, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 8:01 am

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

  • Lindsey June 20, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 8:03 am

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

  • Cristina Garcia June 20, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 5:58 pm

    You are sooooo creative, love it!

  • Shanna Schultz June 20, 2012, 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, 8:07 am

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

  • tatiana June 20, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 8:10 am

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

  • Roxanne June 21, 2012, 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, 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, 8:56 pm

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

  • Hannah June 21, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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!!

  • Victoria June 30, 2012, 2:11 pm

    Hi Torre,

    I’m the one who asked to move in on Twitter!

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve added this posts to my lists of ‘Most excellent blog posts’ for June.


    Your designs are beautiful!


  • Vacay Girl July 7, 2012, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 9:27 pm

    Nice, any discount for 6 month?

  • Armando Moreno January 7, 2014, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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