How I Book Hotels on the Road – Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel in Phuket, Thailand
03.02.2016 - by wanderlustaddiction
One of the things that comes with living, working, and traveling abroad is getting very comfortable surviving out of a suitcase. As part of that, you are likely to become savvy at making the most of hotel stays, adjusting plans or making them last minute, and finding the most value for your money.
Living out of a suitcase has earned me elite status with Hilton Honors, Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). While I certainly enjoy the loyalty perks of staying at 5* international hotel chains, I have a very diverse taste in places to lay my head. I probably get the most excited about finding a lessor known, good value boutique hotel (like Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel in Phuket), but I don’t rule out stays at hostels and backpacker joints either.
On my most recent trip to Asia, after a few days in Taiwan, I rerouted at the last minute to spend a few days on Thailand’s sunny and popular island of Phuket. As tends to be the norm for me, the morning of my flight, I began surfing the internet from my smartphone for a place to stay. I generally use TripAdvisor or LonelyPlanet to identify well rated and good value last minute deals.
On TripAdvisor, finding a last minute deal is as simple as searching for the location and dates I have in mind.
I generally book only the first night or two for flexibility. This gives me the option to negotiate room upgrades or direct booking discounts by extending. In this example, a search of the entire Phuket Island returned 695 hotels, ranging from $10-1500 USD a night. Using the TripAdvisor filter function, I then reduced the selection to 103 hotels by limiting Price to $50-100 USD. Next I reduced the count even further to only 63 by limiting Traveler Rating to 4.0/5.0 or better. One of TripAdvisor’s benefits is how it orders properties based on their ranking. While I don’t know the specifics of how they weight different factors, they do a good job of helping me prioritize. In this case, of 63 potential properties, I focused on about the top dozen to review in more detail. Before diving into the most recent reviews and pictures of the top properties, I throw out any that have limited reviews. This is a personal preference, which is likely due to a risk tolerance I have developed over my travels. My experiences have shown me, that generally my perspective and the perspective of a single reviewer are unlikely to be similar. This is also why I pay more attention to the distribution of reviews than I do the outliers.
In this way, I stumbled across Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel in Patong, currently number 11 of 298 hotels in Patong with a 4.5/5.0 rating over 107 reviews, and $50/night price tag. I am glad I did, as my personal review for this property is a 5.0/5.0, and I’ll be recommending it to friends who enjoy good value boutique hotels or motorcycles as much as I do.
Check out reviews for Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel on TripAdvisor.
I tend to place more weight on traveler photos than management photos, because unless I’m showing up with status or on assignment, I’m not likely going to stay in a staged room nor see it in HDR thru a super wide angle lens.
The selection of pics showed themed rooms and grounds with a modern and clean feel. The property looked very photogenic as well, which is a unique plus for me.
Next, I had a look at the recent reviews. Another good sign was the fact that the last nine reviews were made in the past couple of weeks. I believe this not only means the reviews are more relevant (hotels can change over time – facilities age, management teams and ownership can turn over), but also that travelers are excited to share their thoughts after a stay, which in my experience is almost always a good sign for a well rated hotel. Of the most recent reviews, I found several excellent titles:
- “Amazing concept hotel… A must try.”
- “Best place in Phuket.”
- “Fantastic hotel with a difference.”
- “Heaven in Asia for all motorcycle enthusiasts.”
Pay close attention to review titles. These are exactly the sort of titles you want to find. The hotel obviously left an impact on these customers to get this sort of descriptive and emotive review using only the short TripAdvisor character allotment. The sort of review titles to be more wary of generally look like “Great Hotel” or “Nice Stay” or “Will Stay Here Again.” I believe that no two 5.0/5.0 reviews are created the same. Some describe hotels that offer a nice stay while others describe hotels that offer an experience. For my money, I prefer the latter.
That was it. I booked straight away.
Now, based on my stay, Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel is a 5.0/5.0 property and one I would recommend to family and friends looking for a unique experience.
Assuming you are visiting Patong, it is really a must visit hotel if you have any affinity to motorcycles, sports cars or mechanic shops. The entire property is filled with unique art or repurposed shop equipment. The grounds are beautiful in their own way and tucked away from the busy street. There is a shaded pool, restaurant, and bar. You will also find a car and bike shop on location, which affords opportunities to drool over high end sports cars and tricked out motorcycles. Unlike a shop however, the rooms are all brand new, modern, and super clean. They come with an in room safe, extra amenities like dental kits, and even umbrellas. The AC works well and next day laundry is cheap, unlike some hotels of this caliber. The general atmosphere is also excellent and energetic, from the themed rooms and grounds, to the good tunes, and even to the occasional bike rumbling into the shop. The staff is very friendly, even though some speak varying degrees of English. I enjoyed all the Thai meals I ate while there, but they do have an international menu as well. All things considered, this property is incredibly good value, and I expect it will climb even higher on the TripAdvisor ranks.
For me, my stay was memorable, and staying here is a guaranteed win if you are looking for atmosphere and action. Probably the biggest factor in choosing this hotel however is the location. For example, if you are looking for a quiet beach resort or villa tucked away on a remote stretch of sand or in a calm neighborhood… you aren’t looking for a hotel in Patong. I found Patong to be crowded, overly developed, and thriving with tourists – but with that comes plenty of souvenir shops, shopping, tour agents, restaurants, beach bars and night life. If that’s what you are looking for, put this hotel at the top of your list.
A couple of side notes on my strategies in practice on this example…
Unfortunately for me, the strategy of only booking a night or two didn’t work this time… for good reason, as the hotel was fully booked for the following nights after my arrival. Of course, as much as I liked this hotel, I certainly enjoyed moving to the #1 TripAdvisor rated resort in Rawai on the southernmost tip of the island.
It may also be worth mentioning that not having a specific itinerary allowed me to widen my search across the entire island and really optimize on value. I am not always interested in value, but sometimes in amenities or location, so my filtering method may be different in those cases.
Also, if I’m looking for value in the five star category vs a boutique hotel, I typically will book on Priceline or Hotwire with the help of betterbidding.com (they have a very detailed and useful strategy description on their site). Doing this means I may forfeit my member benefits but save up to 60% off the room rate, a substantial amount of money for a five star property.
I staid in Phuket for a total of five nights. I booked three hotels I visited the day of or night before using the method described above:
Nicky’s Handlebar Hotel (Patong, $50)
TripAdvisor: 3 Star, 4.5/5.0, #11 of 298
Good for: unique feel, motorcycle enthusiasts, great on site restaurant and bar, nearby nightlife, souvenirs and big crowded beaches, proximity to day trips and tour agents
Navatara Phuket Resort (Rawai, $112)
TripAdvisor: 3.5 Star, 5.0/5.0, #1 of 38
Good for: Honeymooners, free shuttles and hotel car transportation, quick and easy access to some of the best sunset spots in Phuket, lounging by the pool, local life and restaurants
Holiday Inn Resort (Mai Khao, $157)
TripAdvisor: 4 Star, 4.5/5.0, #7 of 10
Good for: IHG Upgrades to Executive Private Pool Suites, quiet beachfront access, romantic and kid friendly beach restaurants, beautiful beach bar and pool, resort centered stays, distance to Phang Nga and the Phuket International Airport
Have some tips or questions for me? Please feel free to share.