Vanilla Place... I miss you already. I'm oddly homesick for a place that isn't even my home.
Every review written by a traveler to a new place differs in perspective. Depending on the type of person you are will depend on what type of experience you have. So, before I begin my review of the Vanilla Place I'd like to describe what kind of traveler I am. It won't be long I promise! :) Normally, when booking hotels overseas I look for three main things; location, cleanliness, and price. A bonus is if the owner(s) are helpful and friendly.
Oftentimes you will find that there isn't a lot of genuine 'help'. By that I mean, if you ask for a good restaurant sometimes you'll get a small discount card with a friendly smile and a "this is the BEST in [insert place]". Most of the time the hotel has an agreement with the restaurant, tour, so on and so forth and make profit off of tourists. Understandable, but if you are a foodie, you don't want to go to the inauthentic tourist restaurant or their cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters shoppe/restaurant.
With that said one would think Vanilla Place is trying to sell you on tours, restaurants, transportation, etc, but that isn't the case. Mr. Kem speaks very good english (which can be hard to come by) and is genuinely happy to help make your stay as enjoyable as possible. If you ask for a good restaurant he will ask you what kind of food you are looking for and will give you a plethora of options that are not near his guesthouse (so it's not advice based on proximity). If you ask for a tour he will set it up for you and discount it for you (which would be his commission, but he doesn't take it. This is so you can have a lower price). That seems a bit unreal, but the prices online and in the tour pamphlets you see will have much higher prices. He will give you recommendations for how much tuk tuks, song thaew (red trucks), and taxies will be because they always overcharge. He sets these up for you too! Any questions we had, he answered with a smile. Btw, he's a suuuuuuper cute old man.
Vanilla Place is also nicely located right by the night baazar where you can find goods and services. Think of one huge flea market of Thai products. It happens every night and you can get street food and walk through it at your leisure. So, if you're looking to save money on food, you can eat in the night baazar for cheap! Old town is a little bit farther away, but it's still in walking distance. I know a lot of people like to stay in or directly around Old Town, but it's really noisy and touristy. If you like that then cool. You'll also have to like the inflated prices for your room that you won't really even be in because you'll be out and about. Vanilla Place is nicely setup on the outskirts and it's very walkable.
When I booked it was 35 USD a night for a clean, small room with AC and wifi. Disclaimer: wifi works much better on the second floor and in the lobby.
Mr. Kem runs the Vanilla Place Guesthouse with Mrs. Kat his wife. She is also suuuuuper cute. Every time we came back to the hotel you felt like you were coming back home. They are very nice and genuine people who are trying make an honest living. They live on the lower level office floor so they are available 24/7. They really dedicate their lives to their guesthouse and it shows. Mrs. Kat even made us mango sticky rice for breakfast after she heard that we really enjoyed it. She made small individual mango sticky rice cups for us to eat the last two mornings before we left. You won't get this kind of sincere treatment in a commercial hotel. You normally get a sterile environment that lacks that warm feeling and sometimes being away from home you crave that comfort.
I was skeptical when I arrived. The lobby area looks like my grandmother and grandfather's house filled with trinkets and random items sprawled everywhere. However, again if you are looking for a budget hotel that is clean, where the people treat you well then you came to the right place. The interesting array of random wall art and trinkets add to this place's charm. You will not find a better budget hotel in the area where the owners are as helpful as Mr. Kem and Mrs. Kat. From the coke in the lobby, which was not sold for an inflated price like everywhere else (also sold to you on the honor system. You take one and leave money in the jar. How cool is that?) to the tours where Mr. Kem gave a discount (on the already discounted tours) so his guests could have a good price and a fantastic stay/experience.
The rooms were cleaned everyday and restocked with necessities (fresh towels, toilet paper, water, etc.) Two ladies who they contract out through a business take care of certain job responsibilities such as breakfast, clean up, and room cleaning. They are not the most updated rooms, but they are CLEAN. In my opinion, I don't see why you would pay hundreds of dollars for a room when you are hardly in it. I slept and showered in the room and left. It's all about traveling on a budget. I like to spend money on experiences rather than unnecessary luxuries.
I know it sounds silly, but leaving Vanilla Place I felt a little teary. True, a part of our adventure was coming to a close, but it was more than that. Here we were thousands of miles away from home and we happened to have been fortunate enough to have found another place that felt like home to us. You can't fake warm smiles and true genuine traits.
Mr. Kem waved us down a red truck to take us to the airport and negotiated a fair price for the distance so we didn't spend extra money. Mrs. Kat walked us out and helped with our luggage. I wanted to give her a big hug, but I wasn't sure if that was something that Thai people customarily did so I put my hands together and bowed and said goodbye in Thai. Thanking both of them for the conversation, service, and overall genuine niceness that they gave us for the week we stayed. They both saw us off and waved goodbye until we could only see a faint blur of them in the distance. We sure will miss them and Vanilla Place. :)
Feel free to email me with questions! I'd be happy to boast about the incredible service I received here for ONLY 35 bucks a night! You won't find quality accommodations like this in the States for this kind of money. Book soon! Rooms go fast during high tourist season and festival/holiday times.
See Compass Restaurant and Bakery review (located super close to Vanilla Place)
Vanilla Place's Website
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7/22/2014 03:39:36 am
You're very welcome Mr. Kem! Christy and I are trying to figure out how to come back to Chiang Mai for a whole summer. Hopefully we will see you soon! :)
Jenny and Janet
7/22/2014 10:22:21 am
Khun Kem and Kat and Vanilla Place....we miss you so much! Everything that is said about you is so true and we hope to come back to Thailand sometime and see you!
7/21/2014 12:45:15 pm
True! True! and True! I stayed at Vanilla Place 3 years ago and everything you said rings true to today. Mr. Kem and Ms. Kat made me feel at home at Vanilla Place and in the city of Chiang Mai. So when I cam back 2 years later I had to go visit my Thai godparents. (And Happy the dog). BTW ..Excellent review. :)
7/22/2014 03:41:55 am
Thanks David! It was such a lovely experience. My friend and I really fell in love with Chiang Mai and the people.
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"Ohhhh the places you'll go…" Growing up all I ever wanted to do was help people, learn, and travel. I'm lucky. I get to do all of those things and more.
This is just some food from some places I've been.