What To Expect
Booking a 5-star hotel in the U.S. or Europe is pretty straightforward: you pay for the best, you expect the best, and nine times out of ten, you get the best.
Luxe accommodations in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Dubai are also a surefire bet – in fact, a night at Singapore’s Fullerton Bay Hotel is likely to make even the swankiest New York penthouse pale in comparison.
But what about 5-star hotels in places like Nepal, Cambodia, and Vietnam?
If you have a trip planned to a so-called ‘developing’ nation, you’re probably wondering if the word “luxury” will get lost in translation.
You might score a fantastic villa with every amenity imaginable for an eighth of the cost of what you’d pay back home.
Or, you could end up shelling out for a lackluster 5-star imposter that doesn’t begin to make the grade.
Here’s what to look for when booking luxe accommodations in decidedly non-luxe parts of the world:
Go Big or Go Home
In Vietnam, it’s not difficult to find a clean, decent hotel room for $10-$15/night. Moving up from there, you enter a strange no man’s land of midrange accommodation that, for the most part, aren’t much better than a $15 room. There’s no point in paying $30, $60, or $100/night for the exact same accommodations whitewashed with an extra coat of paint.
However, don’t let the midrange rip-off’s fool you into believing Vietnam lacks luxury. For those willing to pay, resorts like the award-winning Nam Hai Hoi An on the Central Coast offer all of the requisite 5-star amenities and then some: beachside villas so expansive they create a villa-village larger than the neighboring city of Hoi An; private butlers and tuk tuk drivers to cart you around the massive grounds; palm tree-lined saltwater pools adjacent the ocean, and extensive vegetable gardens tended by private Vietnamese chefs.
A beachside villa starts at around $500/night, or you can take a dip in your own private pool starting around $750/night (note that prices can double or even triple during “high season”).
Check Your Expectations
When booking luxe accommodation in a country like Cambodia, it’s important to check your expectations – not in terms of 5-star service, but in terms of available amenities.
While Vietnam has ample coastline to play with, a city like Siem Reap has to make do with what it has and what it is – a quaint river town with a layout and infrastructure that encourages hotels to build up, not out.
The result can be seen in 5-star hotels like The Privilege Floor, a high-rise in Siem Reap that makes up for what it lacks in oceanfront with unparalleled personal service. Guests enjoy airport pickup, a private driver throughout their stay, off-site tour bookings and reservations, and that infamous Cambodian friendliness.
But instead of private pools, there’s just one main pool area. Instead of lush garden strolls, you’ll be much more likely to stay inside to avoid the heat and mosquitoes.
While it may not be the resort destination of your dreams, a 5-star hotel in Cambodia is sure to please – especially with a price tag starting at just $250/night.
Know When to Throw In the Towel
Sometimes you just have to settle for “pretty good,” especially when traveling to places like Nepal. As one of the world’s poorest countries, it’s not easy to find the kind of 5-star luxe accommodations you may be accustomed to elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean you have to sleep in a dump – far from it. The Hyatt Regency Kathmandu is set on 35 sprawling acres complete with a spa, tennis courts, an expansive outdoor pool, and fine dining.
Rooms are clean and comfortable, but lack the amenities you’d expect from a five star rating. Instead of in-room Reiki treatments and a Vi-spring bed, you’re looking at Western basics like flat-screen TVs, WiFi, and walk-in showers. Keep in mind that what feels uber-basic to most luxe travelers is considered wildly luxurious in a poor country like Nepal.
Rooms at the Kathmandu Hyatt start at just $235/night.
When booking luxe accommodations in developing countries, always take the economy and the environment into account. Your Kathmandu hotel might have a gorgeous outdoor pool, but you’re not going to want to spend too much time outside in this smog-choked city. A Vietnamese resort in the northern part of the country will offer an entirely different experience – and a different price tag – than one in the Central Coast. Do your research beforehand so you’re not slapped with surprises at the front desk.
Wherever you book, it’s almost always possible to find 5-star accommodations. And what those accommodations lack in luxury, they’re sure to make up for with a seriously slashed price tag.
Rebekah Voss is an author, travel writer, and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com.