If you are booking in advance through Agoda or Booking for Mandalay, stop reading here. This is a guide written for people visiting Burma in low seasons (March – October) and able to just walk on up and get a room for the night without much of a problem. If you are visiting in high season, I can't advise on the best methods for securing accommodation without getting ripped off, my advice would be to not visit during the high season and instead travel earlier or later.
High seasons in Burma are not for budget travelers, if you have a lot of money and can afford a tour, then paying $50+ a night and $100+ per day on a tour guide, won't affect your travel arrangements, will it?
As a budget traveler, I advice not booking in advance through Agoda or Booking.com. Every other country I would recommend booking in advance, as you can make a saving and get a guaranteed reservation, but this isn't Thailand, nor is it Vietnam. This is Burma and walking around for half hour or so can save you a lot of money and ensure you get the best value for your money. This is something I have never tried anywhere in the world, but in Burma we had a system. Cristabel would sit in a cafe and watch the bags, and I would wander around for 40 minutes looking at all the hotel options available to us. It was a great idea, as it meant I could see the rooms before I paid any money out AND we saved a ton of money by getting a good mid range standard at on average $25-$30 a night.
Mandalay in peak season (between November and February) is particularly hard to get good quality accommodation. We have heard rumors that hotels are booked up 100% and people end up staying in Monasteries and local cemeteries.. But all that is slowly changing, with an additional 20 licensed hotels opened in 2013 so far alone and plenty of unlicensed hotels popping up everywhere you may just find yourself spoilt for choice in the low season.
There is just one caveat this year you need to be aware of. In December 2013 the SE Asia Sea Games is being held for the very first time in Myanmar. During this time, you should avoid the country as you will find yourself faced with below par accommodation choice and a doubling of hotel room rates. I find it highly likely if you are a backpacker, you might find a few nights without any accommodation at all!
We try to aim for mid range accommodation when we can afford it and Mandalay has some fairly good mid range choices (when you look around). Most of the hotels you see in guidebooks and on Trip Advisor are normally the first to book up. I found that the recommendations in the Lonely Planet guidebook were the most expensive and lowest quality. Fuck knows what the idiots at Lonely Planet were doing whilst they were travelling here! As an example, their ‘Top Pick' hotel in the 2009 edition is now at around $50 a night in low season. And the manager there is honest about the fact in peak season, he charges whatever the fuck he wants based on how much money you look like you have! Great pick Lonely Planet as usual!!
Well we walked all around downtown Mandalay and found some great budget friendly accommodation that offers comfort, along with AC, 24 hour electricity backed by generator, WiFi, TV and hot water. Below are some great choices between the $25 – $40 bracket. In many cases, adding more $$ per night doesn't mean the rooms are much nicer, maybe you get a little more room, but that's about it.
OUR FAVOURITE: Bonanza Hotel ($28 Double)
Corner of 82nd & 28th Street, nice place with OK room sizes and breakfast included.
Universal King Hotel ($40 Single / $50 Double)
No.176, 82nd Street. Overly expensive but reasonable accommodation and interiors. Good as option if everywhere else is full and you need a place for 1 night to get your bearings.
Universe Hotel ($40 Double)
No.215, 83rd Street – This would be my pick if they were $5 cheaper. It has a balcony and large spacious wooden floor rooms. Shame it's a little out of our price range.
Unity Hotel ($30 Single / $35 Double)
Corner of 27th & 82nd Street – On the pricier side but if this is the one I remember it has great views of the city with 11 floors in total. Lots of rooms, so should have availability. More like a standard hotel than most in Myanmar.
Garden Hotel ($25 Double)
No. 174, 83rd Street – This place you will see promoted by the touts waiting at the Airport or Bus Stations. It looked reasonable but for $28 you can stay at Bonanza and it's much better.
Royal Guesthouse ($17 Double (Shared Shower) / $22 Double En-suite)
No. 41, 25th Street – Cheapest option I came across and their rooms go as low as $17 for double with shared bathroom. It's OK but a little small and oddly laid out in the rooms. Good cheap and clean option for budget travelers.
New Star Hotel ($30 Double)
82nd Street (Between 27th & 28th) – Like most hotels in this area, aimed at Chinese tourists mostly. Simple but clean rooms. No problems if you are OK with rooms on smaller size.
SECRET FIND: Rich Queen ($25 Double)
87th Street, from Bayintnaung Road walk south and then you will see it down an alley / back street on your way, less than 5 minutes walk. This is the only place I didn't see myself but got recommended by someone staying there. Rooms are better than Bonanza apparently and breakfast is massive buffet style spread. Best of all it's even cheaper than Bonanza.
I took a photo of the business cards should you want their phone numbers and more details..
If you are interested in learning more about backpacking Myanmar on a budget, read our other Myanmar backpacking guides.