Renting a villa in Thailand shouldn't feel like water torture. And yet ... click-click-click can seem a lot like drip-drip-drip.
Instead? The best way we can think to do anything is (A) in a comfortable spot with (B) a good drink. Ideally with a dog for a pillow, but the details are up to you. In ten easy steps, here's how to enjoy your Thailand villa rental process – from start to finish.
How to rent a villa in Thailand
Villa-hunting tip #1As you start your search for a villa in Thailand, make sure to look for areas with sun and shade. This way, you can always enjoy time with your group – rather than your most burnable people having to hide inside all afternoon.
1. What size Thai villa?
What’s the purpose of your trip?
First, consider your group's needs, both in and out of your villa. Everyone has a preferred ratio of relaxing to sightseeing while on vacation, but if spending time together is a top priority, you’ll first want to make sure your villa has lots of communal living space – ideally a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces, that offer you the choice of sun, shade and air-conditioning. Don't overlook the necessity of air-conditioning in Thailand's tropical heat.
Villa-hunting tip #2Look for the holy trinity of space in your Thai villa ... sunny spots, shaded corners – and air-conditioning! If they all have ocean views – even better.
How big is your group?
How big is your group, and what’s the group composition? Rather than searching for a villa by total occupancy, it can be easier to search by beds and your group's sleeping configuration. If you have two couples of equal “mama bear/papa bear” status, you might want a villa with two master bedrooms.
Villa-hunting tip #3Some villas (including The Pool on the Hill) offer two master bedrooms – ideal if your group includes two couples or families. Your selection process will be easier as soon as you get specific with your bedroom requirements.
How much space do you need?
How much space – minimum – do you need in a villa? To start, we recommend getting some paper and writing down the members of your group and their bed/bath requirements for your villa in Thailand. For example:
Couple A – king bed, en-suite bathroom, prefer a bathtub
Couple B – king bed, en-suite bathroom
Couple C – king bed, en-suite bathroom, must be near Kids C & D
Kids A & B – twin beds or can share a king
Kids C & D – twin beds or can share a king, need a bathtub
Once you have this list, you will know at a glance if a villa will suit – and your search will be much quicker. While many parts of your Thai villa are “nice-to-have” extras, a good night’s sleep and your own bathroom are fundamental to a relaxing vacation.
Villa-hunting homeworkWriting down your space requirements as the first step helps you to see your requirements more clearly – especially if you're renting a villa with a group. In fact, it's crucial for visual people to avoid getting overwhelmed by choice.
Showers, bath tubs or both?
Who needs what in their bathroom? Ideally, everyone in your group would have their own en-suite bathroom. Does anyone in your group require a bathtub, or would they love an indoor/outdoor shower? Feel free to make your list more specific, or add a second column of “nice to have ______”.
What’s your preferred villa layout?
Again, consider your group’s requirements. Can your youngest and oldest relatives handle stairs? For example, at The Pool on the Hill, the first master bedroom and kitchen/living room are two separate buildings on the main living level, while the other four bedrooms are downstairs on the pool level.
Fun fact about villas in ThailandUnlike in Western homes, where the kitchen/living areas are downstairs and the bedrooms are upstairs, Thai villas are often a few small buildings in a walled compound or garden – sometimes on a few levels.
2. Your villa requirements?
Your “must-have” list
Now, we'll begin your “must-have” list for your Thai villa. Before you start looking at beautiful villa photos, recall your favourite moments from past vacations. Some of our personal highlights include:
Spontaneously cooking a huge group lunch during the most insane tropical rainstorm,
Playing Exploding Kittens for three hours straight,
Dancing to the entire One Direction catalogue (somehow the boys knew all the words?),
And – always – watching the sunset from the pool.
From those highlights, we know that we prefer a Thai villa with (1) a Western kitchen and indoor space to enjoy in bad weather, (2) shady outdoor areas that fit a group, (3) outdoor speakers, (4) sunset views and a pool big enough for our group.
Villa-hunting homeworkTaking your bedroom/bathroom list from above, add a list of 5-10 “must-haves” for your Thai villa. (Not to belabour the point, but make sure that air-conditioning is on your list!)
3. Where to stay in Thailand?
Koh Samui, Phuket or elsewhere?
Have you already chosen where in Thailand you’d like to stay? Koh Samui and Phuket are amongst the most popular for villa vacations in Thailand and will offer you a huge range of choices. (This post helpfully compares Koh Samui and Phuket).
Villa-hunting tip #4Koh Samui is much smaller than Phuket, but is still a direct flight from many Asian hubs including Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Getting here? Easy. Leaving? That's a bit harder...
Which beach or area?
Once you have a broad destination in Thailand, it's time to consider a specific area or beach. (For Koh Samui, see Where to Stay on Koh Samui). Note that, though it’s a small island, Koh Samui is easy to access directly from many international airports including Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. You can also catch a short connecting flight from Bangkok nearly every hour.
How to find a Thai villa on a budget?
Rent a villa in low season (on Koh Samui this is usually May/June and Sept through mid-Dec)
Consider a villa off the beach
Look at ferry-only destinations like Koh Phangan
Fly-to destinations in Thailand (like Koh Samui and Phuket) can be more expensive than ferry-only destinations (like Koh Tao or Koh Phangan). However, the pay-off is less time in transit and more time at your villa watching the sunset.
As an easy rule of thumb – expect to find lower villa rates at places only reached by boat. Less developed islands, like Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, have a small villa inventory and are popular for budget travellers on longer stays. Compared to Phuket or Koh Samui, such places often (but not always) offer fewer ‘First World’ amenities and more temperamental WiFi.
Villa-hunting tip #5May, June and September are a great time of year to find good villa rates on Koh Samui. This is low season for many villas but – unlike rainy season in October, November and part of December – you're likely to enjoy good weather and lots of sun.
4. Beach villa or hillside Thai villa?
Next, decide your location specifics: Your villa choices on any Thai island will be (A) beach or (B) hillside. The Pool on the Hill sits – surprise! – on a hillside, and we love its location for a variety of reasons:
Ocean views spanning Koh Samui’s entire north coast, across to Koh Phangan
A large variety of birdlife
Greater privacy – Thailand’s beaches are public. Unless the villa is in a secluded location, you might expect to share your view with passersby.
Villa-hunting tip #6Hillside villas in Thailand can mean better breezes, greater privacy and fewer mosquitoes than beach-front villas. Love the beach? If you’re an adamant beach bum and are tending towards a Koh Samui villa, we recommend reading The Koh Samui Guide to make sure you choose a beach that suits your preferences and personality.
Walking vs driving distance
Whether you choose a beach or hillside villa location, make sure to balance that decision with what’s nearby and whether you’ll need to (A) rent a car or (B) rely on drivers/taxis for transport. While we love our villa’s hillside location, it’s still walking distance to Choeng Mon Beach and nearby amenities including ATMs, pharmacies, bars and restaurants. (We prefer to drive – it’s hot! – but it’s a twelve-minute downhill walk to the beach and many guests choose to get around entirely on foot).
Airport proximity and local landmarks
Note that some of Koh Samui’s most remote villas can be an hour’s drive to/from the airport. If you have a short trip or a 6 am departure flight, you might want to focus on villas a short distance to the airport to make the most of your vacation. Apply the same principle to any sightseeing or shopping you want to do.
Hillside vs mountainside Thai villas
Many hillside villas are more accurately mountainside and require 4X4 transport. These would make an amazing away-from-it-all retreat for a group who never wants to leave the villa. However, you want to make sure your location expectations are accurate so you don’t go stir-crazy.
5. Select your dates
Your travel dates vs Thailand’s climate
Do you have specific dates or a range of options? In addition to checking the villa's booking calendar for availability, be sure to check your location against its climate over your travel dates.
Villa-hunting tip #7When do you want to come to Thailand? Koh Samui and Phuket, for example, are in different climate zones and don’t share the same rainy season.
Low, high and peak season rates
While Christmas and New Year are typically peak season for villas across Thailand, you might enjoy low season rates at different times of year on Phuket vs Koh Samui. This often indicates rainy season. (See this post about what to expect during the rainy season on Koh Samui). Note that some villas in Thailand have minimum stay requirements, especially over Christmas and New Years, when many villas require a 3- or 7-day minimum stay.
Villa-hunting tip #8Before booking your villa, be sure to double-check your dates against your flights. Make sure you’ve accounted for the international date line if you’re crossing it, and/or night flights with next-day arrival.
6. Your villa budget
Now’s the time to take a closer look at your budget. What's included in a Thai villa's rates? On the rates page for The Pool on the Hill, we try to spell out very clearly what you can expect to be included (and excluded) from the rates.
What to look for on the rates page of a Thai villa:
Are VAT (tax) and other fees, such as gratuities, included?
Is housekeeping included?
Is breakfast included?
Do you receive round-trip airport transfer?
Is WiFi free? (It’s 2018 – it better be!)
Are there any extra fees for electricity or gas?
What services incur an extra cost? (e.g. laundry, massage, yoga lessons)
Villa-hunting tip #9Some villas include all fees and taxes in their rates; some don't. To more easily compare Thai villas, it can be helpful to make an Excel spreadsheet. This way, you can compare like-with-like, e.g. villa base rate plus taxes, all in your preferred currency. If you hate math – it's really helpful to let Excel do the work.
Villa rates vs its location
While making your budget and reviewing rates, also keep a villa’s location in mind: if you need to take a twenty-minute taxi every time you want to buy more sunscreen, your transport costs could be significant.
7. How to find a villa in Thailand
Now you’re equipped to expertly search for your villa in Thailand, where to start? A quick Google search will bring you dozens of listing sites and thousands of options. By using the parameters and preferences above, you can easily filter out unsuitable villas to find a list of quality options – in under a minute.
Some sites we trust and use often for our own accommodation searches include:
Villa-hunting tip #10To avoid overwhelming yourself, aim for a maximum of ten potential Thai villas on your short-list. Instead of simply bookmarking your favourites, write down the ones that jump out – and a note about what distinguishes them. Otherwise? An hour from now, it will all be a beautiful blur.
Local villa agents
On Koh Samui, our villa – The Pool on the Hill – is managed by island experts Barefoot Luxury Villas. They offer service in a variety of languages and are based locally on Koh Samui. It's good to include at least one local agent in your villa search as they're likely to know the villa personally and will be able to answer your questions with firsthand knowledge.
8. Detailed villa comparison
With a list of ten or so Thai villa options, the fun part begins: dissection. Grab a notebook and dive into each villa to examine it in detail, and to compare it with others.
What does only this villa have?
What does this villa have that you won’t find elsewhere? At The Pool on the Hill, for instance, you get all the benefits of an eco villa: a fresh-water (chlorine-free) infinity pool, solar power back-up in case of a power cut, and filtered rainwater showers in all five en-suite bathrooms. Cue dancing lady emoji!!
Hidden Villa PerkThe infinity pool at The Pool on the Hill is freshwater – totally chlorine-free – and uses filtered rainwater. It feels like swimming in silk.
Double-check those 'sunsets'
Examine the photos and double-check those sunsets! Unless you’re a morning person, make sure that the sunset views are definitely sunsets (not sunrises!). Study the photos for what’s in the villa in terms of furnishing – look for comfy spots and places to relax in the shade.
Villa amenities and appliances
Take a detailed look at the amenities and appliances available to you at the villa. Is there a dishwasher? Air-conditioning? Who is on site and available in terms of staff? Can you book a private chef?
Hidden Villa PerksThe Pool on the Hill's kitchen features Siemens appliances, ice machine, espresso machine, gas and induction cooktops – and plenty of place to sit and wait for someone to feed you.
Are any extra perks provided?
For example, guests at The Pool on the Hill have access to a full concierge service including pre-stocking groceries, ordering rental cars delivered to the house, booking Thai massages and yoga lessons to enjoy on site, and much more.
Is anything against the rules?
While most rental agreements ask for common decency (and common sense), some Thai villas might have particular rules. For your safety, ours pertain to the safe use of the infinity pool – which ends in a good view and a steep drop. As The Pool on the Hill is an eco-villa, we also prohibit smoking anywhere in the house (and ask smokers to use the designated smoking area).
Villa-hunting tip #11Some villas in Thailand will have rules particular to the property – almost always to keep you safe. At The Pool on the Hill, a few safe conduct rules are in effect regarding the infinity pool (there's a steep drop on the other side). Oh – and no smoking!
Do you have unanswered questions?
If you have more questions specific to your group or requirements, make sure to read any FAQs in full. For example, our FAQs explain our no-smoking policy, our infinity-edge pool and give more detail about walking to the beach. If questions remain, get in touch with the owner or management company to find out more. You can email our management and concierge team here.
Check your villa's reviews
Finally, be sure to read any reviews of the villa and particularly note any objective remarks – for instance, the availability of shade at all times of day – and the variety of ways past guests have enjoyed the villa’s space and amenities.
"Swimming in the pool while enjoying cocktails is like something out of a movie. We will definitely be back to live the dream again." – a recent guest
9. Check the fine print
This is the boring step – so save it until you’re in a good mood. Head to the fine print of the villa or villas you’re considering and make sure you read and understand the booking process, including:
The booking deposit and associated terms and timing
How payment is made – whether through PayPal, bank transfer, money order or by credit card – and payment dates
The damage deposit and associated terms and timing
Any other fine print, fees or stipulations
Villa-hunting tip #12Don't forget to buy trip cancellation insurance: Crucially, check the cancellation policies and make sure to buy travel insurance with cancellation coverage for your villa booking specifically and Thailand trip generally. World Nomads and Travel Guard are popular policy providers (though neither covers ‘changing your mind’!).
10. Select your villa
The above detective work should have whittled your long list of Thai villa options down to a short few – ideally to just one! Congrats on all the hard work – it will soon pay off with a wonderful vacation. Have any more questions for us?