Plenty of articles have been written about the 10 top hotels in the world. But this article is inspired by the 10 best on the bottom price rung. Each not only is clean and comfortable but also offers exceptional hospitality. And all but one are priced at less than $3 a night, as of this writing. In addition, each offers something distinctive: a spectacular view, live orchids on the table, a library, or something even more surprising. Each may also better reflect the flavor of the country than would a luxury hotel. Hong Kong
For the best hotel view in Hong Kong, try the Youth Hostel on Mt. Davis. You may think there are no wide open spaces in this teeming city, but you're in for a surprise. The hillsides around this hostel are covered with low shrubs, oleander, and grass - not buildings. At night, you'll want to save some time just to take in the beauty of the lights of Kowloon, the bay, and the ships.
Established just six years ago, the Youth Hostel still looks fresh and new. The sheets are immaculate, the showers hot. Guests can borrow pans and dishes in the large kitchen to cook for themselves. But they'll need to set aside 20 minutes each morning for such chores as mopping or wiping tables.
The luxurious 1,000-bed Bando Youth Hostel in Seoul surely stretches the meaning of ``hostel.'' Rated the Everest of the rock-bottom group, it costs about $5 a night. Host to conventions, international sports groups, the Harvard-Radcliffe Symphony on tour, and individual travelers, it provides air-conditioned dormitory accommodations, a gift shop, a garden with umbrella-sheltered tables, and a gracious dining room. Korea has two other similar youth hostels, in Buyeo (with swimming pool), and Kyongju.
If you visit the artists' center of Ubud on the island of Bali, head down the road to the Monkey Forest. There, next to a wide rice field, you'll find Nani's, a ``homestay'' among homestays! Its units look as if they belong in a cozy motel, with their long, narrow porches furnished with chairs, tables, and thermoses of tea. Each room has a private bath with a mandi-style, slosh-the-water-over-your-shoulders-with-a-dipper tub. Included in the price is a breakfast of scrambled egg sandwiches, papaya, bananas with lime juice, and tea. Thailand
At the New Guest House in Chiang Mai, you'll find fresh bunches of purple orchids on your table each morning. The walls are festooned with plumes of river grass, hand-loomed, black-and-red Karen tribal jackets, bamboo fans, and rice paddy hats, not to mention a portrait of the Thai royal family. A menu printed in English lists foods visitors can enjoy - Muesli with fruit and honey and whole wheat bread with cheese, as well as tom yam, a Thai soup.
From here, three- to 10-day treks can be organized to visit the Akha, Lahu, and Meo peoples.
In the northwestern Chinese town of Kashgar, the Seman Hotel is the place to stay. Formerly a Soviet consulate, the hotel has extensive grounds, a curtained dormitory, and tables for letter writing and meals. Donkey-drawn carts with bells and flowered canopies wait at the front gateway to drive you to market, where you can buy fruits, vegetables, pilaf, honey ice cream, and bagels, or lumber, boots, horses, and sheep.
On the roof of the world, the Banak Shol Hotel in Lhasa is remarkable for its artistic interior. In this traditional stone structure, many rooms have exposed beams and central pillars painted with bright, stylized Tibetan flowers on a blue background. A wood fire heats water for thermoses and showers. In a small library, one finds books in English and other Western languages. The hotel, the first in Lhasa to be run privately, also rents bicycles and seeks suggestions from guests about how to improve its service.
Hassan is the staging area for trips to the exquisitely carved statues of the temples of Belur and Halebid, and to the Jain center in the Southwest. Sanman Hotel in Hassan is a rare find. Single rooms with adjoining showers are floored with beautiful slab stonework. A mosquito net drapes the bed like a canopy. A buzzer on the wall is used to signal for ``bed tea,'' a traditional concoction of half milk with cardamom or ginger, to be brought in. The hotel's restaurant is famous for its masala dosa, a soybean crepe filled with savory vegetables.
Along a narrow walkway in the ancient Swahili trading town of Lamu (where cars are prohibited), off Kenya's coast, the Salama Lodge offers visitors a chance to star-gaze. Its rooms, like most in Lamu, are two or three meters (6 to 9 feet) wide, determined by the length of locally grown mangrove poles that span the walls to support the ceiling. At night, society here moves upstairs to open rooftop restaurants that specialize in seafood. At the lodge, you can choose to sleep on the roof. In the morning, calls to prayer ring out from neighboring mosques in counterpoint to the neighborly greetings of ``Jambo'' or ``Salama'' from the islanders.
In La Paz, the Hotel Buenos Aires provides a fascinating window on the market life of the Aymara Indians. The hotel buildings, with their covered balconies, surround a square courtyard where the Aymaras unload vegetables. Full-skirted Indian women, some wearing hand-loomed shawls with an infant in the back, sell mounds of oranges, eggplant, potatoes, and tomatoes.
In the cool mountain village of Bontoc, north of Manila, the hotel of choice is the Happy Home, with a glass wall facing the boulder-strewn Bontoc River and mountains beyond. Within view of the hotel is the town of Samuki, where women weave on back-strap looms in the shade of their houses. Fantastic vegetables are served in steaming bowls in the first-floor caf'e. The pleasant owner, given encouragement, often joins guests to tell stories about the history and lives of the Bontoc people.