In places where we’re only staying a night or two (e.g. Abu Dhabi or Singapore) we’re going the “standard route” of using tripadvisor.com to separate the wheat from the chaff … and then book via kayak.com or with the hotels directly. Yeah, I know, tripadvisor has been in the news for manipulated reviews … and I’m sure it happens. Still, I think there is no other site to give you a better idea of what a hotel or guest house will actually be like.
In places where we plan to stay a bit longer (maybe a week or so), we are using airbnb.com. The basic idea is that people rent out part (or all) of their personal apartments or homes (sometimes vacation rentals) via the internet. The site has taken off like wildfire over the last year, and we have found it very useful. We’ve booked apartments in Bangkok and Istanbul, as well as a house in Ko Samui for a very good rate. Have a look … it might be perfect for you next vacation or weekend as well!