You know that feeling, waking up in stark fear when you realize you’re not in your own room, frentic and confused in a strange space. “Where am I?” – you ask yourself. The room is smaller, the sheets aren’t yours and as your eyes adjust to the darkness of the night, the silhouette of foreign objects sends a bolt of panic into your eyes. It’s as if someone just rudely awakened you in your comatose state with a cold bucket of trepidation. Deer, meet headlights. All this in 10 seconds or less, before you realize that you’re on holiday and you’ve just woken up in a hotel room. Phew!
My sentiments exactly at 6am this morning, when I woke up in Ban Saalay boutique guesthouse in Chiang Mai, starring up the ceiling from a four post bed with beige curtains drawn wide on each side, like permanently looking through framed windows. An odd thing happens when you lay in bed, waiting for your consciousness to set in. Your mind starts to wander. You develop a one way dialogue. Why do they bother putting these decorative curtains around the bed poles? To keep the mosquito out perhaps, cos by golly there’s a lot of them mozzies around here! But wait, there’s no covering at the roof of the bed. I start imagining myself in a cocoon – even with the curtains drawn from each side, the wretched blood-suckers will still get to me by merely free falling from the top like unicef boxes dropping down a dessert island – feed reversal. In my state of inertia I come to the conclusion that the bed post curtains are simply decorative but dysfunctional, like a strip of throw over on the bed, too small to even keep a chihuahua warm.
In years of traveling, I’ve slept in hotel rooms, resorts, beach shacks, airports, busses, trains, B&B’s and a love hotel (once by grave mistake). The Palace Hotel of Sun City in South Africa is by far one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of staying in. The bathroom was twice the size of the room, fully equipped with a flat screen tv, phone, tub, day bed and a rainshower! Don’t get me wrong, while I do appreciate the occasional 5 star hotels, I don’t consider myself particularly too fussy. Where rooms are concerned, I’ve developed a protocol I use every time I check in – hot water, hair dryer and hygiene. Those are my essential 3H’s.
To me, a “good” hotel isn’t about the thread count of the sheets, the size of the room, the view or having brand-name shampoo in the bathroom. Other than sleeping and showering, I don’t spend a whole lot of time in hotel rooms – unless I’m down with a bad case of food poisoning in Jakarta. I don’t mind sharing a bathroom with all the people on a floor as long as its clean and the toilet seat isn’t left up when I go to pee at 3am. I hate seating on any form of liquid, especially when it belongs to a stranger. I know what you’re thinking, “Only if it belongs to a stranger? That’s an odd exception!” But when you’re sharing a single loo with 15 backpackers on King Street, the heart of Sydney’s red light district circa 2002, and find yourself sitting on something warm and sticky, you make like a man on fire and douse yourself in water like your life depended on it.
While you recoil from that last statement, let me also confess that I am not a big fan of “Breakfast included”. I’m not keen on paying 18 dollars more for “free” breakfast when I can stroll down the street and eat with the locals. I can do without a mini fridge, hangers, sewing kit and hotel stationary if it means more money saved to spend in the city. Every minute/dollar I spend on nice toiletries is time away from drinking Mojitos at Blah Blah Bar. One major pet peeve I have is when fellow travelers whine about unnecessary amenities. “What?? No cable tv?! What am I supposed to do? Flick through 4 channels in a foreign language?” Since when were you in Thailand to watch TV? Unless you’re room bound in Jakarta, hurling into a bedside bin for 2 consecutive days, you have no reason to pine over HBO.
With the exception of an un-refundable web booking for called Rothman Hotel in the back alleys of Malate Manila, you shouldn’t wish for room slippers. Notice how I italised “Hotel“? Its a sarcastic analogical reference of my grinding teeth, having realized within the first 5 minutes that I have been gravely deceived by the 3.5 star rating of whoever owned that wretched place. You can feel a film of grime from the yellow mustard carpet that has somehow survived the 80’s and multiple missed ejaculations, times like this you you start to notice the absence of little things you take for granted. Cushioned slippers with rubber soles never played such importance till the “Rotten Hotel”. I had to perform gymnastic tricks from the bed to the loo, jumping over landmines of bacteria to avoid skin on carpet contact. Note to self: being ranked #15 out of 92 hotels in Manila by Tripadvisor.com doesn’t make it true. Pubic hair on the sheets and cockroach scented bathroom – by far my worst experience – ever. It desperately needs a convention of maids to check in, and in Philippines, there’s just no excuse for the lack of!
So where does this rant leave us? I guess with all things travel related, there’s just no guarantee that the flight will turn up on time, that your checked in luggage will arrive with you (touch wood!) or that hotel is worth its penny. All I can say is, when all else fails, just count your blessings that you have a barf bucket handy, water to wash off a stranger’s pee and the brevity of having to sleep in someone else’s baby juice.