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Winging your Hotel: How far would you walk to find Mr. Right?

Cambodia fashion gowns

Window shopping in Phnom Penh: How far would you go?

With budget hotels in Southeast Asia,  you never know what to expect.

Sometimes, you stumble upon a princely palace that’s cute, charming and cheap, all in one.

Other times, a first impression doesn’t always do a place  justice and you can’t always tell a bargain when you see it.

It’s like that first 15 seconds of surprise, when you meet a blind date in person and discover he’s mildly errrugly or just not your type. It kicks your *shock* notch up a little. But maybe after 15 minutes after the initial stun wears off, you warm to him; find he’s actually a nice guy.  But do you dream about a second date?  Not necessarily.

You still need perspective… to shop around a bit.

Finding the right budget hotel can feel like searching for Mr. Right

We all make mental checklists of what we think is our standard and ideal. They’re romantic wish lists we’d like the Santa Claus of life, love and luck to fulfill. This was my Mr Right wishlist for Phnom Penh budget hotel search. It’s not a lavish or outlandish wish list, but one I thought an acceptable standard to start from :

•   cool interior design and cheerfully painted walls
•   unique character with an air of brevity and hearth
•   well-maintained and clean rooms, which don’t appear worn by other travelers (NO stains, soggy mattresses, personal hairs left behind, or human smells)
•   a welcome cafe, where I could meet other travelers
•   bright and honest-looking front desk staff with knowledge of tourist attractions
•   safe and secure

My driver dropped me at CapitolGuesthouse as I requested (photo below).

 

Capitol Guesthouse Phnom Penh

Capitol Guesthouse Phnom Penh (Yellow building)

A young, stiff Khmer woman at the front desk greeted at me as if I were both, business and bother. No smile. Behind her was an aged wall with a surveillance TV.

The building and rooms felt impersonal, basic and a bit dull. It echoed ‘bland’ and similar to booking a spot at a YMCA, I felt like I was standing in a domicile for single, old white men with sketchy purposes. Hardly young, vibrant and sexy.

It still had some things going for it though. It offered seemingly clean rooms (the cleaning folk were actively going down the hallway) with lots of light and a bathroom ensuite, a street level restaurant that was reminiscent of a greasy frying pan and conveniently, a bus company. Moreover, the location was central.

It wasn’t a huge turn-off. Just  not a turn-on. And it didn’t fulfill my ideas of what my Mr. Right looked like.

I decided to try my luck on the streets a little longer.

 

Window shopping and dating

I walked up and down streets and through crowded morning street markets. I pointed at my guidebook a lot to ask for directions. I walked in and out of recommended hotels and random neighborhood ones. They quoted either, prices too high or rooms too low. Fifteen minutes turned into 45 minutes, then into  two hours

phnom penh streeets

phnom penh streeets

 

Six guesthouses and hotels later, I was tired and whiny. My feet hurt. Being a sherpa to a big backpack and daypack, which felt like it was stuffed with rocks (aka my tech equipment), I was starting to huff and puff. I’d never walked so much just to find a right hotel in my life! I was starting to feel ridiculous.

Yet nothing was impressing me. It was like going on a series of dates that didn’t do anything more than make me depressed; and yet, I couldn’t stop. Not as long as hope existed. I wanted charming, forthright, affable, warm. Instead, I was meeting depressed, too touristy, loud, lonely or sketchy.

Then I came upon a backpacker’s guesthouse! It wore the charm of color, a relaxed outdoor patio cafe decorated with potted plants for soothing conversations and dining. It had a used book stand to trade books. The Khmer staff looked young and hip; the owner, friendly and inviting.  I felt excited hope. This might be my Mr. Right!

Well, it had one catch. There was only one bed left and it was in a dorm, shared with female NGO volunteers. The room was left in disarray with vomitous backpacks. Bras, towels and clothes were tossed shamelessly onto ruffled bed sheets or hung on anything that presented …a hook. There was one standing rotating K-mart fan to push the heat and smell of toe jams out the windows.

This Mr Right came with one big burping flaw I couldn’t tolerate…  the baggage of piggy roommates.

 

When is the hotel search over?

As I walked away from the guesthouse, that ticking clock feeling was as palpable, as my dripping sweat. Was I being too picky? Maybe I was looking for something that didn’t exist.

The 11 am sun was beating down, making my search unpleasant. I needed find a place soon. A decision was imminent. Do I  continue my search for a Mr. Right… or do I settle for a Mr. Right Now?

And then I received a sign.

Squirt.

The sensation signaled wide-eyed panic. Was that just…?

Squirt.

Inconvenient moments happen in travel. …Like getting your period, when you’re strapped to a heaving backpack and every crevice of you is sweating from the early afternoon heat.

Perhaps stress brings these moments on.

…Or when you’re wearing thin cloud blue fisherman’s pants!

I ducked into a motorcycle servicing shop to rest my pack and ask for their restroom. The kind Khmer folk were happy to let me use their facilities and “refresh” myself. I stood for 15 minutes in front of their fan taking the heat and  my disappointing options in.

That was it! End of the hotel search.  I turned around and traced my way back to Capitol Guesthouse.

 

Second Chances: When ‘simple’ fits

We always think we need a lot to be happy and content. The reality is, we just need a few things that we can’t live without.

For me, Capitol was that second date you take, because you don’t know what you want and you’ve exhausted your options. Luckily however, it made me realize what I actually need for fufillment:

Cleanliness, a simple non-descript room with a firm bed, ample light and a great price….And if it throws in a private bathroom and free Wi-Fi and a cheap tour bus agency downstairs, that’s a helluva bonus!

My cost? …Four dollars a night! $2 extra if I wanted air-conditioning. You can’t beat that kind of bargain!

I actually had everything I needed and more than I asked.  Due to Capitol Guesthouse, I actually extended my stay in Phnom Penh longer than I imagined. I wouldn’t have imagined it judging from appearances, but my room gave me much contentment. It was an inexpressible feeling. I had fallen in love!

I found my Mr. Right.

 

capitol gh room

My room had high ceilings and a fan

capitol gh room

Bathroom is actually more slightly larger than it appears.

 

How far would you go to find your Mr. Right in a budget hotel?

 

Capitol Guesthouse (website)
Capitol Guesthouse (restaurant, tour agency and bus station)
#14Eo, Road 182
Sangkat Beng Prolit
Khan 7 January, Phnom Penh
tel: 012-548-409

Nearby budget hotels are: Pacific Hotel, Town View Hotel II

 

<< Are you a street-smart traveler or just travel-jaded? (Part I)

17 Comments

  1. Gray says:

    Fun post! Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t walk anywhere for a hotel. I wouldn’t dare take a trip without having my hotel(s) booked ahead of time, with the phone numbers for a couple of others as backups “just in case”. Now that I think about it, I think you have just summed up why I’m still single, Christine! LOL.

    • @Gray: LOL. Nothing wrong with preparation, Gray. That’s the smart backup plan you’re utilizing. Normally I would’ve prepared more if I had the energy and time, but in this case I’d planned to talk to travelers on the bus over to get recommendations; unfortunately, everyone just wanted to sleep! LOL. When you prepare in advance, you don’t have a lot of “misses” (or bad dates) when it comes to hotels. 😉

  2. $4 a night?!?!?! and clean? Sign me up 🙂

  3. I love to plan ahead and find my accommodation in time on line, but this isn’t possible all the time. In these occasions, I hate when I also have little time in place and waist part of it looking for the right hotel.

  4. Christine says:

    Then there are the times you let a pretty good place go and you come back to find someone else got the last room. What was the name of the place that had only the dorm bed?

  5. Cathy says:

    4 bucks a night?!? Damn, girl. You did find Mr. Right. Heck yeah!!!

    http://cathytrails.blogspot.fr/2012/05/gray-hues-of-nyc.html

  6. Michael says:

    I have a very short list of requirements for a hotel or hostel: it should be clean, near the city centre (in a safe location), and within the price range I’ve set as reasonable (according to its location such as city, town, etc). A fancy reception hall or the artwork hanging in my room is the least of my worries. I can also do without the candy on the pillow. Now, about finding Mrs. Right, that would be another list, a longer list….

  7. Dave says:

    Reading that was like looking in a mirror. I have vivid recollections of very long walks around Brasov Romania looking for a good place to stay. Only two party hostels. I kept searching between them. Found a little creepy old guesthouse but kept looking. Scared the heck out of a lady walking her son to school. I was drenched in sweat huffing and panting with a map. She ran away 🙁

    I stayed in a party hostel. It was the single worst post Spain hostel I staying in. So left next day with no choice but creepy old guesthouse. Turned out just to be lovely old Hungarian couple and I ended up staying an extra night.

    Sometime I guess we keep looking for something better and better and tire ourselves out. It’s human nature I guess to want the best. But sometimes the best is never ideal, yet the best option.

    Great couple of posts, it’s one of the reasons I list you as one of the best travel bloggers out there! You make it very, very real in your writing. Top stuff!

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