My first task was to book my accommodation in Siem Reap. I had originally planned on just turning up and trying my luck. However, I realized that might not be a wise idea considering I’ll be there during a holiday weekend.
I also changed my thoughts on how bargain-basement I wanted to go on my room.
In the initial stages of my trip planning I had stumbled across the “famous” $1 beds at Garden Village Guesthouse in the heart of town. These are nothing more than a bed covered with a mosquito net which seem to be along a heavily-traveled corridor and thus quite noisy and certainly a far cry from private. While I felt it would be akin to camping out at less than 30 baht per night, I began to feel that perhaps a private room might be better. Fan rooms at Garden Village start at just $3 (88 baht) so I briefly considered those.
I then began reading online reviews, primarily on Trip Advisor. The vast majority of these were overwhelmingly negative with complaints ranging from the noise (a rooftop restaurant stays open until very late), the thinness of the bamboo walls, and the filthiness of the bedrooms and bathrooms (bedbugs galore). Now, I’ve dealt with these types of things before and usually find a way to persevere and can put up with A LOT for such a low price. But what really swayed me to look elsewhere was the number of comments about the rudeness of the staff. As a former customer service professional, I’m often quite stressed by the lack of simple friendliness in Thailand’s retail ventures. I don’t want to experience the same on my holiday!
I ended up spending much of last night reading reviews of other Siem Reap guesthouses (on my tiny cell phone; frustrating because it won’t display many webpages due to “insufficient memory”. Sometime around dawn, I stumbled across Angkor Wonder Hotel (pictured above). They don’t seem to have their own website but there are reviews on many of the regional and international hotel-booking sites. Almost every review I read was extremely positive, to the point of gushing. I believe I only saw one or two less-than-positive comments and these were points that the guesthouse had no control over (city-wide power outage and the flooding of the river).
I decided to book right away. It took quite some time before I found one of the booking sites whose reservation form worked on my phone. As I got the payment page, I seriously didn’t think my card would work as I was using my Bangkok Bank debit card. These are issued without a name printed on them (well, “Preferred Banking Customer”) and the expiration date is always ten years or so in the future. Well, it worked a charm. The booking agency took my $4 (117.88 baht) deposit, I received a confirmation from the agency and an email from the owner of the hotel, and the amount was debited from my account at a slightly better exchange rate than I received at the bank last week.
So, I have my room reserved for three nights (and may extend one or two nights). I will need to pay the balance upon arrival – the cost of my fan room with double bed, en suite bathroom, cable TV (which I really don’t plan on using), free Wi Fi, etc. is still a really good deal at $8 per night (236 baht) and the location is convenient as well. But, most importantly, many reviews raved at how wonderful EVERYBODY on the staff is – from the owner (whose nickname is Mr. Why Not because this is his response to almost any request) with his wife and two young girls, all the way down to the tuk-tuk drivers which his employs. He pays his drivers a salary (having been a tuk-tuk driver once himself) and, thus, they pretty much leave you alone giving a respite from the constant pestering these guys give you elsewhere in Siem Reap. In Mr. Why Not’s email he wrote me, he asked me to call him once I know what bus on which I will depart Poipet (on the Cambodian side of the board) so that he can send a driver to the station for a free pick up.
I’m really looking forward to my stay at Angkor Wonder Hotel. It’s been A LONG TIME since I’ve had helpful staff anywhere I’ve stayed. Perhaps if I wasn’t such a budget traveler, I would have had better experiences with hotels, etc. but the last one I can remember was probably the place I stayed during my December 2005 visit to London for my birthday party at Marillion’s end-of-tour show. I didn’t even pay for that one!
Well, there are very few other things I need to prepare for my trip. Laundry? Check. Stack of travel clothes set aside? Well, almost.
One thing I was worried about (I do tend to think of all sorts of scenarios when given a bit of “quiet time”) is how to get to the bus station early Wednesday morning. My bus to Bangkok is due to depart at 6:30am. I usually ride the 10-baht Por-tor buses but I don’t believe they operate much before seven. And I can never find a motorbike taxi when I really want one, no matter what time of the day but especially early in the morning.
I came up with a few “plans” such as walking over to one of Phuket Town’s pubs when they close in the wee hours of Wednesday. I felt there would be a few sleepy taxi drivers around then who could take me up to Bus Terminal No. 2. I would have to sit around there waiting for two or three hours but I used to do that (and for longer) at the Hat Yai bus station and that was much dirtier and extremely uncomfortable. I have, on occasion, tried arranging for an early pick up the day before. But my track record with this method has been poor with drivers turning up extremely late if at all.
My finally thought was: “Can I walk from my home to the bus terminal?” My map of Phuket is fairly old now so it doesn’t show the new station but I thought I’d found it’s approximate location and figured it as three kilometers away. That didn’t sound so bad! Phuket Immigration is two kilometers from my home and Central Festival is about the same distance. I’ve walked between those locations many times without undue fatigue. And I really do enjoy walking. I see all sorts of things that I don’t when in a vehicle.
Of course, I never leave anything to chance. So, this afternoon I made a “practice” walk to Phuket’s Bus Terminal No. 2. It wasn’t a very hot day for a nice change – a breeze and the threat (tease) of rain – but I was still sweating a bit during the last stretch. The station may be closer to four kilometers away rather than three – it took me exactly one hour and I had maintained a fairly brisk pace. (I did stop and take a few photos at a temple along the way, however.) There are fairly wide sidewalks along most of the route and only one or two sports along the way where one has to be careful of traffic (especially around one of the colleges as many kids were taking shortcuts by driving towards the traffic flow on the sidewalk and would come up behind me – I had to jump out of the way once; the driver never honked but I felt the side mirror bump into me).
Although it was a Sunday afternoon with a fair amount of traffic along the way, only three motorbike taxi drivers honked at me during the entire walk. One of these pulled up and asked where I was going. I just told him I was exercising. I took a pink bus back home.
Aside from knowing how long it should take me to walk to the bus station, I now know the location of every 7-Eleven and Family Mart along the way. There are also a number of mom-and-pop restaurants; early in the morning, there might even be a fair amount of street vendors so I may just get a very good breakfast that morning before my bus departs! Of course, if a motorbike taxi honks at me after I’ve set out walking on Wednesday I will gladly accept the ride!
There are now only three things I need to do before leaving on my trip: figure out how much Thai baht I need to take with me (I don’t trust too many ATM’s in this part of the world) and then pack my small backpack. As it stands now, I’ve decided not to take the netbook (as tempting as the free Wi Fi in my hotel room sounds) which will make my pack much lighter. It will be my first trip with my Kindle, however! The final task is simply to purchase a SD HC card so I have plenty of storage space for the photos I take (my current 2GB card wouldn’t last out the Angkor Wat sunrise!!).
Two more days…