Hotels from hell
MY room in Phnom Penh was the perfect setting for a horror movie. It was a small room at the top of the stairs, away from everyone else, dark and spartan with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There were no windows.
A toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste had been placed in a tray in the bathroom. I sniggered when I saw that a comb had also been provided. How thoughtful, I told myself, for a room which cost only US$5.
And then I saw the long silken hairs trapped in the comb, and I shuddered. If I had been stuck in a Thai movie, the hair would be from a woman who had been murdered in that room and anyone who stayed there could expect a visit from her later at night.
If they were lucky, she would give them the whole treatment and come croaking and crawling on all fours with hair covering her face, just as she would in a Thai horror flick. But I was in Cambodia and too lazy to look for another room. I was only going to stay for a night, so I stayed put.
I don’t make it a habit to stay in dodgy hotels, of course. I had come to Phnom Penh bearing the business card of a restaurant owner I had met a week ago. When I met him before leaving for Siem Reap, he told me about his new hotel, assuring me that it would be ready by the time I returned to Phnom Penh for my flight home.
Unfortunately, when I arrived, his hotel still wasn’t ready. He brought me to a much cheaper hotel, which was where I ended up staying on my last night in Cambodia.
Independent travellers have all had their fair share of accommodations from hell — experiences which they are able to laugh at only after reaching home. One such place, memorable for all the wrong reasons, was the fine establishment I stayed at in Greymouth, New Zealand.
Here, it wasn’t my room that was bad. I was in the hostel kitchen just about to heat up my microwave dinner when I heard a loud noise over by the pots and pans. When I turned to look, I caught a glimpse of a small dark shape dashing into the oven, which was open. Its long black tail told me it was a rat. I gathered my dinner and cutlery and got out of there immediately. If the kitchen had a resident rat which had a thing for ovens, I definitely wasn’t about to use the microwave.
Both these episodes took place many years ago as I stayed at these hotels in 2003 and 2005. I’d like to think that I’m much smarter now when it comes to booking accommodations.
So how does one avoid ending up in nasty hotels? First of all, don’t be too swayed by reviews and professionally-snapped photographs on the hotel’s own website. Make an informed decision by comparing information from different sources, especially that which is posted by the public.
A rule I apply is that a hotel with five positive reviews within the last two or three months should be a fairly decent one. The time frame is important: there’s no sense in getting excited over a hotel which had rave reviews six years ago.
The third and best thing to do apart from reading reviews would be to go to the hotel you have in mind and ask to have a look at the rooms to help you decide. This is not as strange or presumptuous as it sounds; I’ve done this before and a lot of hotels are happy to bring you around.
And just in case you’re wondering, nothing spooky happened in that hotel room in Phnom Penh. The only thing that visited me that night was a mosquito. I’m just glad I wasn’t in Thailand.
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