Jun 20 2011

What makes a good guesthouse room in Asia part 2: everything else

Published by at 10:20 pm under Accommodation

After examining what makes a good bathroom in Southeast Asia, for the second and final piece in this series I’m looking at, well, the rest of the shebang. And while the bathroom is especially easy to get totally wrong, crappy hoteliers are no slouches when it comes to the rest of the joint.

Simply bloody awful

Simply bloody awful.

Let’s start with a bit of light
Is it really that revolutionary a concept for the main light switch to be beside the door? I understand the economic logic, especially in cheaper guesthouses, of using one switch point for all the lighting, but for the love of Hyperion, put the combined switch near the front door. Placing it at the back of the room, behind the remaindered Ikea cupboard or, best of all, in the bathroom, is annoying to say the least.

Bedside lighting, while not essential, is a great asset. The switches should be beside each side of the bed — not in the bathroom or over at the front door.

Yup I got that, but where is the light switch?

Yes, but where is the light switch?

Keeping it cool
Ceiling fans should be high enough that you don’t lose a limb when you stretch. Desk fans should be cleaned at least once a decade. Air-con units should actually cool down the room, and bearing in mind that many guests will plan to use them to cool down the room for a solid night of sleep, they should be quiet enough to actually allow one to sleep.

The remote must have batteries.
The remote must be the correct remote for the room.
The remote must be able to actually operate the air-con unit in that room.

Bed & linen
The room is lit and cooling down, so let’s take a look at the bed. Linen is not optional. Even the cheapest room should have at least a bottom-sheet. Likewise, pillow cases are essential.

Extra points for the fido-adorned pillow covers

Extra points for the Fido-adorned pillow covers.

Once a sheet becomes heavily stained, it needs to be replaced — not just applied to the bed with the stain facing down. This is also absolutely the case when it comes to pillows.

White sheets will show blood stains quickly, semen stains less so. Dark sheets will hide quite a bit of blood before they need to be replaced, but semen will glow like neon. So it pays to know your guests and choose the sheet colour accordingly.

I’ve a soft spot for a hard mattress, but there’s hard mattresses and there is concrete. Aim for the former. Likewise, if your mattresses are so soft they resemble water beds, install the real thing.

The area under the bed should be swept regularly. It doesn’t need to be clean enough to eat breakfast off, but ideally it won’t have someone else’s breakfast on it.

Leaking roof
Do I even need to say this? The roof shouldn’t leak. Blaming the roof leak on heavy rain isn’t an appropriate response.

I could write at length on this topic. Aside from the guests, no vermin should be in the room. I’ll expand on this to say rats (especially those the size of beagles [Pakbeng]) and any type of field mouse [Chiang Mai], cats [Kep], dogs [all over the place but especially Pokhara], snakes [Jakarta], slugs [Sideman] and centipedes [Ko Tao] are all best kept outside the room rather than within it.

Not in the bedroom please

Not in the bedroom, please.

A special word on monkeys. While not officially vermin, having them trying to break into your rooftop room in Pushkar — while you’re in it in the throes of one too many bhang lassies — is a far from satisfactory experience.

Lastly, stuffed animals — the real kind — [Lak Xao] don’t belong in a guestroom. Ever.

While it isn’t the main reason, one of the reasons people opt to stay in hotels and guesthouses is because they are more secure (and yes, sometimes more comfortable) than sleeping on the street. Door locks should lock. Window locks should likewise lock.

Holes in walls are not desirable and should be patched, as should broken windows be fixed. Doors that are rotting off their hinges are not secure.

Some feel safest sleeping in the open

Some feel safest sleeping in the open.

Having a “no locks because we’re all cool, peace-loving individuals” is perfect when your guesthouse is located on Fantasy Island.

Mosquito nets
Mosquito nets should be patched of any small holes (band-aids or nail polish works a treat) but once the holes are bigger they should be sewn up or replaced. Patching a net with black duck tape is retro but not in a good way.

The main issue with mosquito nets is that they burn fast. Now we all know that smoking in bed is stupid, but smoking in bed under a mosquito net is even dumber. There’s no real solution other than encouraging guests not to smoke in the room.

The top of the net (where all the dead insects collect) should be emptied out regularly. Pulling a net down only to have a cockroach flick into one’s face is memorable, but yet again, not in a good way — especially if it isn’t dead.

Likewise having the finely filtered dust of long-dead roaches pitter-patter onto your body as you sleep isn’t going to get you great feedback on TripAdvisor.

I’m not a big TV watcher, but if your primary clientele are English speakers, then it is a pretty good idea to have some English-language channels on the TV. If that is too difficult, make it simple and don’t have TVs.

I’ll not go on about this as I have written at length previously on why WiFi should be free, but in essence, if you are going to offer WiFi, it should be free, easily used and reliable. Having a situation where you need to drag out the manager to generate you a random code on his shiny iPad to use the WiFi is, quite simply, ridiculous. And, CVF65shyUT7 isn’t an easy password to remember.

What's a man gotta do to get a signal around here?

What's a man gotta do to get a signal around here?

Swimming pool
I used to scoff at swimming pools — who needs a pool when there’s an entire ocean right there? But now, with two young children in tow, I get it.

It is preferable if rat poison and other vermin traps are not within immediate eyesight of the pool.

Swim anyone?

Swim anyone?

Likewise plug-in adaptors and extension cords are best not left laying around the pool area.

The pool should be of a size big enough to swim in. If it is no longer than two adults laying head to toe, it isn’t a pool, it’s a big outdoor bath.

Toilet's too far mate, just pee in the pool...

We suspect this crew has gone to bed, not to the bathroom.

If you encourage people to drink beer — all day — in the pool, then it needs to be doubly big as, well, they’ll never get out to pee.

Very simple: make your own menu, and get it subbed by a guest — and less is more.

I don’t care if all it lists is 1) bread 2) gruel — that’s better than:

stir-fried greens with pork
stir-fried greens with chicken
stir-fried greens with beef
stir-fried greens with fish
stir-fried greens with prawn
stir-fried greens with vegetables

deep-fried greens with pork
deep-fried greens with chicken
deep-fried greens with beef
deep-fried greens with fish
deep-fried greens with prawn
deep-fried greens with vegetables

Repeat for at least 12 pages, and remember all dishes should cost the same.

Glasses should have been cleaned. If dogs are allowed to lick the plates, it shouldn’t happen in sight of the guests. Big bottles of beer come with a glass — not a straw.

Never serve food in a coconut.

Change your oil at least monthly.

Most importantly, MAKE REAL FOOD. Spice it as it should be and wait for guests to ask to tone it down rather than the other way around.

The crazies need to be hidden. Give them the bungalow well away from the others. The gigolo that offers every female guest a “ride in his hammock” should be placed somewhere back around the cowshed. Those with young kids ideally alongside others with the same burdens … ahhh I mean bundles of joy.

If there is a guest passed out in the stairwell, it’s not appropriate to ask another potential guest to step over them while leading them off to see a room.

In conclusion
Even the crappiest places can have redeeming values. The guesthouse in Pakbeng with the beagle-sized rats cooked a fabulous potato curry. The hotel that had me step over a passed out guest to show me a room had an excellent central location in downtown Bangkok. The staff at the Ko Pha Ngan guesthouse with the gigolo hammock dude showed me a walking track to a beach I’d never heard of.

Just like falling into an open toilet in Mahabalipuram then needing to walk through the restaurant, covered in, well, shit, as much as it is unpleasant at the time, it makes for great stories later on.

But, at the end of the day, the room doesn't matter right?

At the end of the day, the room doesn't matter, right?

It all comes out in the wash (sometimes literally), and sometimes the head-scratching things (like the dildo toilet roll holder) are what stay with you — memorable for the wrong reasons but in the right kind of way.

Good travels.

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