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Over the past two and a half months, we've stayed at 25 different establishments in six countries. It is a curious thing, to abandon your dwelling and to call no place home for a period of time. Our days are so busy, and we clock so many miles on our feet, that in the evening we are often eager for the comfort of our temporary abodes, our makeshift homes on this jaunt.
This trip, as many of you know, is being conducted on what is generally described as a "shoestring budget." When we first started telling people about this trip, the least imaginative and most risk adverse of our acquaintances and co-workers mistakenly judged us as "rich." Of course, as our friends and family know, nothing could be further from the truth. We are, however, not the most materialistic of people. Because we only have one car, because I carefully plan our grocery shopping, because we made travel a priority in our lives, we were able to save enough for this trip.
The way we've decided to travel is certainly not for everybody. We have had days, mostly in SE Asia, that we consider "splurge days," but by most American standards, this trip is nowhere near luxurious. Not that we would ever do luxurious. Jarrad and I are not resort/beach/fancy drinks type of people, and I personally feel extremely uncomfortable with certain services, even ones such as somebody carrying my luggage to our room.
Given our somewhat simpler preferences and flexibility, we've been able to plan a four month long trip for two people that some people consider financially impossible. But really, it's not. To give you an idea of how something like this is possible, I wanted to share some details about our accommodations. Usually the place you lay your head for the night is the most expensive part of your trip. Therefore, if you're willing to compromise a little, staying at cheaper hotels will save you a lot of money in the long run.
The tips, advice and information regarding our sleeping accommodations apply only to the Asian portion of our trip; Europe is a whole other animal. Our hotels generally ranged in price from $6 to $23, with a few outliers in the range of $50-80. At this rate, most of the places offered a private bathroom, AC (an absolute must in SE Asia) and WiFi (WiFi has been pretty hit or miss throughout our trip. Every place has promised it, but not all of them have truly delivered). I would consider us mid-range travelers, because it is certainly possible, especially in SE Asia, to pay as little as $3 for a dorm bed in a budget hostel. So although you may see a $20 room rate and think that's the low end for hotels, it actually gets you quite a nice room and a substantial amount of amenities most places.
As I mentioned before, when you travel for a good length of time on a budget, compromises need to be made. For example, our understanding of a quiet night's sleep has been completely transformed during this trip. We have grown accustomed to being awoken at all hours of the night by children screaming, dogs yapping, calls to prayer, donkeys braying, motorbikes honking, cat turf wars, and slamming doors. After much thought, we were able to come up with exactly one place that afforded us what most would consider a truly quiet night of sleep. Given some of the places we've stayed, we're just happy to not be located above a karaoke bar on a main street. But really, there isn't much that some ear plugs and a couple sprays of Rescue Sleep can't cure.
Beyond your typical noise, our hotels have generally been staffed by the nicest, friendliest, and most helpful people. At the budget level, most hotels offer the same amenities, so what makes a place stand out is the service. If you've got good staff, you'll garner good reviews and a constant stream of guests. Interestingly enough, the two nights we spent at a nicer hotel in Göreme was actually one of the most disappointing stays of our trip, and it all boils down to expectations.
When a hotel clearly states that I will get a room with a fan and a shared bathroom for six dollars, and I get exactly that plus a smiling, helpful face everyday, I will be beyond satisfied. Some of the reviews for the hotels we've stayed at are so ridiculous: the pillow was hard, the floor needed to be swept, the coffee wasn't hot enough. Seriously? We've been reviewing all our hotels on TripAdvisor and out of 25 places, we've given one place our lowest review of three stars, or an average rating. Set realistic expectations for your price range and you won't be disappointed.
With all that being said, I thought I would provide a breakdown of each place we stayed in Asia. Obviously this list excludes overnight buses and trains, because, of course, that is fodder for another forthcoming blog.
Bangkok: Khao San Baan Thai, $23
You could probably get a better deal at this rate in Bangkok, but this price gave us a great location, wifi, AC, a shared bathroom, and breakfast. It also provided us with the service of the kindest, most helpful Bangkokian ever. He helped us navigate our way in the city and always told us the cheapest way to do something. Thanks to him we were able take the city bus many times, and you all know how much I love the bus.
Kanchanaburi: VN Guesthouse, $13
A really great find. This guesthouse had very pretty gardens and was located right on the river, with great sunset views. For $13 a night, we had a private bathroom, wifi, and AC. Although breakfast wasn't included, a short walk into town and you had plenty of inexpensive breakfast options.
Chiang Mai: 7th Century Guesthouse, $6
This was the most inexpensive place we stayed, and of all the hotels in SE Asia, the most basic. For six dollars a night, we got a fan, wifi, a shared bathroom, and a tv with cable. A young family lives in this building and rents out the rooms on the top floors, and they were so nice. The only negative was that there was only one shared bathroom for all the rooms, so sometimes you needed to wait. But it was clean and cheap, and the service was so warm.
Karon Beach: Karon Sunshine, $36
This was the most expensive place we stayed in Thailand, and it really was quite nice. This price included a mini-fridge, cable tv, wifi, private bathroom, AC, complimentary beach towels, and a tea kettle with complimentary tea/coffee. The room was quite large, especially when compared to the rooms we'd been staying in. The downside was the annoying music pumping on the street below us, but that's where the ear plugs come in.
Pha Nga Town: Muang Thong Hotel, $16
Good old Mr. Hassim's place. For this rate, your room had cable tv, wifi, AC, and a private bath. It also had bugs, a leaking sink, and the sounds of a man coughing up his internal organs all night long. The room was dark, the bed was very hard, and everything was extremely old, but Mr. Hassim was quite the character. Even though it was one of the worst places we stayed, I always remember this place fondly.
Koh Phangan: Jungle Hut Bungalows, $16
Sixteen dollars a night for a private bungalow with a private bath, hammock, WiFi fan, cute dogs, and a location right on a beautiful beach. This place was operated by a family and had its own restaurant. The mother did all the cooking and the food was absolutely outstanding; we still think about the red curry with squid to this day.
Siem Reap: Motherhome Guesthouse, $23
There is a reason this place won the best hotel in The SEA Awards. The service here was phenomenal, and although classified as a guesthouse, it really had the appearance of a hotel. We got WiFi, private bath(with a bathtub and shower curtain!), mini fridge AC, cable tv, and an incredible breakfast buffet.
Phnom Penh: Europe Guesthouse, $17
The staff at Europe Guesthouse has a very special place in my heart. This place is owned and operated by Seng, and his wife and two young children can be found on site most of the time
too. Seng is an incredibly kind and helpful man, and his daughters are adorable. The staff here consists of two brothers, Lin and Lei, who are just the nicest guys ever. Our room was basic: WiFi AC, fan, private bath, and tv, but the people at Europe Guesthouse really made this a very unique place.
Kampot: Ganesha Riverside Eco Resort, $18
Run by two French hippies, Ganesha finally allowed me the chance to fulfill my desire to stay in a yurt! This was really quite a magical stay; our yurt only had a bed, a fan, and a mosquito net, but we were right on the river. We shared a communal bathroom where we took bucket showers next to lizards, and it was phenomenal.
Saigon: Ngoc Linh Hotel, $17
A nice, not very memorable stay in Ho Chi Minh City. The room was clean, with a private bath, tv, WiFi AC, and fan.The breakfast was included, as it always was in Vietnam, and it was good: an omelette, bread, fruit, coffee, and juice Service wasn't exactly friendly, but it wasn't rude either.
Dalat: Green City Hotel, $19
A good choice in this lovely city. The cost included a breakfast buffet, private bath, tv, and wifi. The only drawback was that there was no fan, and no window in the room. When you get used to handwashing all your clothes, you really need one of those two items to make sure your clothes will dry quickly. All in all though, a quiet, nice place to call home for two nights.
Hoi An: Nhi Trung Hotel, $21
This was our least favorite hotel in Vietnam. The room was really small, and we are used to
small rooms! The lighting really gave it a drab feel, and for the first time in Vietnam, the WiFi sucked! The room came with an AC unit, but it was in the bottom corner of the room, so kind of useless. The place was all right, but if you consider that it was the most expensive place we stayed in Vietnam, it kinda sucked. İ also watched Secrets of the Yaya Sisterhood here, so İ kind of hold that against this place too.
Hue: Jade Hotel, $15
Our absolutely favorite place in Vietnam. For $15, we got WiFi cable tv, a nice soft bed, a great bathroom(with shower curtain!), AC, and breakfast. We also got the BEST SERVİCE IN THE WORLD. The staff at Jade Hotel was incredible. Anytime we returned to the hotel, they would greet us with wet towels, cold lemon water, and fresh fruit. They were so nice. I love them.
Hanoi: Hanoi Charming Hotel $21
This place had a lot to compete with, after our time in Hue. The staff here was very nice; they even learned how to pronounce Jarrad's tongue-twisting name! The room came with a private bath, WiFi, AC, and a great breakfast (eggs or pho, fresh fruit, juice and coffee).The hotel was located close to everything, and it even had an elevator.A great place to end the SE Asian portion of our trip.
Wadi Musa: Musa Sprıng Hotel $17
Bare bones, baby, bare bones. Wadi Musa hotels are expensive, because they are located near Petra. Most of them were much more than this, but since we were going to spend all day in Petra, we were fine staying here. The room came with a tv, and we had a shared bathroom. However, because we were the only people staying in the hotel, it was like our own bathroom! Another negative was that the hotel was on top a hill outside of town, but we got some pretty views! Our hotel owner also got us a private taxi to Wadi Rum for the same price as the shuttle, which was nice, but weird, and also made the shuttle driver in Wadi Rum berate us for a half hour when we needed his services a day later.
Wadi Rum: Rum Stars Camp $80?
It's hard to say how much we paid to sleep at the Wadi Rum camp, because the price was all-inclusive with the day long desert tour, the lunch, dinner, breakfast, tea, and water. So I am dividing the price of the whole trip in half. Of course, it was incredible in every way, and I very much encourage everybody to partake in this adventure if they can. The tent was warm, the
|Bare Bones in Amman|
beds comfortable, and there were showers...but cold water on a cold day didn't sound like too much fun.
Amman: Cliff Hotel, $16.50
Another bare bones hotel in Amman! Jordan is not exactly a budget traveler' paradise. There are the nice hotels, which are very expensive, and then the 'cheap' hotels, which are rundown and not worth your money. Ours had creaky old cots, shared bathroom, and a sink in the room. At night we had to sleep with earplugs, and even then we could hear the intense street noise (music, honking) all night. The positives were that it was cheap, the owner was super friendly and helpful, and we were right across the street from Hashem's, a very delicious hummus and falafel joint.
Jerusalem: B&B in Old Katamon, $60
Israel is an expensive country, and Jerusalem hotels are extremely expensive. To save a good bit of cash, we decided to stay outside the Old City, and to use Aırbnb. I am so happy we did. Our stay was in a spare bedroom/bathroom with its own private entrance, in a quiet and beautiful neighborhood in Jerusalem. The lady who owned the place was a writer, and she kept the room stocked with books!! Although we had no kitchen, we had a kettle and a fridge, which helped us improvise some meals. The apartment was a short walk or bus ride to all the sites in Jerusalem too.
Tel Avıv: Shpıgelman's Apartment, $55
Because we had such a great experience in Jerusalem, we went with Airbnb for Tel Aviv as well. Although it wasn't as plush of a set-up as Jerusalem, we still had our own room, and a shared bathroom. We were walking distance to everything (well, maybe only we consider 7 miles round trip walking distance!), and Tom, the owner, was really open to talking about life in Israel. Come time to leave, his place was a 20 minute walk from the train we needed to take to the airport, which worked out great.
Göreme: Kelebek Hotel, $80
I picked this place as my birthday splurge based on the great reviews on TripAdvisor and I'm not going to lie, I kind of regret it. When you are a budget traveler, you can make lots of compromises and get used to creaky beds and lots of noise. When you pay 80 bucks a night, that stuff is tougher to swallow. Our room had a bed and a very nice bathroom. That's it. WiFi was only on the terrace, no tv, no fan, but it did include a very generous breakfast buffet. I just don' think the extra $50 was worth ıt. Unless you like having breakfast while listening to rich people try to outdo one another with talk of their annual dinners at Per Se.
Antalya: Kaleiçi Hotel & Pension, $31
A clean, unremarkable place. It had a great location in the old town and near the tram that took us to/from the bus station, and it was generally quiet, except for the renovations going on next door. The room was really very clean, and it came with cable tv, very weak WiFi and a private bathroom.
Fethiye: Caretta Apart Hotels, $31.50
This hotel was so lovely because of the owner, Dr. Çan. he was the nicest man, with a very cheesy sense of humor, and he really reminded us of my dad. We got free pick-up and drop-off
at the bus station, and the room was like a mini-apartment, so we got to cook all our meals, which saved us a ton of money. The place was right near the beach and a supermarket, and the dolmuş passed every few minutes, which made getting around a breeze,
Pamukkale: Sinter Terasse, $38
We really enjoyed our stay at this guesthouse. Like most places in this town, Sinter Terasse was run by a family that lives on site too. The rooms were very clean and newly renovated, and came with a balcony, and a big private bathroom. There was cable tv and WiFi although the signal didn't reach our room. The guesthouse had a lovely terrace where we would enjoy our delicious breakfast every morning.
Kusadasi: West Ada Inn, $26
As we were only spending one night in Kusadasi, we chose the cheapest place we could find. This rate got us a clean room with private bath, cable tv, AC, a balcony, breakfast, and WiFi in the lobby. Nothing remarkable about this place, but if you're looking for an affordable place in Kusadasi, this would be it!
Istanbul: Antique Hostel, $80
Although we are technically in Europe, Istanbul firmly straddles East and West both literally and figuratively so I'll include it in the list of Asian cities, Antique Hostel has a GREAT location, as we can sit on the rooftop terrace and see the Bosphorus Strait and walk a block and be at the Blue Mosque. The staff is friendly, the breakfast buffet isn't bad, and the room comes with WiFi private bath, cable tv, and a comfy bed. I think we could have stayed somewhere cheaper, but overall it's a good find. Istanbul has gotten crazy expensive in the past eleven years!
Hopefully this gives you a broad idea of how far your money goes in certain countries, and what type of compromises need to be made in the name of travel. We will gladly stay in a crap hotel as long as it means we get to explore a magnificent city or a gorgeous landscape. After all, where you lay your head at night is not nearly as important as the place you explore the following day.