Over the past few months Kat and I have rented over a dozen rooms. From moldy, insect ridden mattresses to ochre four poster beds, these fleeting homes have coloured our experience of this vibrant region and resulted in sleepless and blissful nights in turn. This list is meant to showcase those we particularly enjoyed.
Pondok Wisata Susy
Trikora Beach, Bintan Island, Indonesia
50 minutes from Singapore by very fast and wavy ferry, this island is the city-state’s closest beach resort destination. The rooms we shared with 15 other NUS exchange students, however, in no way resembled a resort. Instead the rough and quaint rooms were situated on a small beach-head owned by the wonderfully modest and welcoming Mr. Sularto. Don’t expect luxury from this kind family, or even hot water. In their place is warm, authentic Indonesian food and company that seems an ocean away from the bustling streets of Singapore. Trikora beach is just far enough from the island’s star rated resorts and only town, Tanjung Pinang. All for under 10 bucks a night including breakfast.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We spent two nights in a classic backpackers hostel on Jalan Changkat Raja Chulan where the noise from nearby construction woke Kat and I too few hours after the music from the clubs all around final quieted. After a sleepless night spent on the bus from Singapore, the loud accommodation left Kat and I sick from exhaustion. As a result we decided to splurge on something a little more comfortable. Over the course of five hours we looked at rooms in half a dozen of KL’s hotels and guesthouses from the Swisshotel which is actually Malaysian and quite nice, to some quite sketchy, yet still expensive, business hotels that would only show us a room after serious cajoling. Finally, sweaty and exhausted, we were within blocks of our original hostel when we fell upon a place that was everything we were looking for and more.
Impeccably clean and beautifully designed and decorated, this self-described Balinese, Buddhist boutique was a find and a half. Its roof-top restaurant exhibited the same peaceful aura as its leafy entrance and wood-panelled rooms and atrium. Each room had a large flat-panel television that doubled as a computer with a free DVD thrown in. The woodwork throughout was ornate and tasteful as were the furnishings and the bathroom was gorgeous. We stayed in the least expensive room which offered plenty of space though there were larger options for families or those who want a balcony. The staff were kind and well-intentioned, if inexperienced and, because the grand-opening had not yet occurred the rooms were half price. While triple our usual fair, $60 was still a steal for the room.
Mekong Delta, outside My Tho, Vietnam
This gorgeously designed villa is idyllically situated in the southern Vietnamese countryside. While there are a few signs pointing the way once one gets within a kilometer of the house, our guide, who’d been there before, still had trouble finding it. Every aspect of my family’s stay at this home was delightful (Kat and I were travelling with my parents for 2 weeks).
The kind, warm Vietnamese family that lived in and ran the villa served delicious food that was also great to look at. The villa’s construction was tasteful in every way from its shower-heads, to the woodwork on the ceilings, and from the antique bedside fans to the curtains on the doors and the linens. Even the five hammocks were aesthetically and functionally perfect. All around the house were beautiful and exotic flowers including a large if eccentric garden in the back from which the family had picked many of our vegetables. We had great bike and boat rides from the backdoor and didn’t see a tourist during our stay.
Over the 24 hours we spent at the villa we learned the story of this family from the energetic septuagenarian grandmother and her caring daughter as translated by our guide. The eldest and youngest sons now live in France having escaped as boat people on a ship that is the villa’s namesake. One of the sons designed the now 3-year-old house with a French friend while another in Vietnam did all the woodwork and oversaw its construction. Being able to partake in this story completed a near perfect sojourn at Villa Balny.
Two more notable mentions that we wished we’d been able to stay at:
In Sihanoukville, Cambodia, right at the end of Otres Beach and about as far from civilization as one can get in this rapidly developing town, a middle-aged Italian man named Claudio owns a few, very rustic bungalows. Claudio only has 3 or 4 very basic rooms and the beach has no electricity so he and his Khmer wife make do with generators at night. Nevertheless the beach’s beautiful quite isolation and Claudio’s warm, quirky generosity and helpfulness make a wonderful contrast to the mayhem of the area’s main Ochheuteal Beach.
Finally, during our brief stay at the atrocious Imperial Mai Ping in Chiang Mai, Thailand (overpriced, dingy, unpleasant staff, etc, etc.) we fell upon an art exhibit at another boutique hotel called Tamarind Village. At 7 years old, this was supposedly the oldest boutique in a city that now has many. Stunning from its idyllic bamboo-lined entrance on, this mini-resort is an oasis from the chaotic streets of old Chaing Mai. The pool, the restaurant, the shop, the staff, the flowers, the bathrooms: all were wonderful. The boutique embodies subtle and modest good taste and has been designed and maintained with every last detail in mind. We only wish we had had the opportunity to stay there.