If only we could spend the rest of our lives traveling from country to country, moving from gorgeous hotel to gorgeous hotel and all the while eating amazing food.
This is what we’re trying to do. When you have limited funds (whether you remember that or not), it’s not easy but we try our best.
Years ago, we learnt that renting your own transportation (whether it be car, motorcycle or boat), is the best way to go. Being a motorcyclists and having an insane knowledge and appreciation of cars, my fiancé happily drives us around any country. As of yet, London remains the most stressful, Cambodia has the best organized chaos, China’s just chaotic, the UAE has the best roads, and Laos has the most gorgeous ones.
We are insanely picky about where we stay. Every new city we arrive in, we spend a day driving around the city or the entire province, checking out hotels. We are aware that this is odd. However, we quite enjoy the time driving, seeing the countryside, the small villages, stopping at random places you otherwise wouldn’t see (and listening to Doug Loves Movies, by Doug Benson). Our objective is always to find the best value for our money. We’ll spend hours driving from one place to the next. We’ve always done this come to think if it. Our first trip to Asia ten years ago now, I remember walking with a huge backpack weighing me down, going from guest house to guess house, asking, “How much? Can I see a room?” I must say, I don’t miss those days. Fresh out of high school with a maple leaf on my pack. I still use the same backpack but now it’s in the trunk of the car… with an additional suitcase (one of the +’s of having a trunk, it =’s as a closet).
These days, budget guesthouses/hostels in south east Asia aren’t so cheap that it’s often not worth saving the extra $20 or $30. Rather, if you increase your hotel budget by a relatively small amount, you can usually find gorgeous hotels, offering much better value for your money. The first time this was very apparent, was our return to Laos after eight years. We were traveling with my best friend, Meghan, and Roy. Being students, they were on a shoestring. We were on vacation. In the capital city, Vientiane, I sat and had coffee and a snack at one of my favourite bakeries, while Kyle walked around the city trying to find us a place to sleep. And he found us a great place, a lady’s two-story house with 4 rooms for rent (2 with a private bath). The house was beautiful, lots of character, gorgeous Asian wood floors… wood everything. Our room had two massive French-doors that opened onto a balcony which looked out over the street. We paid $20. Our friends however, opted for the cheapest Lonely Planet top pick: a windowless cement block with a shared bathroom. They paid $10. Their hostel, just down the street from us, was always full, constantly turning people away. Really. Really?
Merely out of principle, I’m not going to pay someone for a total budget room when we could pay a bit more and have a great place. In the beginning, I fought this theory. It wasn’t always a huge upgrade and I was too cheap. My boyfriend would push me on it and make the decision on where we stayed. Every time he’d ask me if it was worth it and I’d have to admit he was right.
Thailand has great design and style. It seems to be a natural element, simply inherent in Thai culture and life. The use of wood and so many natural materials, infused with brightly colored textiles, it demands a relaxed and comfortable feeling. As a result, so many hotels are simply stunning.
So, sometimes it’s not about value and we just go for the most beautiful and wait for the credit card bill. More often than not though, if we spend just a bit more, we can upgrade from a barebones budget room to a gorgeous one. Especially during low season.
The other part… Food.
If only there were more meals in a day. It’s often annoying when breakfast is included with our room. I’d much rather find a bakery and get a coffee and any sort of freshly baked good. Generally, breakfasts are not great (don’t include freshly brewed coffee from freshly ground beans). You can luck out however and find the quaint family run places where the wife is a cook and does an amazing breakfast. I love breakfast.
We certainly aren’t early risers and eat breakfast just before the closing of the kitchen. As a result, we don’t eat lunch, perhaps a snack. So that really only gives us one meal a day to eat something really good. Even then, and with all our research (tripadvisor recommendations can be hit or miss), the odds of the restaurant you choose having great (and I mean amazing) food is, I’d say one to four. Therefore, once we find a great restaurant, we usually go back for a number of dinners. We’ve been on a Thailand kick for a few years now, and a determining factor to where we go and how long we stay in a town, is how many favorite restaurants we have there.
Living in Hainan, we don’t have access to many foreign foods. When we travel, we are sure to get in all our favourites, whether native to that country or not. Expat communities generally provide great food, with the proper ingredients from their home country. This means not only can you find great Thai in Thailand but also Japanese, Italian, Indian, German, French, and the list continues.