Well, we went through and counted everything up, and it turns out we stayed in over 100 different rooms on our trip. Some were great, and some were... well, pretty damn bad. What follows is the best of the best: we hereby designate each one as a recipient of our Golden Hedgehog Award for Lodging.
(We couldn't hold ourselves to a "top 10," so we went with a "top 11" instead. This is part one of that list, featuring award-winners #11 through #7.)
For each place, we'll include contact information and whatnot in case you're on a trip yourself and would like to stop in. Just remember, your mileage may vary.
Some of these made the list because the room was just so beautiful, or because the staff was so marvelous, or because the setting was so perfect, or the because it was such an amazingly great deal. Some are luxurious suites, while others are friendly youth hostels. One might be a social sort of place, offering the chance to make a dozen new friends, while another might represent the opposite: a quiet little oasis in the middle of a bustling city.
We spent a lot of time trying to sort out the order they should appear in: we each wrote up our own personal "top ten" lists, and then compared them and started working towards a final, combined list. One room might show up higher than another not because we liked it more, but because it gave such good value for the dollar (or peso, or baht, or whatever). Or one room might beat out another even though the room wasn't quite so perfect, because the location was that much better.
Just remember that there isn't a room on this list we wouldn't be more than happy to wake up in tomorrow morning. They're all winners, folks, every last one of them.
Also, it should be noted that we excluded two classes of lodging from our list.
Our first exclusion was the small handful of times we crashed with loved ones along the way. To quote from the time we stayed with our friends Michael and Sophie: There's a kind of sleep you get at home that you don't really get on the road. A feeling of total contentment, of peace, of being warm and comfy and safe. The kind of sleep you can only get when you feel completely at home. Because of that feeling of peace, half of our list would be the homes of friends and family if we didn't exclude them.
Our second exclusion is what we determined to be "experience-based" lodgings. Specifically, that meant our cabin aboard the Samba, our room at the Yachana Lodge, and our hut at Elephant Nature Park. Being able to look out your bedroom window and see dolphins, elephants, or what-have-you would tend to lend those places a bit of an advantage, so they too got the axe.
In addition, it bears noting that there are two places that would have been sure-fire additions to this list, but both were knocked off due to souring experiences we had there. Those, though, are stories for another time.
Our deluxe suite at the Vansana Vang Vieng Resort was ridiculously indulgent.
The bed had not only feather pillows, but a feather mattress. There was a leather wrap-around couch in our living room (yes, we had a living room). The shower (which was itself as large as some of the other rooms we've stayed in) boasted a marble bench, in case we got tired and wanted to take a rest mid-ablution. And the floor-to-ceiling windows in the bedroom looked out onto our private balcony, which in turn looked out to one of the most spectacular views we've ever enjoyed: tree-covered karst limestone cliffs along the shore of the lazy Nam Song River.
The room cost us $40 a night, which in Laos is complete and utter madness (most rooms here are more in the $5/night range). But every now and then, it's nice to splash out and indulge in some outrageously decadent luxury. And doing it in Laos is far more affordable than doing it in Manhattan.
Mom's Guesthouse (not to be confused with imitator "Mommy's Guesthouse") is a marvelous place to base yourself when checking out the temples of Angkor. Mom's gets its Golden Hedgehog not for the excessive indulgences offered by the Vasana (#11), but rather for being such a helpful, friendly place. (Although, frankly, after a long day exploring ruins in scorching heat, their full-size bathtubs are a welcome taste of luxury.)
Siem Reap is chock-full of guesthouses, many of which are downright shady. (Just ask anyone who bought a ticket there from Bangkok's Khao San Road!) Mom's is your safe haven here. It's a lovely, clean, bright, airy place with rooms in a wide variety of price ranges, from backpacker dorms to those posh suites with bathtubs and cable TV. (They also offer cheap, fast internet service in their lobby.)
One of the reasons we so love Mom's dates back to when we left Siem Reap for Bangkok. Pressure from the airlines has kept the roads between Siem Reap and Poitet (on the Thai border) in horrible condition. No regular buses ply this route, and most of of the lines of transport here are notoriously corrupt. We did our research (particularly at Tales of Asia, an indispensable tool for anyone traveling this route), and figured out exactly what it should ideally cost us to arrange a private taxi for this journey. We checked with the desk at Mom's to find out what they charged, and discovered it to actually be below this ideal cost! (The taxi and driver were wonderful, too!)
Los Balcones de Moral y Santa Catalina was my birthday suite. Located only a block or so from the Plaza de Armas (Arequipa's main square), it boasts balconies that look out over the back of the cathedral. It also offers marvelous hardwood floors, lovely decoration, a sumptuous bed, a dining room table and chairs, cable TV, and even a mini-fridge. At $24/night (haggle hard when you check in), that's a "flashpacker" room at an (almost) backpacker price.
Internet and laundry facilities are available on-site, and it's only a lovely walk away from some of the finest attractions Arequipa has to offer. And the staff just couldn't have been lovelier. In fact, when we checked out, the two girls behind the counter spontaneously and rather oddly (but tremendously endearingly) decided to give us an enormous ashtray to take with us as a gift. (We happily accepted and then quietly ditched it later that day – the thing weighed about 10 pounds!)
All of this may have something to do with the fact that when we did our two-day-one-night trip out to Colca Canyon, we didn't check out of our room here. Instead, we just left on our trip and returned the next day, paying for our room even though we slept somewhere else that night. It was well worth it – we wanted to make sure we didn't lose our sweet room!
The Yeni Yacht Plaza Hotel served as both Jessica's birthday suite and the setting for our engagement. It's also chiefly the reason we spent over two weeks in Fethiye without seeing much of anything there.
We probably would have hated it in the high season, when the place would be packed and the prices through the roof (actually, we couldn't have afforded it then!). But in the low season, we were literally the only guests there. They actually had to sheepishly ask us about halfway through our stay if we could pay for the nights we'd stayed so far, so that the owner could afford to pay his utilities! The staff here was friendly and helpful, and the rooms were absolutely divine. Our wrap-around balcony looked out over the bay, which we could see from our bed. And most alluringly of all (well, to a pair of hedgehogs away from home for an awfully long time), there's a free library just jam-packed with books. Awesome place.
God knows how much it goes for in the high season. We were able to haggle them down to 60YTL (about $44, one of our most expensive rooms ever) but again, that's when we were literally the only guests in the place. It's probably twice that in high season.
We first met our good friend Klaus at the lovely Jardin Escondido, and he'd not hesitate to tell you that these hedgehogs barely ever left the hotel grounds during our entire week-long stay. We were exhausted after six weeks in Peru, and tranquil Vilcabamba was exactly what we needed: day after day of reading, playing chess by the pool, and relaxing in the hot tub.
Jardin Escondido was founded by a husband-and-wife team who wanted to lay down some roots after years of traveling. The hotel restaurant is run by Avi (the "wife" half of that duo), who whips up a marvelous selection of dishes from her native Mexico. Vilcabamba isn't lacking in restaurants, but we ate at our hotel 3 meals a day because Avi's food was just that dang good!
One of our favorite things about this place (other than the bathrooms, which were all unique and magnificent!) was the two friendly cats and one friendly German shepherd who lived there. We were seriously missing our kitty China when we passed through Ecuador (we didn't have Belly yet) and a bit of time cuddling and snuggling with these fuzzy critters went a long way!
Well, that's it for this installment of the Golden Hedgehog Awards. The next three winners will be revealed in a future Travel Tip Tuesday post. Two of them are in the same country, while the third may well prove to be the most controversial entry on our list. Beyond that lie our bronze- and silver-award-winners... all of which will eventually lead us to the illustrious #1, which has proven to be impossible to dislodge from that spot since we first sojourned there quite some time ago.