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Posted by Tim on Apr 7, 2009
TTT#4: The Golden Hedgehog Awards for Lodging, Part 1

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.

The Ground Rules

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.

For now, let's get on with the awards!

#11 – Posh luxury in Vang Vieng, Laos

Our deluxe suite at the Vansana Vang Vieng Resort was ridiculously indulgent.

'The unparalleled view from our bedroomThe 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.

[Note: since our stay, the price for deluxe rooms has gone up to $50/night.]

#10 – A good "home base" in Siem Reap, Cambodia

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!)

#9 – Turning 30 in Arequipa, Peru

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!

#8 – Getting engaged in Fethiye, Turkey

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.

'The view from the window above our bedWe 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.

#7 – A Hidden Garden in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

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.

'Our room was conveniently close to the poolJardin 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!

Coming Attractions

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.

Happy travels!

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:

April 10, 2009 at 7:04pm
Ah, so true. There is no place like home…or someones home to make you feel welcome.
April 11, 2009 at 9:01pm
As someone who has gotten very used to US hotel rates in tourist cities, it's fascinating to read about such great lodging at such low prices. And just in case you're thinking of more Golden Hedgehog Awards, I'd love to read about your favorite restaurants.
Tim the hedgehog
April 12, 2009 at 11:40am
Janet wrote:

Ah, so true. There is no place like home…or someones home to make you feel welcome.

Absolutely. You get to feeling all warm and cozy in a way that can never really happen in a hotel, no matter how magnificent your room is. :)

Noah wrote:

And just in case you're thinking of more Golden Hedgehog Awards, I'd love to read about your favorite restaurants.

You're a mind-reader, good sir. After we finish the Lodging awards, next up will be our favorite restaurants. Or, more specifically, our favorite "food experiences," which opens our options up a bit. :)

April 12, 2009 at 12:45pm
It took me about four days to convice them to leave the hotel in Vilcabamba (top #7), for a snack at the plaza, half a block away… :)
Tim the hedgehog
April 12, 2009 at 3:48pm
That's right – we had ice creams in the plaza! I'd totally forgotten about that! Mine was vanilla and orange, and was just about the best ice cream I've ever had…

(And according to our notes, it was actually five days.) :)

April 12, 2009 at 5:44pm
see i told you i'd be back! your descriptive powers describing the places you have seen are so vivid a person can almost imagine that they are actually there seeing it for themselves. it helps us live vicariously through your words. love daddy and mommy meow woof woof
Tim the hedgehog
April 12, 2009 at 6:54pm
Aw, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :)

By the way, it was from the lobby of the Yeni Yacht Plaza Hotel (#8 on the list) that I called to say that I was planning on proposing to Jessica, and to ask for your blessing. :)

April 15, 2009 at 8:11pm
I'm getting inarticulate here, again. (Take it as a compliment.)

So many wonderful places… it must be lovely to revisiting them from a distance!

Jessica the hedgehog
April 17, 2009 at 12:32pm
You silly girl, inarticulate is never a word I'd use to describe you at all. *hugs*

So many wonderful places… it must be lovely to revisiting them from a distance!

It's been really fun remembering all of the places we stayed at and trying to figure out which are our favorites. Our list making has involved quite a bit of wine drinking too…so I'm guessing the brainstorming process was extended a bit because of that! :)

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