Accommodations and Costs

As I write this, I've been travelling for two months - one month in Thailand, one month in Myanmar. I find a lot of interest in the small details of travel, the whole watch repair saga being a fine example. I have an old Timex Ironman watch that I'm rather attached to. The band broke while I was in Yangon. Had I been in the U.S., a watch repair shop would have encouraged me to buy a new band - hell, just buy a new watch, that thing's an eight year old Timex. But in Myanmar a watch shop took a look at this perfectly functional watch, and then carefully removed the broken link of the band and rejoined the other pieces. The repair is essentially invisible and as durable as the original band, and for this I was charged $0.25US. Cultural differences like this fascinate me, so please forgive me going on about housing arrangements.

I stay in what are called "guest houses." I don't entirely understand the distinction between them and hotels, although guest houses are more likely to be smaller, family run, in houses divided up into guest rooms, and have rooms with shared washrooms. They're also cheaper. I tried the whole shared washroom thing when I first arrived in Bangkok and rapidly concluded I'm too old and private for that. Rooms with bath cost more but, as you'll soon see, it's not a huge cost. The other very important distinction you encounter is "fan room" or "aircon." Bangkok was too hot and humid for me, and also too noisy: the aircon blocks the street noises and filters the very dirty city air. So I went with the expensive rooms in Bangkok, already a relatively expensive place. I was paying $11 to $13 US for my fairly shabby rooms at White Lodge and the Pranee Building, both on Soi Kasem San 1 near Siam Center. The biggest backpacker haven is Khao San Road, but I didn't like the "scene" there much, and the rooms were cheap and occasionally very nasty. Soi Kasem San 1 is the next step up, and a much better location within the city.

The two best places I've stayed - Remember Inn, in Inle Lake (Myanmar), and my current guest house in Chiang Mai (chosen after visiting about six others) - have both had big clean fan rooms with tile floors, king beds, and big bathrooms. I paid $8 and $6 a night respectively. One thing that's may be a bit disconcerting to North Americans when they first arrive (it was to me) is that there is no shower stall: you shut the bathroom door, and the whole room is your stall. You get used to it.

In Myanmar, breakfast always came with the room. "Breakfast" means an egg (your choice how it's cooked at least), toast with jam, a banana, and coffee or tea. Again, Remember was the stand-out. They provided different fruit juices, different fruits, and even allowed you the option of having local breakfast (noodle soup). I took them up on it a couple times, as I was sick to death of egg and toast. In Thailand, breakfast isn't included although some guest houses will sell it to you. I go out most mornings, having found a tiny place nearby where I eat well for less than $1. That gets me Thai Coffee (a brown sludge with a layer of white sludge on the bottom, condensed milk - hope you like it SWEET) and Khao Sawy, a regional noodle soup I quite like. This morning I had mangoes and sticky rice as well (a dessert - I was eating late), and that drove the cost of the meal to $1.25.

Laundry places tend to accumulate around the tourist centers, and often guest houses will offer laundry services. I'm currently paying 20 baht per kilo, or about $0.75 for two days of clothes - drop it off in the morning, pick it up in the evening. Internet services also grow up around the tourist centers. In most places this is three or four machines stuffed into a side room of some other business, but in Chiang Mai the internet services are industrial silos with rows of recent machines going back to infinity and charging less than anywhere else on the planet. I now chose between two services, one which plays things like Sarah McLachlan, has a really nice ambiance, and charges 30 baht/hour, and another that's primarily for school kids to game where they charge 20 baht/hour ($0.50/h). The latter has very good machines, and I've taken to listening to music to drown out the teenagers yelling at each other about their fantasy role playing games and golf games. Most internet cafes in Bangkok charged about $1.50/hour, and prices in Myanmar were anywhere from $1 to $3/hour, but always very, very slow. Thailand runs at DSL speeds.

My biggest costs are paid tours, and things like cooking school. The cheaper tours, which I tend to stick to, generally cost about $20 a day. Most of the time I find my own way around, so my costs stay pretty low.

I have a Laos visa in my passport begging to be used. Christmas in Luang Prabang, New Years in Vientiane? A very strange thought - I'll miss my family and friends!