Sundae Bloody Sundae

Wheelie bag: check; backpack: check; wallet, sunglasses, hat, tickets, keys; yup, that’s everything.  Well probably I should take one last look. Daunted, I peer down the thirty-meter long corridor; leaving this enormous hotel room is like going through a house closing. It’s so big and has so many cubbyholes, I found myself walking hundreds of feet every night looking for my chargers or my Darjeeling teabags. It was long and thin, like Vietnam, but in a good way. As well traveled as I am, I was curious enough to pace off the dimensions: thirty by eight meters. That’s 240 square meters or about 2,500 square feet in Kansas. It did include a sitting room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, entryway, and a few hallways. And another hidden bathroom that I stumbled upon when leaving.

When I checked into the Marriott Bangalore, the friendly lady at reception welcomed me and as she handed over the key, she mentioned, kind of by the way, that she was giving me their biggest suite. However, I hear that or something comparable from time to time and it doesn’t always resonate, oftentimes it just means you can clamber safely out either side of the bed with ease. I would never say this room was too big. Never. Just wouldn’t go there. But it was enormous: just for me, my tiny travel bag and three sets of Journeyman-approved travel apparel. The suite traversed one side of the building to the other so it experienced both sunrise and sunset, and the views were stunning—overlooking Bangalore’s naturally beautiful “Central Park.” I could live here I thought, but then again it’s Bangalore.

Anyways, with my frequent travel I’m always appreciative of a well-equipped hotel room or suite. Occasionally, for some unexplainable reason, I’ve found myself wondering, who had this room last night, last week, or before that? My attention somehow turns to the sensibly upholstered armchair between the bed and the window, as I attempt to visualize the previous guest plopped there like me with legs bridged horizontally to the matching fabric poof.

Occasionally, whether I like it or not, I get a little unintended insight into my fellow guests, neighbors and roommates. Recently, in one of my go-to hotels at New York Times Square I was sitting in the timeshare armchair when the incessant barking of a small dog pockmarked my concentration. Snowy might have been dozing when the humans snuck off to the elevator but he wasn’t now. Masterfully, without migrating from the Captain’s Chair, I marshal my psycho syntheses to filter Fido while remaining engrossed in a fabulous New York Times article on the democratic progress of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi. But other erratic sounds gatecrashed my attentiveness as the chatter of police radios, loud door knocks, and raised voices became the definition of commotion followed by a conclusive sounding kerfuffle.

The plight of Burma would have to wait I thought, as I arose gingerly from my commanding view of midtown Manhattan. I sauntered across the art deco room and opened my door slowly to silence, apparently having just missed all the action. There was no more barking from the little dog from hell, no police radios, no door-knockers, and no crowds of people in the hallway. Only Martha the maid who gave me a little half-smile look of innocence that kinda said, “oh did you hear all that?” “They kicked the dog-people out,” I concluded, nodding my head understandably. “Oh, no, not them,” she replied, “they threw out THESE guests,” motioning with her head to the open door behind her. “Why?” I exclaimed. Shaking her head disapprovingly, she broke from my gaze and looked down at her feet, whispering, “crazy people, crazy people.” “Ice cream and blood,” she continued, “ice cream and blood, everywhere.” “Ever-y-where.”

To this day I try to imagine the events in the scenario leading to the bloody sundae grand finale in room 1264 in Times Square: A food fight with dessert and knives, a scene worthy of Natural Born Killers, perhaps? I will never know.

Other times I have met my roommates face to face, mano e mano. Working in Canberra, Australia, I arrived after a very long flight, as Australia is distant from anywhere really. The front desk attendant hands me the key and I wander through an endless labyrinth of unremarkable corridors to reach my room, which seems to be as far from reception as one can get. I put my key in the lock, turn it, and upon entering, I sigh loudly, clunking down my bags while making my way wearily from the entryway into the room. Glancing to my right I notice a bunch of non-standard looking hotel bedroom accessories. Looks like a regular TV all right on the dresser, but next to it appears to be a stack of radio receivers; black boxes with various dials and displays and a muddle of connecting wires, and then there is clearly a microphone or two and some other blackish well-used military-looking equipment. Huh, very strange, I think. What is all this stuff I wonder, as I stare at it trying to fathom the situation?

“What the fuck you wanting, mate?” thunders a voice from my left. I turn to see a half-naked figure in the bed. Only then do I realize the room is dimly lit with heavy curtains drawn in the early afternoon. I squint my eyes and see a shaved-headed guy who looks like a mean Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers, but with more tattoos. “Oh,” I say feebly, adopting the most cowardly posture possible. “I must be in the wrong room. I should, I should err, go,” I ramble. “You fucking should, mate,” he commanded. By this point he was channeling Woody Harrelson and I was Woody Allen. I left purposefully, crouched, head down, slowly walking backwards, blindly grasping my bags with both hands without stopping. Turned out I was in the wrong room, but my key apparently also opened the gateway to hell. I’m glad to report that I managed to spend several days at that hotel without ever running into that guy. Who knows what he was doing. Would the Jackal have let me live?

Now my good friend Vanessa was a Vice President at a large hotel chain. I told her these stories and she instantly dropped her friendly smile and said, straight-faced and eyes unblinking, “you have no idea what goes on in hotel rooms.” I nodded. “You. Have. No. Idea,” she reiterated louder with emphatic verbal punctuation. I nodded again conceding, “yes, I know.”

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12 Reasons to Stay at the Maneerote Hotel

I find myself unable to explain properly my fascination with today’s customary hotel selection and decision process that is based solely on on-line traveler reviews. Unquestionably it has improved immensely the travel experience for most of us, as all it takes is a glance at the number of stars and the first half-dozen reviews to get a pretty good idea of an abode. One-and-a-half stars and quotes like “rat-infested,” “dingy,” “I’ve slept in better toilets,” and “popular with the Hells Angels crowd,” and that guesthouse’s Internet revenues will plummet precipitously like the Chinese stock market. Likewise, endless oozing, glowing reviews such as, “amazing value,” “close to all the major attractions,” and, “Roger the waiter couldn’t have been friendlier,” compels one to confirm the booking.

So it was with an ongoing keen sense of interest when I recently wanted to book a hotel for myself and my first-cousin-once-removed in Surin, Thailand, for a one-night stopover on a roadtrip from Laos to Cambodia. One singular lonely property, the Maneerote, popped up on the main online search sites, which teased me with an abundance of hotel filtering options. At first glance the reviews for this solitary hotel in North East Thailand seemed favorable and the rooms cost $12. My initial reaction was to keep searching, as it was surely some form of youth hostel at that price. But alas, nothing else showed as available during my extensive three-minute twenty-five-keystroke research undertaking. So I booked two rooms at the Maneerote at $12 a piece. I could’ve shared with the first-cousin-once-removed, but he can be a finicky room companion, so I thought why not splurge here.

My first-cousin-once-removed offers gift to monk in nearby Surin temple.

My first-cousin-once-removed offers gift to monk in nearby Surin temple.

Arriving at the hotel though the busy, bustling town of Surin, I was impressed to find that it was not located on some remote industrial estate where they shot the invasion scenes from the Terminator movie franchise. Furthermore I thought, it actually looked pretty nice, was close to the thoroughfare and one of the main temples, and had an adjacent comfortable looking coffee shop-come-café. Decently dressed, smiling helpful folks worked at reception, the elevator worked, and behold, the rooms were nice, clean and with wraparound balconies offering decent views of the entertaining town of Surin. What a deal I reflected, we should be paying more. Leaving the next morning my first-cousin-once-removed and I couldn’t identify a single aspect of the Surin Maneerote hotel experience that could be impugned, even at a much higher price.

Splendid view of Surin from the Maneerote Hotel $12 room’s balcony.

Splendid view of Surin from the Maneerote Hotel $12 room’s balcony.

For all of the above traits the hotel shall receive nothing less than the highest possible rating from each of us. Even in altruistic dedication to my on-line reviewer’s badge pledge of allegiance, how can I possibly deduct points when it cost less than I used to spend on youth hostels in Europe over 30 years ago? And here, in our comfortable separate rooms at the Hotel Maneerote, we don’t have communal bathrooms or showers, nor do we have to tolerate Germans snoring in the top bunks or the wandering waft of well-traveled socks. The Maneerote hotel, what an absolute bargain!

Nearby Khmer-style temple in Surin, within walking distance of the $12 Maneerote Hotel.

Nearby Khmer-style temple in Surin, within walking distance of the $12 Maneerote Hotel.