15 February 2011

Clinton Stayed Here?????

I am in a really, really nice hotel. I am by no means a 5-star traveler, but am way past the super-budget rooms of my younger years. I suppose I’d be categorized as a Flash Packer, which is the group between the two extremes. And this hotel is a bit above that level. However, when a friend raved about it and I looked it up on line, I decided I could do with a taste of very modest luxury for a few days before looking for something a tad less expensive.

As it happened, there was a promotion going on so I received a 10% discount. And after two days here, I was given even a larger discount. When I compared the wondefullness of the room and the amenities, including a huge breakfast spread, it was coming out to not much more than the other hotels I had considered.

These other hotels are where one runs into difficulties, at least in Vietnam. What you see on their web page is rarely what you get. I pretty much knew this before making my latest journey here. My instincts were further confirmed when I started to notice that all the hotels I looked at in HCMC seemed to have the same picture of the rooms available. Fortunately, a Vietnamese friend did all the leg work and booked a place for me. After I’d been in that hotel for a while, I went on a scouting expedition to see how the online hotel pictures compared to the real-time view. It was frightening to see how little resemblance they bared to their hotel websites.

This was just one more reason I was more than happy to stay at a hotel where someone I knew had recently stayed. I loved the hotel and my room the minute I saw it. I wasn’t so thrilled that the “city view” was actually a balcony opening on to a small street with a view of the neighbor’s living rooms, but it was better than the alternative of an interior view to the pool and other guests’ rooms. I wasn’t overly concerned when the guys across the street had their Saturday night beer party on the front porch. But Monday morning at 6:30am I started to get worried. It was then that I realized there was an elementary school across the narrow street and less than half a block away.

I’m always up early, I don’t mind the voices of kids in a school yard, but they do things differently here and it was yet another Vietnam fact that I had forgotten. Monday morning is outdoor assembly time. All the kids are in the yard, (which is directly across the way), and one teacher is on a microphone that is so loud it can be heard for miles. She’s yelling something and all the kids are responding. This went on for close to an hour. And that didn’t seem to be the end of it. I swear at least a hundred kids at a time were out for recess the entire day. The noise never ceased until around 4:30 when I saw the last ones leave.

Ready to sit down and write, I was jolted out of my chair by music blasting at nine million decibels. I thought that maybe there was a nightclub nearby. It turned out to be the small kiosk next to the school, or at least I think it was. I couldn’t even see any people. It was so loud I could feel the reverberation in the floor. This simply was not going to work as a place to relax and write. I needed a view of rice paddies or jungle.

This morning I told the young man at reception about the problem with the noise and that I didn’t think I would be able to stay here much longer. He assured me that it only happened on Monday. Not being 100% convinced of that, I spent a good part of today searching for different accommodation. I made a list of the places I had found online before coming here and searched through sites like TripAdvisor for recommendations. I marked places off on my little map and hit the road.

Nothing is that far away, but the hotel-provided maps leave off a whole bunch of streets making things much farther than expected. It seemed I had walked forever before I got to the Phuoc An Hotel. They had very nice rooms listed online for $20 a night and I was hoping to get a discount for a longer stay. Guest reviews seemed to speak well of their establishment.

As I walked into the hotel I was greeted by a young man inquiring how he could help me. I asked what the price for a room was. He said, “$200.” I figured there was some language miscommunication so restated the question. I got the same answer. This time I asked if he meant $20, not $200. At this point he began to get rather agitated and wrote out “200”. I said something about that not being possible and did a quick check to make sure I was not at the Hilton. The 30-somethings walking down the stairs with backpacks assured me I was in the right place.
By this time the guy was waving his arms and repeating, “$200 a night”, over and over. When I didn’t jump at the opportunity to book the room immediately, he said, “Bill Clinton stayed in this room”. Huh? Again he kept repeating “Bill Clinton”, “very special room”. It took me about a minute to finally ask about rooms other than the Clinton one.

“Oh”, he said, as if understanding for the first time, “you want a different room?” I nodded my head. “We don’t have any others.” A bit more questioning and I finally was told that 
                                                                                the rooms started at $30. It was time to leave.

All told, I spent about four hours walking around looking at hotels. They were either more expensive than the one I am in, (and of a far inferior standard), or slightly less costly but of a way lower standard. So bum knee throbbing, I hoofed it back to the river, found an upstairs café with a view and ate cake and ice cream.

It was 5:00 pm when I got back to my hotel room and as I turned the key in my door, I braced myself for the onslaught of blaring disco tracks. There wasn't any. I sat down to relax and wait. Still no sounds other than people talking on the street or an occasional dog barking. I am so happy. I had already been mapping out my hotel-search-trek to the other side of town for tomorrow. Instead I can get back to the business of enjoying Hoi An.