We used to have this weird habit of paying mega-bucks to travel business class, then skimping on our accommodation. It makes no sense. You spend hours in a plane, days in a hotel. We’ve come to realise that the quality of your hotel room dictates the overall pleasure of your trip. The best day is enhanced, the worst day is soothed by a spacious, pleasant room and charming staff. We don’t want spas, multiple flash restaurants, bars or enormous foyers – we just want a lovely room and somewhere to get breakfast, but hey, we’ll happily wander down the road to the nearest diner if the accommodation’s good enough. We’ve talked about this trip to Vietnam for years. Other priorities, too much work, bird ‘flu etc have delayed it until now, so we decided to do this properly and in comfort. This is one of the trips where you save and splurge. We wanted comfort to cope with bouts of culture shock. We started off spoiled rotten. Our travel agent (Carol of Voyages Affaires) booked our first two hotels and persuaded them both to indulge us. The Ritz Carlton in Singapore and the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi had us purring. Large, luxurious rooms where we could read, watch the Australian Open and, if we so chose, be waited on hand and foot. The Ritz had a wonderful harbour view as well. Good beds are essential – oh! I have to tell you about the bed at the Metropole. This, folks, was a genuine feather bed! It was like sliding into a duvet sandwich. It required turning down the air-conditioning to near-arctic temperatures, but it was heaven on a stick. I don’t think I’ve ever been so comfortable. I woke myself up during the night just for the pleasure of going back to sleep. Bowls of fresh fruit, slinky robes, excellent wardrobe and drawer space, spacious showers you just step in to – the shower-over-bath set up just doesn’t belong in a modern hotel – these things all add up to easy travelling.
The Metropole even had a romantic, old-fashioned tub – the sort you see in movies. Then we were in the hands of our Vietnamese agents, Active Asia. Brian has already commented on our accommodation in Hue – lovely hotel, so little storage space in our room that it started looking like a teenager’s bedroom. Teetering in and out of the bath/shower, hoping not to go for a skate on the tiles. In Hoi An a change of dates (we discovered we were going to clash with Lunar New Year and therefore total travel chaos) meant we weren’t able to get into our original hotel. We ended up at the Palm Gardens Resort. The resort was pleasant, the room was an improvement on Hue, reasonably spacious, with a balcony and a good bed. But in a posh hotel you don’t expect two pages of “Rules and Regulations” – including registration plus $US10 per person for your visitors, and no food or drink bought outside the hotel on pain of eviction! The first night brought us a karaoke contest at the next-door resort – ear-splitting, off-key renditions of aging pop songs – arrrgh! We bolted for the town and it was mercifully quiet when we returned. On our second to last night an enormous generator cut in during the wee, small hours, again from the next door resort. The management moved us with practiced efficiency and upgraded us. More space, better bathroom – yes, it’s space that does the trick. Wished the generator had cut in on the first night! The 4-star Duxton Saigon should have been a reasonable safe, if unexciting choice. We arrived this afternoon. The de luxe, non-smoking room we were shown to had dirty old carpet, so wrinkled you could trip on it, one bathrobe, only one bedside table, no fruit in the mandatory “welcome fruit bowl”, a strong smell of cigarettes in the barely-adequate non-smoking bathroom. We asked to be moved. They shifted us upstairs without argument. The room seemed identical – except that was smaller, darker and had one single bed! Tired after a day of travel, we gave in and went back to the first shabby, smelly room. It this is 4 star, I’m Rachel Hunter. The problem with these grand, international hotels is that they spend hundreds of thousands on their public areas – the foyers, the bars, the restaurants, the pool areas, the bloody spas – and then ignore the most vital component of a good hotel, the guest rooms. You arrive in a palace and end up in a sad, cheap, little hotel room at a highly inflated price. What’s making me really ratty is that we seem to be sliding rapidly down the luxury scale as we travel. It would have been so much nicer to have the reverse experience.