Late last year, while looking for a halfway decent hotel for my fiancée and I to stay in Vientiane, Laos I pass on one of the cheaper guesthouses that are quite popular in the city and go with more upscale accommodations by choosing the Inter City Hotel.
I didn’t have much to go on—other than what I could glean from the Internet—but that hotel, located along the banks of Mekong River turned out to be one of the more interesting hotels that I have stayed in while traveling in Southeast Asia. To be sure, it seemed right like a hotel right out of colonial Indochina, and judging from the spacious, airy rooms with high ceilings and teakwood woodwork I probably wasn’t too far off with such a claim. It had retained much of its original charm despite numerous renovations and for around fifty bucks a night you couldn’t go wrong.
In fact, On and I liked our stay there so much, we stayed there again this past February, and the staff remembering our first visit gave us one of the better rooms on one of the top floors with a commanding view of the Mekong and Thailand in the distance. Sweet.
After all the traveling I have done over the years, the interesting and historic places I have visited one thing that I’ve always liked most has been the hotels, motels, or inns that I have stayed in. Over the years I would have the chance to stay in a variety of motels and hotels from cheap guesthouses and dives to a couple Five-Star hotels in Chicago, Bangkok, and Seoul—from vacations with my grandparents when I was a kid and on the road with The Jerks to more recent excursions in Laos. Heck, I have even been capsulized in Yokohama.
The very basic idea of spending a night in a “room” that was, for all practical purposes a microcosm of one’s own home—living room/bedroom/bathroom—has always intrigued me ever since the first time I stayed in motels when I went on a vacation with my grandparents. What’s even more intriguing, and perhaps even a little bizarre if you stop and think about it—is the very notion of sleeping in a bed that a complete stranger had slept in the night before. Sure, the linen has been changed (hopefully, depending on the reputation and quality of the motel) but someone with this completely different life than yours slept where you are about to sleep this evening.
Now if you can get that weird thought of your mind, this “home away from home” as it were of course comes with various “miniature” necessities to get through the day/night or longer stay. I’ve always liked the freebies—instant coffee and tea—that come with some rooms and if you are extra nice to housekeeping you could always get a few more of these amenities not to mention extra miniature versions of shampoo, soap, conditioner, talcum powder, cotton buds and toothpaste—even a small sewing kit incase you lost a button or something.
I always thought that was pretty cool when I was a kid and checked out what kind of free stuff came with the room. I also thought the “sanitized for your protection” guarantee on strips of paper across the lid of the toilet was pretty nice of the motel staff to let us know that someone was looking out for our welfare. Although I don’t see these as much as I used to in the past, I always felt so much safer knowing that the toilet had been—not just cleaned—but also sanitized.
I could never understand the vibrating beds though—the kind that you paid a couple of quarters for the bed to shake, rattle, and roll. Don’t really know how they were supposed to massage your weary back after driving on the road for hours. All the vibrating beds I came across didn’t work and just ate up all my quarters.
I still can remember the first motel I stayed in—one that was located on Rt. 66. My grandparents and I were going to St. Louis to visit some relatives and I think we must have either gotten a late start or the weather was bad because we ended up spending the night at a motel about an hour outside of Springfield, Illinois. It was your basic 15-unit “el” shaped motel with an attached café where in the morning we had breakfast before proceeding on our way.
Over the years I would accompany my grandparents on two longer vacations—one that took us to South Carolina after traveling through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina and another to Texas and Louisiana traveling through Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
We would end up staying a number of motels along the way, but the one that sticks out most in my mind was the one we stayed in near Cherokee, North Carolina. There were no rooms available in the main part of the motel, but there was one detached unit, this three-room cabin-like structure—no doubt for families—opposite the rest of the motel. I think my grandfather must have liked it a lot because for the next couple of years—usually on Thanksgiving or Christmas when the family got together—he often talked about this motel being the best one he had ever stayed in. Guess it must have made him feel a little special to have better accommodations for the same price.
What I liked about it was this cool souvenir shop across the street. After we had brought in a few things from the car and had something to eat, my grandmother and I decided to check out that souvenir place. It carried the usual souvenir kitsch one might come across while traveling in the South—Confederate Flags, gray, felt Kepis, lead bullets, supposedly dug up from Civil War battlefields and other Civil War artifacts—and in the case of this shop, vases covered with pink seashells. I bought one for my Mom and my grandmother picked up one for herself as well as a North Carolina State Plate.
(By the time my grandparents had stopped traveling, my grandmother had amassed a sizable collection of these “State” plates—the ones that featured some of the historical and cultural landmarks of a particular state embossed on the front of them—and had displayed around the house. All told she must have had almost every State in the Union except Alaska and Hawaii.)
My grandfather joined us later after he had showered and had a beer. He was never into buying souvenirs or anything like that. He wasn’t about to part with any of his money for something that he felt was made either in Japan or China.
That evening we watched George Hamilton in the Hank Williams Story. The next day we were on the road again to Columbia, South Carolina and then onto Charleston and another night in a motel. However, before we went to Charleston, my grandfather wanted to visit Fort Jackson where he had been stationed during World War II. It was the summer of 1968 and of course, there was another war on.