One of the unexpected things I have learned in my recent years of travel is how much I love tourist towns. A city like Venice, which exists purely for tourism these days — love it. The little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, which is basically 90% there for tourism — feels comfortable. Cuzco, Peru — fabulous. Dahab, Egypt — my version of a beach heaven. They are complete contrasts from huge cities like London or Shanghai.
The towns that a lot of people look down on, as they don’t provide any sort of “real experience” of the country you are in, well, they are some of my favorite towns in the world.
Partly, I think my love for some of these places is part of my contrarian personality. Generally, I am predisposed to like things that people say they don’t like and dislike things that are popular. Of course, this doesn’t always match up. For instance, of those towns I just listed off the top of my head, I know plenty of people that also love Venice and Dahab. And I also love a lot of cities that are pretty universally adored, like Cape Town or Istanbul.
So now that I think about it, maybe it isn’t just my contrarian personality.
What I do know is that I have been traveling now for about three solid years, with an occasional month or so back home. Basically, I am now a perpetual traveler and I haven’t slept in one bed for more than about 10 days straight in three years.
My life has pretty much been about change and movement. Constantly.
So, sometimes I like pulling into a town like Siem Reap, Cambodia and seeing a half dozen cheesy expat bars that I know will have reasonable Western food and sports on television that I like watching. Sometimes I want the voices I hear around me to be in a language I recognize and can eavesdrop on. Occasionally, I like to be able to ask for the bill at the end of dinner without doing the hand pantomime for it, so they understand what I want.
I think this is likely the case because I have been traveling constantly. This isn’t a two week vacation where I am trying to capture as much “true local flavor” as I can, all crammed into each day, experience on top of experience. One of the bonuses to traveling for a living is that I really don’t feel much pressure to see it all in any place… because there is a high chance I’ll be back a year or two down the road.
Sometimes I just want recognizable and easy.
And sometimes, like in Siem Reap, I just want my nightly $3, hour-long foot massage and my two $1 beers, one for when they work my left leg and foot and one when they work my right.
That’s $5 well spent in a little tourist joint that no local would ever be seen in, except the workers. And frankly, I don’t feel bad about it at all.
So one of the things I really loved about Siem Reap was the hotel that I stayed in, not just once, but on two separate occasions in the last month. I am not a big hotel snob. I have stayed in some excellent ones and some… really horrible ones.
Mother Home Guesthouse in Siem Reap holds the distinction of having the nicest and most friendly people working there that I have ever come across. It is amazing.
Just a few of the highlights of this affordable hotel (about $15-20 a night).
One of the must-do’s in the area is sunrise at Angkor Wat. The folks at Mother Home will not only set up the tuk-tuk driver for you and make the call to wake you up at 5 a.m., they will also make you a nice little breakfast to take with you.
If you aren’t doing sunrise, the breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, is one of the best I have encountered. A great combination of Western and Eastern food and unlimited brewed coffee. Thank God.
The rooms all have air conditioning, comfortable beds, and a feature that I particularly loved, a good sized desk to work on (wifi is free and included also).
I have had a couple friends of mine stay there in the past month, on my recommendation and they all have commented on how incredibly nice, attentive and friendly the staff is. They all said the same thing after a day there: “every time we come back to the hotel from going to Angkor or town, they meet us at the door with a moist, cool towel to wipe off our hands and face — and with a smile and welcoming hello every time also.”
It is one of the friendliest places I have ever stayed and one of the best spots to explore Angkor Wat from, in my opinion.