The Lankan Journal: About guest-houses and hotels

The notion ‘guest-house’ I saw first on the forum. Theoretically I imagined what is this, but practically I got the point only during my second visit to Sri-Lanka.

The notion ‘hotel’ is know to everyone. Anybody who has been abroad at least once, and especially on the resort, can understand that a hotel on the resort as a rule is high above the notion of hotel at home. This difference is especially dramatic in Turkey. You deprive yourself during the whole year to buy a tour to the hotel marked all inclusive, and for at least one or two weeks to feel yourself a significant person. Hotels of such a kind, better or worse, exist in many resort countries. Touristic machine grinds everyone. The primary selection by financial criteria you pass when you are purchasing the tour. Getting to a hotel you have a chance to pay extras – it’s up to you if officially or by giving a kickback — and to get a better room, with better view. Then there starts tricks with excursions. Blinding you with a shiny smile, a guide from the meeting side gently off-loads super-excursions onto you, and heaven forbid you do not agree at once, as it will be too late, all excursions are exclusive and there is a queue for them. Already afterwards, in the middle or by the end of vacation you get to understand that you were deceived into parting with money and you can buy an excursion any time, and a guide will arrive as a wizard of Oz by your first call and will sell you the preferred excursion. More than that, the very same excursion is sold in the city in different options and, as a rule, cheaper. But, let it ride, does not matter. Eventually you are at excursion, rejoice like a child, looking over ancient settlements and getting to know aborigines. And afterwards your kind guide most likely will offer you a free visit to the factory to buy by FACTORY PRICES some gold, textiles, ceramics and souvenirs. And you, surely, believe. And you are happy! And I have been happy 10 years in a row, faithfully visiting different countries, looking at fake settlements from the window of a double-deck bus, and then in the evening, at the hotel you share emotionally your impressions with other holiday-makers, and upon arriving home – with your friends and parents. I and absolutely was not confused by the fact that my photos do not differ from hundreds of pictures of my acquaintances, acquaintances of my acquaintances and piles of other collections, put on Picasa and other web-sites. In course of time I started feeling some catch in such a rest and excursions, I can download photos from internet, having chosen the best perspective. And, telling after about your adventures you will not lie, in fact you really have been there, as millions of tourists before and after you. Of course, there are the places, which are must to see and where, after all, all the photos will be same, as of the pyramids in Egipt, Sigiria in Sri-Lanka, the settlement of artists in Dominican, and so on. But there is a great deal of really unique and original places, not tuned beforehand by a helpful tourist agency, where you can experience the spirit of the country and if you are lucky to save its part in your heart.

I am very glad that I could recognize this. As it is usually said in advertisements – my life changed. Well, may be not so strongly, my third eye has not opened, I did not become a super champion or a genius, but still the changes exist. All what I did was that I started planning my vacations by myself. Yes, this is more complicated than to buy a ready tour, yes, there are possible some poke holes, so what? Any adventure just warms up the interest. And the memories become much brighter and rich. To experience all this you absolutely do not need to fly to the Northern Pole, to conquer the Everest, to taka a survival course in the Sahara, to spend the night in a baobab, escaping from the lions walking around savanna. Of course this is great, but not for everyone, personally I am not ready for this. Planning the travel on your own, besides of all the charms described above, you can save significant money. For travels, for instance, to Asia or to other tropical countries this could be twice or even three times cheaper. Where does this concern the topic? Directly! The first thing you have to do is to say farewell to your star freaks and to live not in 4 and 5-star hotels with elevators, room-maids, 7 restaurants, discos and gyms, but in guest-houses. Just think for a minute, you have been waiting for this trip, may be for half a year, may be for a year, and may be you have been dreaming of it since your childhood. A faraway land was calling you since your childhood. May be you even were deeply read in Jules Verne, Stevenson, Fennimore Cooper, imagined yourself on the volcano, in the prairies and in the jungles, and in your dreams you saw yourself sitting by the fire and smoking the pipe of Peace with Indians. And you are here, your dream came true. And you with your own hands start turning your dreams into trash. You lock yourself in the room with mini-bar and watch 148 channels on a big plasma, you overeat in restaurants, get smashed in round-o’clock bars, after all you have paid for all this and it means that “if not eaten, then at least bitten”. In the breaks you make yourself drag to the sun lounger on the beach. In the moments of enlightment you go for excursions and take pictures with a monkey, that lost its counting of how many tourists it has hugged by the neck and able to specify the brand of cognac drunk last night by your booze breath, let any wine waiter be jealous. And on the last day of vacation, having passed passport control at the airport of your dream country you understand that all what is left for the memory is the defaced visa in your passport. And most offensive is the fact that actually you paid for all that, paid for the mega star hotel, which turned your dream into dust.

Guest-houses, in fact, gives tourists the same, as the hoytel – accommodation. Still, comparing to a hotel, a list of offered commodities is much more ascetic, what in its turn effects positively the price. A small room with a bed equipped with mosquito net over it, a fan under the ceiling, a bed table and a small wardrobe. Individual toilet with a wash-stand and a shower. This set is quite enough for normal living. It is so, do not doubt, I have checked it more than once. If you would not have forgotten that the goal of your visit was to get to know the country and the rest in fresh air. Remembered? Very well. Of course, not all the guest-houses are same. The mentioned above list is a necessary minimum for any of them. And it is even in the offers for 7$ per day for a double. And no extra payments, special conditions and other stuff. 7 American dollars for two per one night. But surely this is an extremely cheap offer, a room and a guest-house itself will be very old and shabby, I would not recommend to start with such. Though if you are an unpretentious person, why not to try?

Guest-houses of average price category are the ones for 20-25 dollars per day for a double room. For example, Black Beauty. A simple, but clean room, a conditioner, a pool, a territory around, big terrace, where by your order you will be cooked breakfast, lunch or dinner. 50 meters to the ocean. Or for instance, a whole bungalow in the mountains – View Point. For 35 dollars you rent the whole bungalow, with own terrace and hot water. It is up to you how many people will be inside, anyway the maximum to pack in is 10 people. And what a view from the terrace – beyond words. Exactly from the terrace of this bungalow I wrote one of my stories. And for example, here for 35 dollars besides of a really cozy and comfortable room you can get also a breakfast. So it comes that a hotel costs 70-100 dollars per day, but a good guest-house 35. For 10 days of your stay you save at least 350 bucks, and may be even 500. As likely as not that in the beginning, especially if I used to super comfort, you will feel not so easy, but it will pass in the course of time. What else is so pleasant is that all guest-houses are not big, and the attitude to you is quite different than in a big hotel. You know personally the manager or the owner, and he knows you. You can order for meals something special and in any time comfortable for you, everything will be done. Actually this is the same as in soviet times, when coming to the Crimea you saw at the bus stop little old women standing with a tablet “Room or lodge for rent”. Very often those were simple planked cabins with a bulb of Ilyich* under the ceiling and a spring bed. And people felt easy, and lived there with a whole familu for two weeks, went to the sea in the early morning, bought cherries on the way back and coming back “home” washed with help of hoses in the yard. But comparing to these cabins an average level guest-house is a real hotel. To sit in a room will be definitely boring, and this means that you will spend much more time enjoying the country not TV-shows. Even if breakfast is not included into the price, it is at your mercy to drink a coffee or a tea, to eat a banana or a pineapple bought previous night. This is not a hotel, and nobody forbids you to bring water or fruit, but you should not forget, that food in the room may attract ants or roaches, that’s why do not litter and keep a trash-bin clean. For lunch or for dinner, up to you, you can eat at any other guest-house, hotel, cafeteria or restaurant. Staying at a hotel, by the end of your stay you start getting tired of same cuisine. Living in a guest-house you are not bound and you can eat wherever you want. In Sri-Lanka hotels are not everywhere and they are few, as a consequence this influences the choice of the place to stay. Most of the hotels are concentrated in most popular resort areas. It means that having accommodated in a hotel you have a risk to miss real and alive Sri-Lanka. Guest-houses are practically everywhere, even in most wild, untouched by civilization places you can find a quite decent place for a night, and after morning wake up to take a chestful breath of fresh air. It is quite obvious that hotels prices are overrated. It means that you have extra costs at least for fruit. However you slice it some minimal shopping is also needed at least to buy souvenirs, and this is extra payment again. Ayurveda takes a respectful position in Sri-Lanka and unfortunately this is known to sticky fingered businessmen. With all my responsibility I can declare that massages, oils, extracts and other ayurvedic stuff in resort cities is a D-list. This is not my personal opinion at all, this is said by the Lankans themselves. None of the Lankans ever will buy anything in a resort city, this is just wasting money. We ourselves live in Unawatuna, one of the most popular beaches in Sri-Lanka, and maximum what we can buy is soda or water, for all the food stuff we go to neighboring villages and towns, ayurvedic procedures we buy in the place half an hour drive from here, in a private estate, where you do not meet any tourists. We are not tourists, we work, that is why we live in a resort city but for at the week-end we leave the buzz of Unawatuna, and go somewhere far enough, stay in guest-houses, eat in local cafeterias and enjoy the country around us.

Now I know for sure what is the difference like, and I will look for a good and not expensive guest-house for my friends coming to visit me.

*bulb of Ilyich – a bulb without any dome, idiom meaning fast solution for lighting rooms, takes its origins from times of Lenin and his ideas of country electrification

15.07.2009 Unawatuna

House in Sri lanka

Welladewala road, Unawatuna, Sri Lanka
Google map:
Phone: +94770214419
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