I'm taking my wife to Chiang Mai for three days this Friday. We were lucky enough to secure return flight tickets for just 3 baht each as part of Nok Air's third anniversary give-away. OK, once you've figured in airport departure tax, fuel surcharge, baggage charge, docking bay tax and the pilot's alimony payments, you end up paying about 2,000 baht a ticket, but I do love a bargain. One of the most enjoyable parts of taking a trip in Thailand (at least from my point of view) is that it gives me a chance to blow the dust off my Lonely Planet guide. Now I'm going to be the last person to criticize a range of guides that clearly sell by the proverbial truckload but I tend to read through the LP guidebook for all the wrong reasons. While up in Chiang Mai, I'm planning on doing a side-trip to Lampang. Although I've been before and frankly the town itself isn't much to look at, the two-hour bus journey from Chiang Mai to Lampang takes you through some of Thailand's most beautiful countryside. The journey really is rather splendid. With that in mind I looked through the LP guide's 'accommodation in Lampang' section. This is one of the entries
"The cheapest place in town is the number 4 guest house, a large old teak house which has gone through at least three different managers and two different names over the last six years. Rooms are basic - just a mattress on the floor - and cost about 100 baht a night. The shared bathroom facilities feature hot water but aren't exceptionally clean"
So basically it's a filthy dirty hovel with a stream of owners all looking to offload it at the very first opportunity. Now doesn't that sound like an idyllic place to spend a holiday or mini-break? I think it's just me getting older but do people still travel to Thailand and want this kind of experience? To take a shower in a bathroom that looks as though it was recently part of a multiple murder investigation? To spend all night listening to the scurry of fat cockroaches and to laze away hours on a terrace of wooden planks that look as though it might give way at any time sending you hurtling into the stagnant pond below? I can never work out whether the descriptions in LP guides constitute a recommendation or a warning. Why don't they come right out with it and tell you you'll wake up with mosquito bites on your mosquito bites and probably wooden splinters sticking in your bum.
I'm not one for the five-star hotels it must be said. I have no interest in going to Chiang Mai and 'dressing for dinner' or sitting at the bar ordering cocktails with silly names, but I do like a certain level of comfort. I enjoy filling in a proper registration card and having my bags carried to the room. I love fiddling through the TV channels and watching Forrest Gump for the 127th time or X-treme skateboarding from Venice Beach. What's a mini-break without laughing at the prices of the goods in the mini-bar or working out which of the little bottles in the bathroom contain shampoo, conditioner and laundry detergent? And the amazing thing is that these mid-range hotels as I like to call them, often cost just a few hundred baht more than the grubby fleapits. I suppose it's all about horses for courses, but while others are unrolling sleeping mats to keep them safe from the perils of the grubby 100 baht-a-night mattress, I'm sitting on the bed watching Oprah Winfrey with the air-conditioning going full blast and the remains of a bland chicken and cashew nuts courtesy of late night room service. Thank you.