Accommodation is usually one of the biggest tickets budget traveller has to pick up day after day so its cost vastly determines daily budget one needs to work with when visiting that particular country. Compared to much of South East Asia, true budget accommodation options are not only limited in Laos, they also end up being more expensive which increases your daily spendings yet you end up staying in rooms of significantly lower standards than in neighboring countries.
On an overall scale, traveling through Laos is far more expensive than traveling through Cambodia, Vietnam or Thailand. Not taking into account small, but pricey SE Asian countries of Singapore and Brunei, Malaysia is the only country in the region that’s comparably costly for a traveler on a budget. While budget accommodation in Malaysia is on average 10% to 20% more expensive than in Laos, Malaysia offers additional money savers for money tight travelers with its plentiful camp sites and dormitories.
If prior to visiting Laos you had already gone through Cambodia, Indonesia or Thailand, then you have probably tasted the pleasures of having a decent, clean, bed bugs free room with its own ensuite bathroom with hot shower for up to $5 a night. You may have also enjoyed a spacious room with a king sized bed, air conditioning, fridge, safe, large screen TV and a nice view for up to $10 a night – which would also include daily room service. But after coming to Laos, your $10 will buy you a measly, uncomfortable bed in a tight room without a window that doesn’t even have enough space for you to turn, nevermind to store your backpack, with questionably clean, shared bathroom containing an overused squatting toilet bowl, a broken shower outlet and a slew of mosquitoes all over its mouldy walls.
It’s hard to get used to paying so much more money than you had paid before but get so incomparably less, but that’s the way it is in Laos. I don’t suppose it had always been like that but as the number of tourists visiting the country kept growing, so did the prices for tourism related goods and services but the delivery of quality seems to have gotten stuck.
If you’re like me and started traveling around the world in circa 2009, then you have missed out on the golden age of tourism. Nowadays, no matter how remote and unmentioned a place you get to is, there will be thousands of blog posts about it all over the internet from the travelers who had visited it long before you. And… nowadays, even seemingly poor countries like Laos, after experiencing tourism boom, had adjusted their prices so cost of travelling is out of proportion to the country’s gross domestic product. Too bad this increase did not go hand in hand with increase of quality.
The only place in Laos where reasonably cheap accommodation can still be had is Don Det of Four Thousand Islands, in south Laos, near the border with Cambodia. Bamboo room costs as little as 25,000 Kip (about $3 US – based on 2010 conversion rates) per night and represents the cheapest accommodation in the country.
Once you have left 4,000 Islands, the mainland will welcome you with room prices typically starting at 60,000 Kip (roughly $7.50 US) for which you will get a pretty run down room with small, hard bed, no windows hence strong smell of mould, shared bathroom with cold shower somewhere within the complex and a rattling fan with grate so dirty, you’ll think it’s been used in a car shop since the 60’s.
To get a room $7,50 US equivalent would get you in Cambodia, you would have to shell out 80,000 to 100,000 Kip per night (roughly $10 to $12). I went through many less traveled areas of Laos yet Don Det was the only place where I was able to find a private room (aka not dorm) for an equivalent of $5 or less per night. And that was in off season when guesthouses and hotels were struggling to get bookings. What it would have been like in high season when rooms sell out quickly I dare not imagine. By South East Asian standards, accommodation in Laos is very expensive but lack quality you would get in other countries where rooms usually cost less.
We woke up to a beautiful morning. It was absolutely gorgeous outside which, under normal circumstances would have been the day I would use to initiate my 7 day adventure through Angkor Archaeological Park. This was the weather I was waiting for. Previous week was rather rainy and since entrance fee to the temples of Angkor is rather steep, I wanted to wait until the weather improves so I get the most out of my money. And here it was, the perfect day to go get my weekly pass to Angkor Wat and start exploring, but I couldn’t do that. I had a very special guest in my room and couldn’t just kick her out of there right away so I can dress up, mount the bike and ride off to Angkor. That didn’t bother me one bit, though. I knew there will be many gorgeous days like this one and Angkor will not run away. Yet even though making friends with a prostitute was not anything I would have actively pursued, spending time together with Ha during the day, far away from flashing lights and loud music of the Temple Club gave me a chance to really know her and uncover her rather fascinating, albeit shocking life story. This was my own personal interview with a prostitute.
It started as a lazy morning but we were wide awake once I got the curtains open. Hot rays of intense Cambodian sun entered the room and tickled our senses with welcoming invite to leave the comfort of an air conditioned room and go enjoy the unbearable heat of the Siem Reap outdoors. We got dressed, brushed our teeth and were about to leave to get breakfast when Ha asked me if I would give her at least some money for food for her daughter. This was a bit disappointing to hear. All I could think of was: “So this was all about money in the end anyway!” Even though disappointed to have been asked that, I sensed that she felt as horrible about asking me as I felt about being asked. There was something undeniably sincere about Ha so I did not make a big deal out of it and handed her a $5 bill from my wallet. Afterall, she’s never attempted to steal from me and take off while I was sleeping. She’s never pulled anything funny against me and remained a loyal and respectful guest to my room. But most of all, her eyes did not lie. I had no doubt that she’s not looking for cash to buy drugs. She was not a prostitute to begin with and she was definitely not a junkie. I felt certain that the money will go to the right cause so I showed support without second guessing.
All ready to go, we left the room and headed straight for the scorching outdoors. Though we were still in the morning hours, the temperature was already near 40 Degrees Celsius making it scary to imagine what it was going to be like in the afternoon. I was covered in sweat within seconds but I tried not to get bothered by that slight inconvenience. We were walking slowly down the south end of Sivatha Road looking for a nice local restaurant where we could park it and order some munchies. The chat was on going. It truly was an interview with a prostitute only as my questions were being answered, horrific details of Ha’s life story kept giving me the creeps.
We sat in a small local restaurant, asked the owner to point their fan straight at us to wash away the sweat from our faces, ordered spicy chicken with rice and digged right in. The food was delicious and now that we had our stomachs smiling and rehydrated with several bottles of mineral water, unwilling to go back in the sun, we talked and talked. I could not believe what I was hearing. I could not believe there are people in the world who have to go through ordeals comparable to that of Ha and her daughter. I was horrified over the life of fear she has to live and how corrupt system of her home country would not provide her with any protection so she must run and hide. The story gave me sads and I can imagine it was but a tip of the iceberg. Details about Ha and her sad life are in the next post.
Even though I wasn’t too fond of the Temple Club, the night after I had checked out their Free Apsara Dance upstairs, I went to get a little glimpse of what it’s like in their main area downstairs. I took my laptop with me to get some pictures posted on this blog and since visible sign advices everyone walking down Pub Street that the club offers free WiFi to its patrons, I was curious as to the reliability and speed of the wireless connection.
The music they play at the Temple Club is atrocious. I was already there so I just switched my “ignore” button on, started up my laptop, ordered a beer and got right down to working totally oblivious to everyone and everything around me, including that crappy mainstream music. Things were going smoothly, I got lots of work done, visitors to Siem Reap that filled the club enjoyed their time without bothering me so it all seemed like one fine night. I was just about done and ready to wrap things up when I lifted my eyes that were fixed upon the laptop screen for over 2 hours and noticed this really cute, petite Asian girl standing behind my shoulder with a grin, checking out what I had on my screen. It was pretty loud there so whatever I would have said would not be heard, but since I was done with actual work, I scooted over to make room for her to sit on a bench next to me so she can see the pictures from my trip so far.
Skimpy dress the girl was wearing along with obvious make up job left very little for guessing. Besides, Temple Club is notorious for abundance of prostitutes looking for an easy buck from fly by tourists who represent the majority of Temple Club’s clientele. I must have attracted her attention by completely ignoring everyone and being locked onto my laptop not even as much as lifting my brows up to see what was going on around me. I have never in my life been with a prostitute before but I was curious about what they were like. I wanted to meet with one and talk to her about why she does that, how she finds it and if she’d do something else if she could. So many questions, so much curiosity and here it seemed like my opportunity has arrived. However, I had all of my red flags on high alert though, being fully aware of the fact that HIV prevalence rate among prostitutes in Cambodia is extremely high. It’s also high among general population with 1 in 75 people being infected, however it is estimated that at least 50% of Cambodian prostitutes are bearers of an HIV virus or already suffering from AIDS.
I knew damn well that I have never paid for sex before – not even while I was in (reasonably) safe countries so risking it in a country with such high prevalence of HIV would be plain stupid. I realized that if I were to try what it’s like with a prostitute, I should have done it before, not now that I’m in Cambodia. And this is the type of message I tried to pass on to the girl who just sat beside me to take a look at pictures on my laptop. I asked her if she would like anything to drink but seeing that there was a major language barrier, I just mimicked the act of chugging a beer down my throat to make her understand. She showed me that she still had her Coca Cola she was happy with so I put my wallet away.
We attempted a little communication and even though it was a bit challenging, she did have some understanding of English language so we could actually speak. I explained to her that I understand she was a prostitute and that I had no issue with that, but I firmly expressed that I was not going to get sexually involved with her because of fear of HIV and my own belief that there are better ways to hook up with members of opposite sex. I actually loaded Microsoft Word (TM) and wrote the following to make myself clear and easy to understand:
Money = NO
Sex = NO
Drink = YES
Talk = YES
I was hoping my message would be clear and this was exactly the way it was understood. She was happy with the drink she still had so there was no need for me to buy her another one but I made sure she knew that I would be happy to pick up the tab for our next round. But most of all there had to be an understanding that all I’m paying for are drinks and not any form of “services” she may be offering. The girl was OK with that and explained that business was slow tonight so she’s just gonna take the rest of the night off. We ended up staying until the close and had a very interesting conversation. I have learned that her real name was Ha even though she has originally introduced herself as Minnie (probably her hooker name she chose because of her petite build). I have also learned that she was Vietnamese and that Ha was a Vietnamese name, not Cambodian. I have heard that there are many Vietnamese prostitutes in Siem Reap so this information didn’t raise any additional questions.
We talked a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. But as we kept talking, I kept growing more and more suspicious of her. She sounded like a normal person. This was not the type of talk I would have expected from a prostitute. The fact that she gave up on “working” in favor of an intelligent conversation was already a hint enough but as the night progressed, the entire prostitute/john relationship was completely wiped off and instead there was a Canadian tourist and a Vietnamese girl with quite a touching story to her.
Ha told me she was 23 and had a 4 year old daughter. The reason why she was at the Temple Club was to try to make money to buy her little girl some food. Fabricated sob stories of this sort are an everyday thing utilized by scamming Cambodians because they work well with tourists. But with a bit of wits you can tell they’re lying and all they want is your money so they are ready to say whatever it takes to get some from you. It was entirely different with Ha. The sincerity of her eyes and voice were undeniable. There was something very wrong about her selling herself out and I could tell right away that she has not tried this type of “work” many times, if at all.
I asked where her daughter was now and she told me she was with her cousin who is looking after her. She also said they lived in a shed without shower, in the dog house kind of attachment to her uncle’s house because that was all she could afford. The night was coming to a close, so I offered her to come home with me. I had two beds in my room and whether both beds were occupied or not, it was gonna cost me the same. I offered her an option to sleep on an actual bed, instead of on wooden planks and use actual shower, instead of bathing in the rain puddles in rice fields. I have once again stressed that I won’t be interested in “hooker” services, but I did have a bed available and we have just become good friends, so I wanted to offer my friend some help that didn’t cost me anything.
As we walked towards my guesthouse, we continued to talk undisturbed by loud music. Ha was very grateful for being offered a sleep in a decent bed and a shower but felt obliged to deserve it. She didn’t want any money from me, but she wanted to “pay” for my hospitality with the only think (she thought) she had to offer – her body. I have assured her that this is not necessary and insisted that she takes as much time in the shower as she needs and so she is not afraid to make my room her home. I trusted her beyond recall and she’s never let my trust down. She was not a prostitute. She had no business being one. She didn’t deserve that. Something was terribly wrong about this who ordeal. I have just met an innocent person on the first night of her life trying to sell her body for money. I was after a story and I got a life changing experience instead.
Ha slept on one of the beds, I slept on another. I left the air conditioning on so she gets the pleasure of not having to sleep in scorching heat at least for the night. This night turned out nothing like I would have ever imagined. I was tired and fell asleep quickly. We woke up to a beautiful sunny day which was just what I was waiting for to start my Angkor Wat exploring adventure. After a week of mostly rainy weather, a cloudless, sunny day was a breath of fresh air. And I woke up sharing the room with a beautiful, young lady from Vietnam. Say good morning, Ha!
After Two Dragons, Prohm Roth Guesthouse was the second guesthouse I have stayed in during my long term stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have chosen Prohm Roth Guesthouse due to its absolutely phenomenal location within Siem Reap town, closeness to Preah Prom Rath Temple, great prices and friendly, responsive nature of Meang who takes care of email enquiries. Unlike Two Dragons, Prohm Roth Guesthouse is Khmer owned and run, meaning that by staying there I would be directly supporting local people. This comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, however there is no other guesthouse in Siem Reap where I would have stayed more times than in Prohm Roth. Let me go through what I liked and disliked about Prohm Roth Guesthouse in more detail. This is my personal review of this accommodation option in the most touristy town of Cambodia.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Review – First Impressions
Prohm Roth Guesthouse is a nice looking and newly built building that stands out like a sore thumb among the slums of surrounding huts. The main advantage of this is the fact that nothing obstructs the windows of rooms that are rented out so your room will be bright and happy, unlike it was at Two Dragons where rooms are dark and gloomy because within a meter of each window there is another building that obstructs all natural light from entering the room. Being a new building, interior is very cozy and nicely decorated which again was a major step up from cold, unwelcoming insides of Two Dragons.
The main reason why I opted for Two Dragons as my first guesthouse in Siem Reap was amazing responsiveness of Gordon, the owner who’s a native speaker of English which made communication smooth and to the point. Meang, one of two owners of Prohm Roth Guesthouse was the second most responsive guesthouse representative and the most responsive out of native Cambodians. Just as was the case with Gordon of Two Dragons, Meang addressed all questions in his responses and never opted for cut and paste replies. Both Gordon of Two Dragons and Meang of Prohm Roth Guesthouse deserve props for amazing pre-sale support and responsiveness. However, coming from the Western world, I must admit that I found responses from Meang really cute. Asian people may sound over the top when trying to earn your business, but take a look at a sample of how I was being addressed in emails sent to me and tell me if that’s not the cutest way to try to earn your business:
Dearest Sir Mark,
How are you doing? It’s such a great joy to read your message! I pray and hope that you are doing great, so thus your wonderful family!
How could you possibly not want to stay with someone who addresses you like this… Unfortunately, when it comes to most Khmer owned guesthouses in Siem Reap, an option to enquire by email either doesn’t exist or responses are way too slow and don’t address your questions. This makes such guesthouses unusable by first time visitors to Cambodia who would like to have everything arranged before they leave their home country. Luckily guesthouses such as Two Dragons or Prohm Roth do exist so one can easily make all arrangements from abroad utilizing internet communication tools.
The Room Review
September is the peak of rainy season in Cambodia which means it’s not particularly the high season month so room availability is oftentimes unlimited. I had several options varying from room with just a fan, through room with a fan and hot water all the way to the finest room in all of Prohm Roth Guesthouse – the one overlooking the Preah Prom Rath Temple. This was the most expensive room and had both air conditioning and hot water.
I asked about possibility of preferential pricing should I stay at the guesthouse for an extended period of time and was offered reasonable discount with each of the options. Upon my move to Prohm Roth Guesthouse, the best room was taken, but the couple occupying it was leaving the following day. So I’ve made arrangements that I would stay in another room for the night but once the best room becomes available, I would move there.
My first room was only equipped with a ceiling fan, but had hot water so it was one of the mid grade ones. Not having air conditioning in this heat was pretty tough. Especially since I’ve only been in Siem Reap for a week which wasn’t long enough to get used to such high temperatures and near 100% humidity (because of all the rain). Luckily, I got moved to the nicely spacious and air conditioning equipped room the following day and totally loved it.
The room had large windows on two walls making for a very bright atmosphere. It was a breath of fresh air after a week in super gloomy room at Two Dragons. It had two beds, some basic furniture, small TV set and a very uncomfortable chair I haven’t used at all, but it served well as a hanger for my sweaty t-shirts that got drenched after each visit outdoors.
The view from those large windows was the best thing about the room – overlooking the Preah Prom Rath temple gave the room a very high end feel. The only thing I could complain about was slight moldy smell coming from the built in closet (the smaller room I stayed in for one night had the same moldy smell coming from its closet as well) and there was an open hole in the washroom wall which had a fan in it to draw the air from the outside into the washroom which unfortunately was large enough to allow mosquitoes to safely fly into the room even if the fan was turned on. No matter how hard I tried, there were always dozens of blood hungry mosquitoes, the vectors of malaria and dengue fever in the room. The room was otherwise fantastic.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Prices
Per night rates for twin rooms with just a fan start at $10. Same size twin room but with air conditioning costs $13 per night, whereas large double room with view of the temple costs $18 per night. I have enquired about per week and per month prices and was quoted $40 per week for a twin toom with a fan and $60 per week for a twin room with air con. Monthly quotes were at $170 and $260 respectively. Those quotes did not include the double room with view of the temple, because I was initially only looking for the least expensive accommodation possible. My thinking has changed once I have seen the big room.
I really liked the large room so when I was told it was gonna be available the following day, I have immediately asked to have it reserved for me. I was offered a rate of $75 per week for that room and ended up staying for 2 weeks. I think Meang and his partner were happy after I was leaving because the interest in Prohm Roth Guesthouse kept growing on a daily basis and their finest room was taken at a very attractive (for me, not them) rate.
Agreement was an agreement, though so Meang and his partner honored the quote they have provided me with and I have used Prohm Roth Guesthouse on each of my subsequent returns to Siem Reap. I had very few complaints about this guesthouse but the location as well as everything else I could think of was so great, I was not interested in trying out other guesthouses.
Unfortunately, unlike Two Dragons, it is not possible to pay for your stay at Prohm Roth Guesthouse with a credit card.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Location Review
Perhaps the best thing about Prohm Roth Guesthouse was its location. Placed directly on a Pub Street extension, it took less than a minute on foot to get to the heart of all happening in Siem Reap. It was also just across the street from Wat Preah Prom Rath where I was teaching English so it took me less than a minute to get to the classroom making it even more convenient. Angkor Trade Center – one of main shopping malls in Siem Reap was also only minutes away.
Best of all, though – Prohm Roth Guesthouse is only around the corner from Pokambor Avenue, the road which leads all the way to Angkor Archaeological Park which was on my to-do-next list so strategically, this guesthouse is located very well.
Unfortunately, the slums surrounding the guesthouse are not very pretty. Piles of garbage nobody ever cleans make for nasty environment and the fact that the street is not illuminated makes for a bit dodgy walks home. It only takes a minute to get to the guesthouse from Pub Street, however it’s a minute through a very dark street inhabited by people living in sketchy looking huts with no electricity. I’ve never had a problem, but it was still rather scary. If someone was to get mugged in that street, there would be no helping them.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Staff Review
All of the staff at Prohm Roth Guesthouse are always very positive and very friendly making you feel better about your day no matter how shitty it may have been. They were always smiling and always seemed happy to see everyone. At times it felt a bit uncomfortable because you would expect to see everyone pissed off at least at some point of time, but I grew to really appreciate their smiles and positive attitude.
As it was with Two Dragons, Prohm Roth Guesthouse also promises to deliver a bottle of water to their patrons every day. However, unlike at Two Dragons, their bottle of water was handed to you by someone who would be at the desk when you get back to the guesthouse after a day out in the scorching sun. Unfortunately, more often than not nobody would get a chance to get you one so you end up without a bottle of water you should be getting. At Two dragons, you would find your bottle in your room after your room has been done. It would never be otherwise. Whereas at Prohm Roth Guesthouse it would only depend on who is at the reception desk and whether they are busy at the time.
It was the same with daily room service. Prohm Roth Guesthouse promises to offer daily room service, but room has not been attended to every day, only some days. Again, this would not have happened at Two Dragons. When it comes to daily bottle of water and daily room service, Two Dragons Guesthouse excels and gets 10 out of 10 points. Prohm Roth Guesthouse lacks in this regard quite a bit.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Free Internet Review
Just as was the case with Two Dragons, Prohm Roth Guesthouse offered free wireless internet to its guests and as was the case with Two Dragons, the owners of Prohm Roth cheaped out on it. It is free and can be used for emergencies, but good luck trying to load a simple website. Dial Up access would fly by the speed of the internet available at Prohm Roth Guesthouse. It is there, but it’s literally as though there was none. You can’t get anything done when internet is this slow. You will spend hours trying to load up one email message until you can’t do it anymore and end up going to the Temple Club or Khmer Family Restaurant the owners of which (same owner for both) didn’t cheap out so their free WiFi signal makes your internet fly.
Prohm Roth Guesthouse Website
I don’t know who designed their website, but Prohm Roth Guesthouse has hands down the shittiest website on the entire internet. It’s atrociously horrible. And if stupid animations, awful mouse pointer and nauseous graphic were not bad enough, once you click through to the main content, music starts playing pretty loud with no option provided to mute it. I can think of nothing they could do to their website to make it any more heinous than it is right now. Take a look for yourself at:
Non Smoking Rooms (smokers can smoke in the hallway sitting area)
Excellent Location Close To Everything That’s Important in Siem Reap
Friendly and Welcoming Staff
Cash Only for Payments (No Credit Cards)
Daily Water and Daily Room Service Remain a Promise, Not Reality
Moldy Smell in Built-In Closets
Although it’s certainly not perfect and has its downsides, Prohm Roth remains the best guesthouse I have stayed in in Siem Reap. Each time I left the town and came back, I headed straight for Prohm Roth Guesthouse and never regretted the decision. Reliable, honest and friendly management is one of the finest to deal with and prices are reasonable. It’s a great value for money and perhaps the best location in Siem Reap given the price. Unless something unpredictable happens, I will be sending Meang an email to secure myself a room at Prohm Roth Guesthouse each time I’m gonna head back to Siem Reap. Prohm Roth Guesthouse is my guesthouse of choice. Thumbs up!
I felt rather disgusting as it’s really hot and humid in Cambodia so I was sweating whole day nonstop. I stank and my feet were dirty from walking in the dust wearing sandals whole day. Shower would feel like a life saver and so it did, but I was so tired I just fell in the bed and lay there motionless for a few hours, contemplating the need to take shower, but struggling to find strength to lift up and walk to the washroom. The room was hot but provided air-conditioning fixed it all up within minutes. General lack of sleep from previous night and long day travelling prior started to show eventually and I felt really tired, ready to crash.
It got dark fast and everything in Two Dragons fell quiet. It was night hour. I went to take my shower at last and feeling clean, I lay in my bed ready to get some sleep. To my most unpleasant surprise, there was this extremely loud, irritating buzz shaking my room. It was brutal. I’d be sitting on my bed and all I hear is this horrible buzz. It felt as if I was sleeping inside a giant power station where buzz from ultra high voltage is deafening. The buzz of Two Dragons was no less of an ear tearing experience.
I switched off the air-conditioning, switched off all the lights, made sure no water tap is open but the buzz was persistent and appeared not related to anything in the room. Headache from the noise was getting more severe and I have quickly come to realize that I won’t be able to fall asleep in such painful conditions.
I was surprised I did not hear any commotion outside. I’d think someone would already complain or the management would notice and try to resolve it. But everything was quiet and everyone seemingly asleep already. I opened the door and walked out on the hallway to learn that the buzz is present there as well. There was no particular place it was coming from, it was just there. Extremely loud and omnipresent.
I walked up and down the hallway and noticed the buzz was much stronger at the southern end of the building, where my and most other rooms were located. Northern end where balcony and coffee table were was still getting the buzz, but the intensity was a bit lower. It’s hot outside even at night in Cambodia and if it wasn’t for mosquitoes who love my blood, I would crash on the balcony floor to avoid getting my head burst from that horrible buzzing.
Since there were no signs of life anywhere in the building, I opened my suitcase and dug out the earplugs. I could not believe I was sleeping in a $12 a night establishment and was forced to use earplugs to sleep. Everything about Two Dragons seemed to go downhill and I started to regret my decision to book stay here for a week. Wearing earplugs all night long provides breading grounds for bacteria in your ears and feels uncomfortable. I hated having to do that and could not wait for the morning.
This is my personal review of Two Dragons guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It reflects my personal impressions and experiences after staying in Two Dragons for a week. All the positives and negatives, all the pluses and minuses in this review are presented without bias and without misleading.
Why I Chose Two Dragons Guesthouse
Prior to leaving for Cambodia I have contacted several guesthouses, homestays and low scale hotels in Siem Reap about their availability and pricing. I specifically wanted to know which establishments offer special pricing for long term stay (both week long and month long) since I was planning on staying in Cambodia for a while. In my email enquiry I have mentioned that I was interested in a single bed room with en suite shower (preferably with hot water).
In addition I also wanted to know if the establishment offers free pick up from Siam Reap airport, whether wireless internet is included in price and whether they had laundry facility on site that’s available to guests.
Two Dragons was the fastest to respond. Before I was done contacting all of the guesthouses I wanted to contact, I had a reply from Gordon – owner and manager of Two Dragons Guesthouse. That was a big positive and this first impression made major impact. I have not heard from most other guesthouses till following morning. There were a few that took several days to respond – I did not deal with those at all.
After impressive first impression from Two Dragons Guesthouse and elimination of most other guesthouses because of cut and paste responses or not answering any or all of my questions, I was left with three of my favorites. The reason I eventually opted for Two Dragons was that it was owned by an expat, a westerner who’s lived in Cambodia for many years plus I liked the approach Gordon is taking on his website – he’s addressing right audiences in the right way. He’s not too formal and says it the way backpackers would want to hear it. According to Two Dragons official website – twodragons-asia.com, they do not B.S. and provide truthful information based on what is best for the tourist, not on who offers them the biggest kickback.
On their website, Two Dragons management also claims that they have English speaking, reliable Tuk Tuk drivers who unlike many other Tuk Tuk drivers in Cambodia, can be trusted. All this information was presented in a very inviting way setting Two Dragons safely apart from competition. Given that a tourist is most vulnerable during initial hours of his/her stay and subsequently rather lost and confused for the following few days, staying at Two Dragons seemed like the best starting point.
Two Dragons Review – First Impressions
So far so good. I re-contacted Gordon two days prior to leaving Canada to make sure everything is in place and driver will be waiting for me when I arrive in Siem Reap. As before, the response was prompt and affirming, leaving no doubt that Two Dragons has reservations taken care of with no room for mishaps. This feeling of everything being in place made it all easier on me, since I knew my arrival in Cambodia will be proceeded by more than 24 hours on the airplanes and at the airports and by the time I get to Cambodia all work out and tired, it will be late night there. I’d be an easy prey for vulture like scam artists who operate at international airports of third world countries.
As promised, driver waited for me at Siem Reap airport, delivered me to the guesthouse without hassle and guesthouse staff took care of the rest. I got the room and was left alone to get some sleep after long flight. The very beginnings during which a tourist is most vulnerable were taken care of wholesomely by Two Dragons. There were no screw ups in the beginning while I was extremely cranky and in desperate need of some sleep.
The Room Review
I was given the room #15. Something is telling me that this is the shittiest room in entire Two Dragons guesthouse. During the day, when girls who work at the guesthouse clean other rooms and doors are open, I could see inside that each other room was nicer than mine. Maybe I arrived when this one was the only one available, and while I don’t have any major issues with the room, I’d say that anyone looking to stay in Two Dragons who is not dead tired when they arrive, asks the staff to show them each of the available rooms and choose one they like the best prior to unpacking.
The room I was in was small in size, but that’s all you need. It had two beds on each side of the wall, small coffee table, tiny little TV set on a stand, nice looking imitation wardrobe made of bamboo, a chair made of bamboo, a ceiling fan and an air-conditioning unit (all rooms at Two Dragons are air conditioned). The room also had en suite washroom with sink, heated shower and toilet bowl.
Two Dragons proudly claim that their room are the cleanest in Siem Reap (or something like that). I have never had any issues with non cleanliness so even if that may be an exaggerate statement, you won’t be seeing chunks of dust under your bed or spider webs on the ceiling. First night I slept on one of the beds that stank, so I spent the rest of my stay on second bed in the room which was better.
I have never watched TV. I don’t watch TV at home and as a matter of fact, I have not been on the tube, other than by watching my DVDs in years. Two Dragons website claims that they have over 80 international channels that you can watch. It’s quite possible, though the TV set in my room was no bigger than 14 inches, which is really tiny.
Two Dragons Bullshitting of Patrons
While Two Dragons do offer daily room cleaning services (not all guesthouses do), which is a positive thing, I didn’t like the fact that they pull the same trick at their patrons as many other similar establishments. To bullshit you into not getting your towel changed daily, Two Dragons will pull the well approved trick about being environmentally friendly at you. This is the most jokeable and most cynical part of their business. On one hand they claim that at Two Dragons they strive to protect the environment and as such they would ask you not to request having the towel changed daily, yet on another you won’t find anything about Two Dragons that would back up the statement that they do care about the environment. If they really cared, they would use eco friendly (energy saving) bulbs everywhere throughout their establishment. If they cared they would not be giving bottled water to each of their patrons, instead they would provide a dispenser of sorts. If they cared about the environment, they would use bio degradable cleaning solutions. But they don’t. At Two Dragons they just want to save up on each customer so they make you feel guilty about the environment while true intention is to spend as little on you as possible. That’s all. I hate bullshitters.
Two Dragons Staff Review
All staff members I have had an encounter with during my week long stay at Two Dragons were extremely nice and friendly. Room cleaning is done while you are gone and is done properly. I have always found my bed done up, sheets were probably changed a few times during my stay, garbage was emptied daily, fresh bottle of drinking water left in the room every day and my personal stuff never seemed touched. I left my money and IDs on the table while I was gone and always found it there.
There is allegedly a safe available for use by the guests, but there was some major headache attached to using it so I never did. I thought of shoving my extra money in it, but I didn’t have any pouch to put it in so I’d have to hand them a pile of bills which seemed less tricky than burying it in the bag among dirty laundry.
Two Dragons Restaurant Review
I have only eaten in the restaurant here once. The reason – overpriced. Food was OK. It was nothing spectacular, but not bad either. However it was way more expensive than other restaurants hence not worth it. There were several restaurants nearby – literally just seconds away where I would go to eat. I’d pay half the money and get twice the food. It just didn’t make any sense eating at Two Dragons.
The restaurant is also located by the entrance to the guesthouse so when a new guest comes, you get to listen to a lot of commotion while you’re trying to eat. As a guest, you are however provided with complimentary tea and coffee that you can help yourself on the upper floor where the guest rooms are, right outside small balcony. I don’t drink coffee so I can’t comment on that, but the tea was Lipton Yellow Tea in separate bags that you dip in hot water from a dispenser. It was provided for free, so no complaints and I did help myself on a couple of occasions.
Two Dragons Location Review
Location of Two Dragons completely blows. It’s too far away from anything interesting in Siem Reap, but most of all it’s on an unpaved road so during rainy season, you get to plough through mud to get to and from the guesthouse. It truly sucked because I bought a bicycle to move around and most of town was fine – at worst a little puddle here and there. But the alley leading to Two Dragons was always covered in mud.
One of the things Gordon points out all the time is that he will offer a no B.S. advice to his guests and will tell them what is worth checking out, what is not, where to go to do this, where to go to get that – and all of it with interests of the visitor in mind, not his own. It sounds nice on paper, but is it really so?
I had two questions of Gordon after I first met him – I wanted to know about renting or buying a bicycle and I wanted to know about buying a SIM card for my GSM cell phone. In both cases I got advice that didn’t fit the description of giving advice that most beneficial to the guest.
First I wanted to know how much their bike rentals were and where I should go if I decided to buy one instead of renting. I was told they rent bikes out for $2 per day. Most guesthouses rent bikes out for $1 but was not my concern. Gordon is the boss, he can set his prices any way he wants. Some of his guests ate in Two Dragons restaurant, I didn’t see the point and went to the one around the corner where meals are half the price and you get a three course meal with desert for less than one dish at Two Dragons. If people are fine paying for Two Dragons food, it’s their own business. And the same goes for bicycles and laundry service. Gordon charges $2 per day for bike rental and $2 to wash 1 kg of laundry. Shed right next to Two Dragons does 1kg of laundry for $1 and two sheds down you can rent a bicycle for $1 per day. I would take this 30 second walk just on principle, however many people are fine paying Two Dragon’s prices and that’s their own business.
After answering my question about how much they were renting bikes for, Gordon mentioned that I could buy a bike instead of renting form them if I wanted to stay for a while and ride while I’m here. He gave me valuable advice that cheapo bikes sell for $30, better ones for $50, however there are no quality mountain bikes available for sale in Cambodia. Only pieces of junk from China and overused second hand rejects form Japan. But whether I was going to buy or rent, I would still end up riding the same piece of junk, so it would make no difference. That’s what I was told and 80% of it was true which is a decent ratio for free advice.
The following day I wanted to go take a look at what bikes are available for sale, so I asked Gordon where the stores were. He insisted that I take a Tuk Tuk ride there. I told him I was fine walking as I like walking, it allows me to see the town and besides – I’ve been walking everywhere so fat and given Two Dragon’s location, I had opposite ends of town covered so wherever bike stores could be, I could definitely do it. However Gordon insisted that I take Tuk Tuk because it’s too far.
I really didn’t see where possibly it could be that I could not walk there, but eventually I broke down and agreed to taking Tuk Tuk. Needless to say – it was not far at all, which made it look as though despite what he claims, Gordon truly wants to get some business to his Tuk Tuk drivers for carrying his sign on the back of their trailers and for being his on call drivers. So this all blabber about only advising tourists what is best for them is questionable. He does give you advice, but it always involves taking one of his drivers to go there and do that. Afterall, expecting that there would be a business owner who would not think of kick backs when giving advice to a tourist who is looking to spend money on something is foolish.
My second question on Gordon was where to go to buy a SIM card for my phone. Again, I was told that tourists can buy a tourist SIM card which is only valid for a week and costs $12. To stay true to his intentions to hook his Tuk Tuk drivers with earnings (or maybe he keeps part of their net earnings – which would explain why he is so strung for everyone going everywhere and doing everything via his “approved” Tuk Tuk drivers), he added that a better option is to ask one of the Tuk Tuk drivers to buy me a regular SIM card, put it under their name and give them few extra bucks for doing that for me.
Good thing was I didn’t let him get me a Tuk Tuk driver to take care of it for me, like it was with the bicycle fiasco. This time around I said I was gonna think if I want a SIM card at all and went to do my own research myself. As it turns out, you can buy regular SIM card without problems. I bought one for $3 which comes with $4 worth of within network calls (charged at $.06 a minute) and $2 worth of cross country calls (charged at $.09 per minute). These minutes must be used within a month or else they expire and the card must be recharged within following two months or else the number expires. You do not need a Tuk Tuk driver to get yourself a SIM card for a GSM phone in Cambodia. And this is the first cell phone company I enquired with (Metfone). There are 9 of them in the country. Once again, I was forced to doubt real intentions behind Gordon’s vehement attempts to make sure he hooks up his Tuk Tuk drivers with income. The claims that at Two Dragons they don’t B.S. and don’t advice anything for kick backs are truly questionable.
Two Dragons Free Internet Review
This was my biggest pet peeve of all. Given the nature of my work, it is absolutely essential for me to have internet access. Two Dragons comes with a promise of free WiFi wireless internet. The only catch is, that it sucks like no other. Most of the time the internet doesn’t work. It’s either completely down or not down, but nothing loads and times out. On an important day I was trying to submit one article to a website. I started at 7pm and by midnight it was still not sent. I had to put it off till the following day and even that took a good chunk out of my day just to submit one silly article. WiFi internet you get at Two Dragons is simply awful. If you regularly update your website or need to keep up with friends on line and choose to stay at Two Dragons… oh boy! You’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Even as I’m writing this review, I can see that WiFi is again down and there is no knowing when it comes back up. It’s the most frustrating feeling ever. I spoke with several people who stay in other guesthouses, none have this type of issues with internet.
I did not come to Cambodia expecting to get high speed internet similar to what we have in Canada. But internet that doesn’t work at all is B.S. – as owner of Two Dragons would say. This alone would be a good enough reason on its own for me to seek different accommodation arrangements.
Internet is yet another reason to believe that despite what they claim, the Two Dragons management does B.S. their patrons. In a booklet provided in guestrooms, it is stated that there is not enough bandwidth allocated for Cambodia hence internet is often slow and unreliable. This fact is used to force people into limited use of the internet, restricting it to email checking and no videos, no webmail chatting or anything similar. The guests are reminded that they will be cut off should they burn any more bandwidth than what the management of Two Dragons likes.
I can imagine that this scare mongering works well given what Siem Reap is all about – most tourists to make it here only stay for a day or two and spend them exploring Angkor Wat temples. If it were not for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap would be nothing with no tourists making it here. Still, since tourists come here with particular purpose and leave once this purpose is fulfilled, they will have little chance experiencing real Cambodia and what it has to offer. And if such tourist chooses to stay at Two Dragons, they will believe what they are told. Most tourists who stayed at Two Dragons have probably left Cambodia believing internet truly is slow and unreliable and there’s little bandwidth for this country so checking YouTube videos or chatting over Skype with webcam feature on will kill entire system. But after you have explored real Cambodia for a bit and tear yourself away from Two Dragon B.S., you will get to see that it’s nothing like it’s presented to you there.
You can go for nice supper at Khmer Family Restaurant on Pub Street, Siem Reap – WiFi internet is provided to their patrons for free. It’s fast, reliable, always works and always flies. You have no problem playing video, no problem engaging in any internet activity you are used to and no one will mind, because they simply did not cheap out on crappy internet they provide to their clients.
You will get exactly the same at Temple Club. Lightning fast internet with no restrictions. Another awesome option is to go to the Common Ground Cafe where internet is also fast and reliable. All you need to do is to order a drink with them, and get a password for security enabled wireless internet. And you’re on. You can come any day, any time of day and it will always fly, and no restrictions will be imposed upon you. Two Dragons simply like to B.S. their client with lots of B.S. and unfortunately, since most clients don’t stay in Siem Reap for too long, this B.S. goes unnoticed.
Few Random Negatives
There is this buzzing noise that seems to be omnipresent throughout most of Two Dragons. It sounds as if there was a big transformer somewhere within the walls that makes buzzing noise and while most of the day it’s negligable, it was awfully loud on my second night at this guesthouse. It was deafening. I was working on the computer, trying to get something submitted on the internet, but connection here is ridiculous and this noise was just buzzing and buzzing until my head felt like it was going to explode. I was trying to locate it, but it seemed like it’s spread throughout the building. I walked out on the hallway and it was there too. It was everywhere. Since it was past midnight and everyone was asleep, I didn’t know what to do about it, so I just suffered through it. It eased down the following days again, even though it was still remotely present.
The drain in my bathroom did not drain very well. bathroom is extremely small and houses both toilet, sink and shower. You basically spray all over the toilet bowl as you take shower and need to move the toilet paper out in order not to get it wet during showering so you can use it afterwards. The excess water from showering didn’t drain very well so as you are taking your shower, the level keeps rising with hair and soap dirt floating in it.
Two Dragons Review – Conclusion
Discount for Long Term Stay Possible
Responsive with Pre Sale Enquiries (very strong positive)
Rooms have Air-conditioning and En Suite Washrooms
Non Smoking Rooms (smokers can smoke on the balcony)
Clean Rooms Attended to Daily
Daily Free Bottle of Water
Credit Card Payments Possible
More Expensive than Equally Good or Better Guesthouses
Too Much B.S. Pretending to be Help (worst kind of B.S. – very strong negative)
As far as rooms themselves are concerned, I think Two Dragons would satisfy most visitors to Siem Reap. Everything else is a downer. The owner doesn’t care about repeat customers and will do anything to rip you off as much as humanly possible on your first stay. Most visitors to Siem Reap will not pay Cambodia another visit so he’s fine with ripping you off. If you’re a smart traveller and find out how things work for yourself, without asking Gordon for advice, you will avoid getting ripped off. If you make a vital mistake and do ask for advice, you will be taken advantage of. You could just ask a simple question, Gordon will immediately get one of the girls who work at Two Dragons to call a Tuk Tuk driver claiming you need him for everything you do and even though you insist on not calling, the girl will already be on the phone making arrangements in a language you don’t understand, ultimately forcing you to feel obliged to accept the arrangements made. One former American lawyer, a 61 year old expat who now lives in Phnom Penh had a misfortune of staying at Two Dragons and Gordon made such forcible arrangements for him which resulted in the guy overpaying $20 for a taxi ride.
Even though rooms are clean and attended to daily, I would not recommend Two Dragons to anyone. Value for money is not quite there – you can find better and less expensive accommodation that’s also at much more attractive location so Two Dragons really make little sense. But the owner is the main problem. The only way to not get ripped off is to never ask for anything and never use any of their services other than accommodation. You will feel like you are not welcomed, you will feel like they consider you an unworthy guest (that’s the way I felt, because I went to eat at restaurants that were not overpriced and have not fallen for any of Gordon’s rip off attempts) so while every other guest will be talked to and greeted nicely, you will be either ignored or just dealt with quickly. But it will save you from getting ripped off.
Despite this unspoken tension, I kept to my promise and remained at Two Dragon guesthouse for a week. As soon as my time was up, I darted off and will not consider ever staying there again. In addition – the more people I meet who stayed there, the more stories of having been ripped off come up. As the time went by, I stayed at over a dozen of guesthouses, some as cheap as $3 a night, yet Two Dragons still ranks as the worst place I have stayed at in Cambodia.