I don’t usually write hotel reviews – well, not more than a paragraph or two – but this place deserves more. I think its full name is Ban Sabai Sabai Guest House and Homestay. It’s where I stayed for three nights in Kanchanaburi.
You see, I normally stay in a typical hotel. A large building with many floors and lots of corridors. An air conditioned bedroom with separate bathroom. Maybe a balcony with a nice view. And ideally a mini bar, or at least a fridge.
Ban Sabai Sabai doesn’t fit that description at all. So why did I choose it?
I was browsing through agoda.com for hotels in Kanchanaburi. There’s about eighty listed. Some, if they have a River Kwai view, are quite expensive. And yet, some are not. I short-listed a few, especially one that was built on a raft in the river. It looked basic, but good enough. The food was supposed to be especially good and it was super-cheap.
But I always read the customer reviews, and the proximity to karaoke bars, on adjacent rafts in the river, put me off. If there’s one thing Thais can’t do, it’s sing. The group playing in the restaurant at the hotel I stayed in in Lopburi were stunningly awful. The singer was completely tone deaf. And they were paid for making that noise. I assume. Imagine how bad karaoke can sound. Anyhoo, I sat outside by the pool to avoid the noise.
Ban Sabai Sabai is like a small village. It has all types of rooms from very basic and very cheap, to big enough and cheap enough. I chose the latter. The room was the upper floor of a small house. It was clean. It had a balcony which ran round two sides of the building. The bathroom was a walled-off part of the main room. And it had no air conditioning. Normally, for me, air-con is an essential. But in Kanchanaburi it hits 35 degrees during the day, but drops to somethingteen during the night.
While I stayed there, all my windows were open, day and night. The first night I turned on the fan and almost froze to death. It’s just not needed. The room stays cool and I slept better than I can remember. At my age I can’t remember much, but you know what I mean.
The new-ish owners are Yves – he is French, and a young Charles Aznavour look alike – and Deng. She’s Thai. The reviews mention that Yves and Deng go beyond the call of duty to make sure everyone is happy. The reviews are not wrong. Yves has lots of useful advice, and Deng’s cooking is great. She seems to whip-up four or five dishes before you can get halfway through a bottle of beer.
Eating is communal, around a large table. Yves told me that’s deliberate – to get everyone together, and get them talking. It works. While I was there, the other guests were like a mini United Nations. I forget them all, but at least French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Australian, Welsh and a Filipina. Although most were less than a third my age, they happily included me in their cross-table banter. And the more beer, the more banter.
The evening I arrived I was spaced out after a very long and tiring day. But I managed to answer the inevitable “Where are you from?” question with its usual complicated answer, and the “What are you doing here?” question with the confusing “Part vacation and part motorsport” answer. I didn’t think anyone was really interested in the latter answer, but I did notice a young Australian girl – Sam – seemed to take more notice than I expected.
Anyways, the next evening she raised the subject of motorsport again, so I went into more detail of how the next day I had to travel a piece of road to check some route instructions, and gave her a rough idea of what the Road To Mandalay Rally was all about, and what I needed to do. Then she took me surprise by asking if she could join me.
I admit, I tried to put her off by saying it would be hard work, and we’d be on gravel roads. If there’s one thing route checking needs it’s concentration, and I figured that would be tough if there was someone in the car who suddenly realized the whole idea had been a big mistake, and would rather be somewhere else, or anywhere else. As it turned out, Sam lives in the outback, several hundred kilometers from anywhere, and so is no stranger to going off-road, in fact I’m guessing she rarely goes on-road. Plus she seemed really keen, so I said “Yes.” More on our escapades tomorrow.
I was talking about the hotel…
All in all, it was really fun. For the backpackers it was probably much like any other place they stay. For me, it was something different. The hotel is great, but it was the people who made it special. Several were switching seamlessly between a variety of languages. I made a mental note to focus more on language learning. Probably yet another New Years Resolution that will go the same way as the rest. But, I’ll try.
Would I return? Absolutely. Due to the rally route checking, there were a few excursions I failed to make. Maybe next year.