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Saturday, June 16, 2007


Budgeting accommodation

Last year I lived in Cambodia for nine months. I went to teach English at the Buddhist monastery, Wat Xam (sometimes spelled Ksam). At the time, I gave serious consideration to becoming a monk. I chose to not do so. I'm sure it would have helped me on my path. However I look at it this way, I'm the sort of person who creates rules for myself about how I live. Monks live by the rules of the vinaya—200+ rules handed down by the Buddha 2,500 years ago. While I'm sure all those rules are admirable, I wonder how relevant they are for me today. Some are, and those I willingly adopt without wearing robes, but I prefer to have the choice of rejecting those rules I consider irrelevant to me. As a monk I would have been obliged to follow every one. I chose to not do so.

Even so, I was offered a room at the wat. I could have gone there and lived among the monks without having to follow the rules. Once again, I seriously considered this. I love those guys and really enjoy hanging out with them. But had I done so I would have had to reduce my standard of living way below what I am used to.

As someone who has chosen a life 'on the road' I have to choose accommodation that fits within my budget otherwise I can't survive in this lifestyle. If I was travelling for a short holiday I could spend a lot more on accommodation but in my situation, whatever I spend has to be sustainable permanently.

Within my budget what I get depends on where I am. In Cambodia I was able to rent a half-reasonable house for way less than the budget. In Thailand I can usually find something reasonably comfortable. In Melaka I can stay at Sama Sama guesthouse which isn't five star but certainly has a lot of charm to make up for what it lacks in comfort. In Singapore I can't reasonably stay for more than a few days. One night in a budget place in Singapore costs the same as a week in Sama Sama. You get the picture?

For the past two weeks in KL I went way downmarket. KL's not as expensive as Singapore but for the price I pay at Sama Sama you don't get much there. You get a bed, reasonably comfortable, in a tiny room, shared bathroom and not a lot more. It's reasonably clean but I certainly don't get excited about it. I think of my friends, the monks at Wat Xam and for that matter many of my friends in Cambodia who aren't even monks, and I know I can cope for a week or two.

Yesterday I flew from KL to Hanoi—my first visit to Vietnam. As I was arriving in the evening I didn't want to be mucked around. Many of the cheaper guesthouses in this city have a reputation for not honouring bookings (check out the travel forums for details) so I booked myself into a two-star hotel. Still not exactly grand but a little better than I've become used to. They picked me up at the airport. My room has air-con. It has its own bathroom with hot and cold water, good plumbing and it even has a real bath. It has a wardrobe. And most importantly, it has an ethernet connection in my room.

My original plan was to just stay here one night and then move into something more within my budget but hopefully better than I had in KL or would have had at Wat Xam. But I'm liking it here and decided I can afford to extend my stay a little longer. Not sure how long that'll be. I'm enjoying Hanoi so far. It's possible I could stay a whole month. Watch this space.

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