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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

The 5-Star, 1-Star Difference

THAILAND | Wednesday, 1 August 2007 | Views [1106]

It's August 1st and we've just landed in Bangkok from Hanoi, for a one night transit stop en route to Helsinki, Finland.  We had booked ourselves a low-grade hotel fro the evening, close to the airport.  Upon arrival in Bangkok's new shiny airport, we stop into the FinnAir ticketing office to get our newly reissued ticket for a change in flight, which has changed from departing late night this evening, to mid-day tomorrow.  The FinnAir ticketing representative informs us that we have to cancel our current hotel booking, that they will be putting us up for the night in their pre-paid airport hotel.  Darrin and I look at each other, bummed that we didn't know this in advance, and that we now need to pay for the other hotel non-refundable charge.  The woman at FinnAir assures us that she will take care of the charge with our hotel, and calls them, solidifying the cancellation and "no-charge" with the hotel.  We're given a voucher for our nights stay at the shiny new Novotel Hotel, along with three meals and two three minute overseas calls.  Wow, not bad, we think... but does it include internet usage?  You see, our dirt cheap, one-star hotel has free wireless access and we had planned to use our transit day to load up our website additions.  "Sure," they tell us, "there's access at the NOvotel."  So we are shuttled over to the hotel in a nice clean Mercedes van, and welcomed by 10 different hotel employees between our steps out of the van, through the hotel doors, past the concierge and through to the reception.  We check in and head up to our posh room.  This is the nicest room we've stayed in during our entire past 7 months of travel.  It's got a huge double bed- bigger than a California King, fluffy white duvet and feather pillows.  There's a glass enclosed soaking tub that looks out over the airport from inside the bathroom.  And to boot... soft cotton robes and slippers.  Our room is sheer luxury.  Even better is the fitness center where we can indulge in yoga and aerobics classes.  The tropical pool, jacuzzis and saunas... ah, it's 5-star all the way.  But wait... it gets better... we get to have 3 magnificent meals - huge buffet spreads cooked by chefs in tall white chef-hats.  We've arrived just in time for lunch - one counter is all you can eat sushi, next it's tasty Indian curries with all the naan and paratha our hearts desire.  There's a pasta bar, a Thai satay/butcherie, and an Asian Noodle Soup bar.  Did I mention the edible fresh veggies?  Ah, the salads, mounds of heaping, spicy arugula, fresh made caesar, and crisp, delicious vegetables.  To top it off, the desserts are spread across three different bars... anything and everything you can imagine for sweets from International, Western, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, it's all there to please.  Of course drinks that come with our free meals include only water, tea and coffee, of which we suck down all the clean filtered water we can fill our stomachs with.  Any other drink is well above our budget - near to $10/beer.  Soft drinks are in a similar range.  It's unfortunate, but they have a choice of about 15 different teas, so I'm a happy camper.  Of course, the unfortunate reality is that I've still got the stomach illness and unable to eat all the heaps of amazing food, but I'll sample bits, nonetheless.  So here we are, our first 5-Star experience on the trip, and my first 5-Star accommodation since I've left the corporate world.  
There are downfalls to the 5-star experience, and it's mostly the bureaucracy that one must navigate through to get any service beyond the "paid for" room and meals.  For us, it was simple access to internet.  The woman from the reception told us access was $40/day, or $20 for 12 hours.  Gosh, this was more than the cost of our 1-Star hotel that included wireless internet access for free.  So we asked if we could substitute our free overseas call minutes for the 12 hours of internet, which would actually be cheaper for FinnAir than would the 6 total minutes of overseas calls.  Reception needed to call FinnAir, FinnAir needed to get exception approval, reception needed to acknowledge it in their reservation system, and then communicate it with the business center, and the business center actually needed to program us a passcode.  It ended up they would only authorize us for 1 hour each internet... far less than what would be required for our upload (at least 8 hours if no problems arise).  The reception neglected to let FinnAir know it was a better deal for them to give us the 12 hours bulk time, and that would have required the Reception woman to explain something and she wasn't that customer service oriented, so after several hours going back and forth between the reception, FinnAir and the business center, we were finally granted a password and allowed to use wireless in our room for two hours.  
It's funny, we've learned a bit about the differences between 1-Star and 5-Star in Vietnam when we were shopping for boat trips in Halong Bay. When we asked the differences from the sales reps, were were told:
-  Same boat, but staff on the 5-Star wear white shirts
-  More quantity of food, same quality, on 5-Star
-  Need to pay more $$ for AC on 5-Star
-  Need to pay extra $$ for Kayaking
-  Get a welcome drink = 1 glass of alcohol on 5-star
So, for the difference of $40 - 2 day, 1 night 1-Star Junk, and $180 for the same on the 5-Star Junk, we were told that the prices were artificially inflated because rich people will "pay" more when they believe they are getting VIP treatment, and any extras like kayaking and AC the boat companies are able to charge a premium for because rich people "expect" to pay for more features.  It's all really catering to expectations of VIP treatment, and paying more to get more.  Wow, what a scam! 
I had written a blog entry earlier about corporate travel being like living in a plastic bubble.  After 7 months on the road, and living in very local conditions, it feels very uncomfortable staying in this character-less, culture-less hotel.  While we certainly can't complain, it's free, and we've had a great nights sleep, had an amazing workout in the fitness center and are feeling very well fed after the tiny portions we've trained our stomaches to be used to in Vietnam... all for free... we can't help but think how unfortunate an experience to come all the way to see a new country, and to be limited to the confines of a sterile, westernized hotel.  We still prefer the 1-Star experience over the 5-Star opulence and comfort.

Tags: On the Road


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