Mandalay: An Adventure in a Room

Guide books exist for obvious reasons: to guide, instruct, recommend or give the reader a plethora of options. Ignoring a guide book’s suggestion is forgivable, but not heeding a warning is a mortal sin.

While in Myanmar, I decided not to book an accommodation after Yangon to make my journey more exciting. I’ve tried this once in Vietnam and got a good bargain! So after my trip to Bagan, I headed out to Mandalay without any idea of what to expect accommodation wise.

I sat beside a South African traveler in the bus and asked him for options. He told me that he has a one day booking with Sabai Phyu Hotel in Mandalay for $18. I told him it was too expensive and I was aiming for something cheaper such as an $8 room. He said that I might get a “shitty room” (his exact words) for that price. I then remembered my room way back in 2009 when I was in Bangkok. My friends and I booked at the New Joe Guesthouse and was given a room that looked like it had been used for a massacre. I thought if I was able to go through that, I could go through anything.

After 7 hours of heat and hunger, I finally arrived in Mandalay and got in a mini-truck with other tourists.

Since most of us had no pre-booked accommodations, we decided to check ET Hotel, as I remembered it being the hotel of my English/Scottish friends whom I met in Yangon. Unfortunately, it was fully booked when we got there. My South African bus mate insisted on us checking Sabai Phyu, so we all did.

I checked my Lonely Planet Guidebook and found a Sabai Phyu Hotel review. The description says Backpacker with the following information:

Friendly service and a rooftop area with a few sunny lounger-chairs make up for seriously lackluster rooms, which are most acceptable on the 3rd floor. The 1st floor cheapies are pad-locked prison cells, which won’t put anyone in holiday mood.

After reading it and seeing the price ($6/10), I didn’t hesitate to go for it. The mini-truck stopped in front of Sabai Phyu a few minutes later and I got out to talk to the front desk clerk.

ME: How much for a room??
FRONT DESK: We have one for $22
ME: That’s too expensive. I need the cheapest room. How much?
ME: I’ll take it!

After immediately paying my dues, the hotel assistant took my backpack and told me to follow him. We went up a long flight of stairs to the first floor. The hallway was dark. I didn’t know if I made the right decision but after seeing window-less, dungeon-like, dark and padlocked rooms with dusty exteriors, I started to feel uncomfortable.

We stopped in one of the rooms and when the assistant removed the padlock, he led me in a very small space lit with a very small yellow lightbulb and “decorated” with a decrepit table, a fan missing its front guard, and a slightly stained bed with a yellowish mosquito net. I also noticed the window. It had bars on them and a very dusty, cobwebbed screen that had a hole big enough for a street rat to enter. I looked up and saw cobwebs on the ceiling and caramel colored stains on the light green painted wall.

cheap hotel in myanmar

Notice the hole on the screened window and the stains on the wall and bed. It’s padlocked from the outside (see left area)

myanmar hotel

“Caramel-colored stains”

sabai phyu mandalay

See that lightbulb reflection? That was my only light inside the room.

If I paid a dollar for the room, I wouldn’t have complained. But $12 for something squalid?

I stormed down the stairs and talked to the manager. I didn’t get mad at him because I knew that it was my fault for not checking the room first (and for being so hungry). I asked for a better room and after agreeing on a price ($18), the manager promised to give me a “better room” on the 2nd floor the following day.

That night, I took a bath in the shared bathroom that reminded me of “the hole” in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. It was so dark and it had some sort of an opening (an attempt to be a “window”) without a curtain. I had to bathe in an awkward position so I would not be seen from the outside. And I couldn’t see much of what I was doing inside the bathroom. I didn’t even know what I was stepping on. After my bath, I just reused my pants and shirt to sleep on the already dirty bed I had. Using fresh clean clothes was useless anyway.

Then I wanted to piss, but the toilet area had too much dirt on them that it looked like something would just rise out of the squat toilets…like an anaconda or something. Good thing I found a western toilet just right beside the row of squat toilets. The small john didn’t have a bulb or anything like that but it was bearable.

I also had to brush my teeth in a cracked and malodorous sink. I noticed moss green colored grime forming on the cracks with bits and pieces of rice which probably came from another person’s mouth.

Surprisingly that night, I slept like a baby, even if I didn’t really touch anything beside me except for the bed I was on. I had my socks on, my hands inside my pockets, and my whistle around my neck in case someone would barge in…the door is padlocked from the outside but on the inside it only had one hopeless lock that one strong Van Damme kick could actually break the door down.

The following morning, I headed out to talk to the manager to ask if my “better room” was ready. He said that they were already cleaning it. So I went back up to get my stuff. I unlocked the padlock from the outside and turned the knob but I couldn’t open the door. I tried kicking it many times but I still couldn’t open it. I finally sought assistance from the hotel personnel and they went up to help me. They tried my key and a duplicate key. Both didn’t work. They tried kicking the door again and again but it was stuck. Everything I had was inside the room. I started to panic.

They tried their best to break the door down.

They tried their best to break the door down.

I tried talking to them in English but they really couldn’t say anything to me except “Okay”. One of the men finally got a step ladder and removed the glass window near the ceiling one by one. He then squeezed his way inside the room through the small opening. He tried opening it from the inside but he couldn’t get out. *If I got stuck inside, I would have used my whistle *

The attempt to enter through a small opening.

The attempt to enter through a small opening.

It was hopeless so he just threw the bags through the small opening near the ceiling. I did manage to get all my stuff back and heaved a sigh of relief that it was my last night in the dreaded room.

They did transfer me to a better room, but not as good as the other “more expensive” rooms. It was a “desperate” room for me. There were spiders and the bathroom had no ceiling. So just imagine what I actually saw when I looked up whenever I took a bath.

The rooms that I stayed in were horrible, but if there’s one thing Sabai Phyu should be proud of, it’s their friendly staff who can make up for the “shitty rooms”. If I wanted to relax, I’d sit with the staff members outside of the hotel and we would share stories, especially about our countries.

During my last day, I read the review of Lonely Planet about Sabai Phyu once again. I remembered reading it the first time but did not take it seriously. LP’s warning was clear and obvious:

The 1st floor cheapies are pad-locked prison cells, which won’t put anyone in holiday mood.

Well, I guess I’ll just charge it to experience.

sabaiphyu hotel, sabai Phyu hotel, mandalay hotel

Rating: (out of 5)
Cleanliness: 1
Overall Ambiance: 1
Staff: 5
Free Breakfast: 4
Would I recommend this hotel? YES but make sure to get a room on the 3rd floor. Or choose the other rooms on the 2nd floor, not the one near the veranda!

All content and photos are property of Rica’s Rucksack unless indicated. They are not for reproduction, be it for personal or commercial use, without the permission of the author.

4 thoughts on “Mandalay: An Adventure in a Room

  1. Ooh my…and we were going to stay there if we hadn’t got a room in ET Hotel! You’re completely right – for $12, you shouldn’t have been staying somewhere like that…but what a story!
    P.S. I’m going to pack a whistle for my next holiday!

  2. Pingback: A Fresh Welcome in Bangkok « Rica's Rucksack – Travel Blog

  3. Pingback: Hostels and Accommodations in Burma: Backpacking Bear

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