When it comes to accommodation, we as travelers, have a number of options for consideration. The obvious starting points are the traditional options; hotels, backpacking, and camping. More recently we’ve been offered accommodation share choices like Air BnB and couch surfing. Depending on where you are in the world, however, you might find some interesting variations on these – particularly in south and central Asia (in our experience). Making your accommodation decisions is very much a personal battle, as is the decision to pre-book or to wing it. While we were in Sri Lanka, we found ourselves in the blurry grey area somewhere between hotels, backpacker hostels, and Bed and Breakfasts, which tend – in Sri Lanka at least – as Guest Houses.
Properties advertising as guesthouses, tended in our experience to be cheaper, backpacker-friendly bed and breakfast style hotels that blurred the line between homestay and hotel. They appeared to be aimed at the more transient, independent traveler, although perhaps a step above the bargain basement world of the traveler on a budget. Here, guesthouses catered well for a range of purposes, but fit particularly well with a slightly older demographic, which I’m afraid to say that I am rapidly becoming. The Bed and Breakfast element of a guesthouse provides a bit more variety from site to site than a backpacker hostel (at least in the Australian format) and it also affords opportunities for a quasi-homestay experience provided you are willing to make the effort to endear yourself to the hosts.
We first experienced a Sri Lankan Guesthouse in Kandy, the mountain stronghold and ancient capital of the country. We took a cramped, peak-hour train up into the mountains from the modern-day capital of Colombo (http://wp.me/p63ErS-c0). We’d arrived in the country via Kuala Lumpur, and as we usually do, hightailed it out of the city immediately (capital cities are best left until the lay day before departure). The rare snippets of Wifi that we were able to find at the train station, and in transit from Australia were used to browse the internet for a place to stay, as we had elected to make our accommodation and travel plans on the fly. Our choice of guesthouse was Blossom Rest Guest House, a quirky spot nestled in the hills above the city. The place has impressive views from its precarious perch on the hillside.
The place was a warren of hastily constructed cement rooms spread over the equivalent of about four floors and, as with much of the country when we visited, the property seemed to be undergoing ongoing constructions, renovation and extension. On our first night, we stayed in a windowless room behind the main shared quarters. In order to reach the room, we could walk through another empty room off the dining area, take a network of corridors via the front sun room (which boasted great views), or head around the back of the building, up a half-flight of stairs and then down another flight to a narrow hallway.
Despite arriving late (after 11pm), the hosts offered us dinner, which they then proceeded to cook (we’d expected a snack and some leftovers) fresh in their cramped kitchen a floor and a half below. We found out later through mealtime discussions that the managers lived on site and the kitchen was also their own. Over our food, we talked about our plans to travel the region, which resulted in the organization of a driver and – upon our return, three days later – a coup[le of half-kilo bricks of Ceylon tea at almost local prices.
Following our three-day tour of Sri Lanka’s central ‘Cultural Triangle’ (http://wp.me/p63ErS-im), we decided to return to Blossom Rest before travelling on into the mountains by train (http://wp.me/p63ErS-aQ).
Buoyed by our experience at Blossom Rest, we stayed at guesthouses of various qualities and types throughout our journey in Sri Lanka (http://wp.me/p63ErS-ui), including White House Adam’s Peak Guesthouse at Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak), 9 Arches Guesthouse in Ella, and the lovely (albeit more pricey) Fort Bliss Guesthouse in the centre of the walled city of Galle.
Thanks to our choices in Sri Lanka, local guest house- style accommodation is now our preferred way to stay while abroad. It’s more personal than a hostel, and in our experience, less creepy/weird than some AirBnB places we’ve stayed. Ultimately, guest houses are an excellent string to the bow that is planning where to stay on the road.