Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam.

A Story of People Not Knowing Who They’re Dealing With, As Usual.

Taking a chance on a hotel or guesthouse without many reviews is always a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and discover a great new place before the unwashed masses. Sometimes you end up having to pretend you’re a witch just to get a good night’s sleep.

I was excited about this accommodation; the price was right at a whopping $10/night, and the only other English review had described it as “delightful” with a charming host family and frolicking monkeys on the roof every morning. And only a 3 minute walk from the beach! I was sold. I booked a three week stay and prepared to spend mornings swimming in the ocean and afternoons writing with a pot of tea.

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a common hotel scam
I never frolicked in this ocean even once.

The host family does, in fact, seem charming when I arrive. They eagerly show me to my little jungle cabana and provide me with the WiFi password.

The charm doesn’t last long.

Working up a sweat as I unpack my suitcase, I try to turn on the A/C, only to find the remote missing from the wall holder. I search the whole cabana but come up empty handed. The ceiling fan just isn’t cutting it, though, so I head up to the main house in hopes they have a spare.

“Excuse me, the air conditioner remote is missing from my room. Do you happen to have a spare?”

The guesthouse owner is all smiles. “Oh, we took it out. You have to pay 500 rupees a day extra for it.”

We just stand there and smile at each other for a minute.

“Um…what?”

“Yes,” she nods vigorously. “500 rupees, please.” She holds out her hand. “You book a room without A/C, so you have to pay if you want it.”

“…I’ll be right back.”

I’m not a fan of looking like an idiot despite how often I do it, so before saying anything else, I want to make sure I actually had booked a room with A/C. I check the booking confirmation on my phone and I’m relieved to see “air conditioning” listed under the room amenities. I’m just as smiley as the guesthouse owner when I return to her porch, pleased that we can now clear up this little misunderstanding.

“Ok, see, right here on my booking confirmation, it states that the room does have air conditioning…” She’s refusing to look at the screen, and the smile has vanished.

“500 rupees.”

“Ma’am, I’m not going to pay more for air conditioning when my booking confirmation states that I’ve already paid for a room with A/C.”

She shrugs, and looks angry. Apparently she was counting on this scam going off without a hitch. I wonder how many other guests have just paid it without question. Having reserved the room through one of the major booking websites, I let the guesthouse owner know I’ll just contact them to clear up the issue with her. Her eyes get wide.

“No! Do not contact, please.”

“Yes, I’m going to. I’ve showed you my booking confirmation so you can see that I booked a room with air conditioning. If you want to continue to argue, you can argue with them because I’m not paying any extra.”

Bizarrely, she calls over one of the small children playing on the dining room floor and asks him to explain to me that I need to give them 500 rupees. I can’t believe I’m even humoring them at this point, but I show my phone screen to the boy anyway. He also refuses to look. “500 rupees!” Little droplets of spit accompany his shout. Oookay, we’re done here. I turn and walk back to my cabana. It’s hot, and my frustration doesn’t help.

Technological Witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
Seriously, not even one damn frolicking monkey? There is literally no frolicking here whatsoever.

Five minutes later, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, still staring at the confirmation email on my phone, wondering how I’m going to get through to these people…when I recall another hotel on the other side of the world where this phone saved the day. A hotel where I used a universal remote app to turn on the TV instead of going in search of new batteries. I check to see if I still have the  app installed. I do. What are the chances that it’s able to control a wall-mounted air conditioner?

Very good chances, it turns out, and five minutes later I’m lying in the path of a glorious blast of cold air, feeling extremely pleased with myself.

Less than an hour later, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the guesthouse owner, apparently wanting to continue our conversation. She has brought her teenage daughter along to assist in the negotiations. The girl is the picture of smiling diplomacy. “Hello…I came to help explain why you can’t use the A/C?”

I match her smile. “Oh, you don’t have to waste your time. I’m actually completely uninterested in continuing this conversation and I’m definitely not going to fall for your scam.”  

Before she can reply, she notices the air conditioner running and the smile melts. “But…how?”

I’m still smiling as I start to close the door.

“Please! How did you start the A/C without the remote?”

“Magic!” I chirp, turning the deadbolt.

I’m not so smug four days later when my room sits untouched by housekeeping and they refuse to answer the door when I go looking for a fresh towel. I spot the guesthouse owner entering the local market and when she notices me, she looks horrified and ducks inside as I approach her. Apparently they believe I actually had turned on the air conditioning by magic, and are avoiding me (and the room) because I’m a witch.

Oops.

I end up leaving the guesthouse (where I never heard any damn monkeys on the roof anyway) and moving into a hotel with an oceanfront balcony suite nearby. But just to make sure they’re left wondering long after I’m gone, I unwrap a bar of soap and draw an evil eye on the mirror before I go.

Technological witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
The view from my new hotel balcony. I regret nothing.

What have we learned here today? Always keep your hotel booking confirmations, don’t give in to obvious scams, and keep a universal remote app on your phone at all times. Also, use your technological witchcraft sparingly unless you want to use the same gross towel for three weeks. 

 

 

Hotel Review: Kalahe House

I had the pleasure of being hosted at Kalahe House for the purpose of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

 

In Stephen King’s landmark work of nonfiction, On Writing, he describes his idea of the perfect writer’s retreat. Secluded cabins set in the woods with an unobtrusive staff who prepare your meals and never disturb your afternoon nap. Could someone let him know I’ve found it?

My first glimpse of Kalahe House; I'm already charmed.
My first glimpse of Kalahe House. I’m already charmed.

If you’re looking for seclusion, Kalahe House has it in spades. As I write this at the dining room table, night has fallen and the grand wooden doors that line three walls of the room are open to the woods and rice paddy that surround the property on all sides. I can’t see a single artificial light but the ones in sconces around the room, and the only sounds are those of monkeys, frogs, and insects performing their nightly concert. It’s hard to believe this sanctuary is only a fifteen minute tuktuk ride from Galle’s busy (but extremely charming) Dutch fort.

The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees at Kalahe House
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees

When I arrived at Kalahe House early this afternoon, I was met by the extremely efficient Prasanga, who takes care of everything from meals to massages (yes, they provide spa treatments as well. What better way to keep your creative juices flowing than a deep tissue massage under the flowering trees in the garden?)

Before I even managed to extricate myself from the taxi, Prasanga had seen my bags to my room and made afternoon tea appear on the living room table. Did I say efficient? I meant magical. Within minutes he had determined what I wanted for dinner and set off to the local market for fresh ingredients, leaving me to explore the beautiful house and grounds.

Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?

There’s no TV to distract you from what you came here to do: write. (Don’t worry, there is WiFi, so you’ll be able to fact check that article on the go…or post pictures of your beautiful home away from home to make all of your friends and family jealous. Whichever.)

My room has a cozy alcove with a beautiful wooden desk, a comfortable chair, and plenty of natural light. It’s an extremely inviting spot to sit down with my notebook and get to work…just as soon as I take one more stroll around the gardens for inspiration.

Writing and meandering have always gone hand in hand, so when I need a longer walk to clear my head, I wander down the drive and start exploring the surrounding countryside. There is absolutely no hint of the nearby expressway or the city of Galle itself. A local man in a traditional sarong and a plaid shirt waves as he passes buy on an ancient Royal Enfield motorcycle, but I see no other people.

I’m visiting Kalahe House at the start of the annual southwest monsoon season, which means I’m treated to a lovely rain shower every afternoon to help lull me into that aforementioned afternoon nap. Don’t judge; it’s hard work churning out these masterful works of literature in paradise.  Especially when there is a very inviting bed sprinkled with orchids only steps from your writing desk.

Back to the dining room: the soft rattle of china on a wooden tray announces Prasanga’s arrival with dinner. He has prepared an amazing spread of traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and accompaniments, followed by more tea and a fresh fruit platter. Just as I decide I’m far too stuffed to take another bite and head back to my room, the local monkey population decides to put on an impromptu acrobatic show in the trees outside. Prasanga warns me that they may decide to frolic on the roof in the morning, and hopes they won’t wake me. His tone is apologetic, but I can’t think of anything more charming.

As it turns out, the monkeys like to sleep later than I do, and nothing disturbs my sleep. As Prasanga prepares what turns out to be the best breakfast of my trip so far, I ponder the most pressing issue I’ll have all day. Shall I venture into the gorgeous old fort and wander around the ancient streets in search of artistic inspiration, or settle down in my sunny writing nook for another day of unhurried creative effort?

The answer, of course, is both.

No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House
No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House

I’m happy to report that I finished four articles while sequestered at lovely Kalahe House, and emerged feeling even more inspired than I did when I arrived. In need of a creative retreat of your own? Kalahe House is located on the outskirts of Galle, my favorite city in Sri Lanka.  Find more information or book your stay at www.kalahehouse.com.

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the phenomenal Max Wadiya hotel for this stay, but, as always, all opinions are my own.

Sitting by the ocean, drinking a king coconut, has proved to be the best medicine I’ve tried so far. I’ve been sick for a week before arriving in Ambalangoda, but I start to feel better almost immediately. There is no such thing as stress at Max Wadiya, and somehow my body knows it. I can feel the tension melting out of my body as I sit on the wide tiled porch of this coconut jungle by the sea.

You feel more relaxed already, don't you?
You feel more relaxed already, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure I have this island paradise all to myself as I have seen no one else since my arrival, except Ranjan the manager and the team of barefoot staff boys who scurry around, mopping and delivering refreshing drinks like a silent team of gentleman ninjas.

The in-house chef is currently preparing my lunch, which will be served in a terracotta roofed gazebo near the edge of the sand and I’m worried I might be too distracted by the view of the enormous waves to eat. One of the barefoot boys has spent the last ten minutes carefully arranging tableware and polishing glasses because everything at Max Wadiya must always be perfect.

I can’t quite decide what I should do after lunch: walk along the beach or lounge by the pool? This will prove to be the most difficult decision I have to make at Max Wadiya, whose motto is “No Watch, No Wallet, No Shoes, No Menus.” No watch, because there are no set times for anything. Want to sleep late? You’re not going to miss breakfast. Prefer to get up with the sun and walk on the beach before breakfast? They’ll be ready when you are. No wallet, because your stay is all-inclusive. No shoes, because who wears shoes in an island paradise? I kicked off my flip flops when I arrived and didn’t put them back on until I left (and even that was somewhat grudgingly!) No menus because you don’t order; the chef will surprise and delight you with a creative presentation of whatever is fresh from the market and the sea that day. Everything is catered to your taste and ensuring you have an absolutely flawless experience.

Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me fast. I have a feeling tonight will bring the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite a while. There is nothing like drifting off to the sound of the ocean right outside your door. (Spoiler alert: I was right; I slept like absolute royalty in the Tangerine Suite’s heavenly four-poster bed, with its crisp, high end linens. There was definitely no pea under the luxurious mattress.)

Max Wadiya is the kind of place where you use words like “laze” and “puttering.” I find myself putting down my notebook every so often just to get up and stretch a bit, stare out at the ocean, listen to the fountain in the koi pond in the courtyard, notice the breeze and the tropical greenery as far as the eye can see. You get the feeling nothing has ever been done in a rush here. The hotel grounds nudge right up against the water’s edge, so the air is always hazy with ocean mist, giving the whole place a soft, dream-like quality.

If Walt Disney were to open a Sri Lankan resort, I think it would look a lot like Max Wadiya, with its pineapple parrot garnishes and frangipani blossoms drifting gently into the saltwater pool.

I had heard that the food at Max Wadiya was magnificent, and I expected it to be good, but I had no idea I was in for such a feast. I had warned Ranjan when I arrived that I generally have the appetite of a small child and I was recovering from an illness so there was no need to go overboard at mealtimes. He paid absolutely no heed and utterly spoiled me with the freshest, most incredible meals I’ve had since arriving in Sri Lanka.

Lunch on the first day was all I needed to regain my lost appetite from being sick: a chopped salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a weightless vinaigrette, new potatoes and haricots verts roasted in fragrant garlic, and lightly glazed fish, grilled to flaky perfection.

 

Everything is as perfect, graceful, and gracious as if Martha Stewart has taken up residence on a South Asian island. Every meal that follows is equally splendid, carefully arranged and garnished and presented; served al fresco next to the sand, where the booming waves drown out all of the noise from the nearby road and make you feel completely alone in a tropical paradise.

My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.
My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.

After lunch, Ranjan gives me a tour of the property, which consists of the original villa, full of antiques and incredible sunset views out over the ocean; and a separate wing with two spacious and gorgeously decorated suites. There’s a saltwater pool tucked into a secluded coconut grove, and a pavilion where yoga, massage, and Ayurveda treatments can be arranged, if you’re so inclined (and you probably will be, if you can pry yourself out of the bathwater-warm pool).

Our last stop is Ranjan’s pride and joy: the cement tank from which he has released over 7000 baby sea turtles from eggs that he has hatched. He beams as he explains that locals from all over Ambalangoda bring him turtle eggs from endangered nests, and he personally tends to the eggs and releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea in the predawn darkness. The opulent luxury of Max Wadiya would be reason enough to visit, but knowing that your vacation dollars are going to support the endangered turtle population of this beautiful island is a wonderful feeling.

Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!
Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!

Do you have “Imagine I’m royalty living in a tropical paradise and being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious and accommodating staff imaginable” on your bucket list? (Hint: if you don’t, you should really add it!) Max Wadiya is the perfect place to check it off. If you decide to pay this magical oasis a visit, tell them Leslie sent you, and be sure to send me a picture!

Max Wadiya is located at 147 Galle Road (Parrot Junction) Urawatte, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. Find more information or book your stay at www.maxwadiya.com.

Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.
Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.