I am in no position to criticize my friend Kim's hotel choice in Phnom Penh in any way, shape or form. The Pavilion is a lovely place in an old palace, with private outdoor areas or verandahs for the rooms, depending on what floor they repose upon. Any discomfort I felt there came from the discrepancy between what lay beyond the hotel walls and what I experienced once I walked through the heavy wooden door that kept the street at bay. And that is my own personal idiosyncracy that doubtless could benefit from a bit of psychotherapy.
On the other hand, my Kratie choice had Kim scrabbling at the door one evening moaning forcefully, "Janet, let me in! Let me in!" I rushed to oblige her, feeling sure that the jovial town drunk who, well on his way to oblivion by four in the afternoon, had been transfixed by Kim's blonde hair, had followed her through the streets when we first arrived, slurring his welcome in Khmer and in English, and had probably now escorted her to the hotel.
As soon as the door cracked open, Kim rocketed into our room. "Oh my god," she gasped, "the hallway is covered with cockroaches. I couldn't even see the floor."
The Heng Heng's distinguishing feature was a verandah, open to the hallway, that faced the river and was quite enticing by day. At night it was the portal for every cockroach in town--the place for them to see and be seen obviously--and some of them apparently continued to hang out to prepare for the next night's debauch during the day, because we had noticed a few when we took possession of our room. We had done our best to be nonchalant about them but learning that the Heng Heng's hallways became the cockroach version of Studio 54 when darkness fell was too much. Kim had discovered an alternate hostelry before returning to shriek for sanctuary and we moved there the next morning.
"Why are you going?" the desk clerk at the Heng Heng asked. When Kim, with remarkable restraint, explained why, he chuckled indulgently and said, "Oh the cockroaches like to come and play in the light after dark." We waited for him to conclude with "You know-- those crazy cockroaches," but he seemed too absorbed in endearing cockroach memories to enlarge upon this theme.
I had forgotten a scarf when I left the Heng Heng and on the morning I was to leave Kratie, I approached the entrance of the hotel to see if the maid had found it. As I drew near the open door, a miasma of stale air and cockroach urine billowed toward me and I covered my face and rapidly retreated. I like to think that the Heng Heng's roach colony now uses it as a red carpet, when they all enter the hotel hallways for yet another night on the town. As the good friend of still another cockroach was fond of saying, "Toujours gai, toujours gai." (Archie and Mehitabel, meet the Heng Heng.)