The view from the our private balcony, was stunning, the sun was starting to set over the reef, in the standard spectacular fashion required of all tropical sunset. The roar of the surf hitting the reef competed with the noise of the smaller waves breaking on the perfect white sand beach. The beach was perfect, and deserted. The temperature, maybe 30C, the water not much cooler. A slight sea breeze made air conditioning unnecessary.
The hotel – a classic South Seas relic. Louvred windows, deep porches, tapa designed cloths hiding cheap plastic tables. It had been new and fancy maybe 30 years ago. Now it was not new, but maintained. The rooms were spacious – with even our small double including two beds, a fridge, en-suite, with some hot water, and large covered deck with that million dollar view.
We could have been staying at a busy 5-star place an hour down the road, on shallower beach, which was charging many hundreds of dollars, instead we had just checked in to Vaisala Hotel and were paying the princely sum of ST$120 (US$50) including breakfast. We could have paid maybe half that in a fale in the garden which was even closer to the crashing waves.
The staff were friendly, they brought the dinner menu down to the beach so we could pre-order without getting too far out of the water. The bar was one of the best stocked we’d seen on Samoa’s Savai’i island.
I was left with questions. Why did the place not advertise? Why were travel agents telling people that Samoa was “full” this high season? This place is loved for and staffed by people who seem genuinely happy to see guests. I’ve stayed in old run-down hotels before in Asia – usually its obvious that no one gives a damme, and I as a guest was an inconvenience. Not so in Vaisala. The staff seemed delighted to see us. The service was good without being intrusive.
There was no hard sell. In fact there was no sell at all. The hotel was signposted from the main (only) road. Just. The sign was informative: Vaisala Hotel. It didn’t mention what type rooms, or whether there was a restaraunt or bar. It certainly didn’t include a picture of the stunning view I was now watching, to tempt the visitor to turn off. It was also a 90 minute drive from the ferry, you’d never know it was here by chance.
It was all very Samoa. A few days earlier we’d arrived on the island with my partner needing a hat. A sun hat. They tend to be pretty common in tropical places, even where, as in Samoa, the locals prefer umbrellas or towels to keep the sun off. In fact arriving in most Asian countries needing to buy a hat will see you kitted out in one as soon as you’ve visited the ATM or exchange counter. Not so in Samoa, we checked ever shop (about 6) in Saleloga on arrival to Savai’i. They didn’t do hats. Except white ones for ladies to wear to church in this most conservative of God-bothering countries. By then I was starting to notice the lack of postcards, which I’d promised to send, Samoan postcards are rare even in the country. You could buy lava lavas (aka sarongs), but they are standard dress for the locals. The following week, in Apia there was even one stall selling lava lavas with “Greetings from Samoa” on them. No hats though.
Tourism is not insignificant to Samoa. In fact it makes up a significant percentage of the country’s earnings. But they really do need to send a trade mission over to Thailand or Bali to understand how to sell to tourists. Then maybe you’ll be able to buy a hat on a beach, or even on the ferry.
P.S. On departure we found an excellent tourist shop at the airport – tucked away upstairs, you won’t notice it on arrival, but they do sell hats, postcards and lava lavas!