I’m warning you – I’ve got a rant coming and I’m just gonna let it rip, so if it’s peaches and cream you’re looking for, you won’t find them here, so you might want to skip this one!
Yep, it’s happened. Just when I was so full of myself talking about how great I was feeling. That’s how it goes. Then I arrived here on Don Khon and pffffftttttt to all that great-mood business – it flew out the window, or off the boat perhaps. And try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what caused the shift. That’s the thing – I often spend way too much time focused on wanting to understand everything, knowing why something happened, how it happened … on and on. It makes me crazy.
I think partly it’s the heat and I was dehydrated when I arrived, since I didn’t want to drink too much before and on the boat ride, lest I have to pee off the side of the boat, not a behavior that will win one bit of favor here in Lao!
Then upon arrival in the middle of the scorching hot day, I began scouring the teeny-tiny village for a room – not room, really, as all the accommodations are little huts/bungalows, the most decrepit lodgings yet. And here’s the problem – I had just taken a step up in standards on Don Khong and while that’s an easy move, once done, it’s difficult to go back. And here on Don Khon, I was headed back, way back. The fancy hotel was completely booked; even if I had it in my mind to stay there, at $50 a night it was out of my range. In my mood, though, I could have done it, budget be damned!
So I walked from one end of the village to the other, which is hardly a long walk – 15/20 minutes maybe, but picture this – it’s the middle of the day, it’s sweltering hot with no shade (high 90’s, I’d say), I’m tired and hot and thirsty and I’ve got a 15 pound pack on my back, a 7-pound day bag and the dusty roads are rising up and covering my body with a film of beige coating and making me sneeze. I’m dripping wet and not because I’m hot in the best of ways. And all the Guest Houses are shit, really – flimsy construction – noise through the bamboo walls so you can hear the person in the next room fart (or pee or whatever else they may be doing). And, to add insult to injury, they all want more money than what I was paying in Don Khong at my fancy French colonial villa – WTF?!
Okay, well, I walked and walked and still, not one was an improvement on the last. So I returned to the first one, feeling cranky and tired and told him I would stay, but he had to reduce the price – reluctantly, he agreed. The room is a shoe box, with, like I said, thin bamboo walls, an overhead fluorescent light and a double bed with the springs almost literally popping out of it. Good thing I’ve got my sleep sack, because I’m definitely using it here! I’ve got two windows that open fortunately, with metals bars on them (not very pleasant looking and why the bars??), but there are no screens – there’s a mosquito net, but it looks pretty grimy and I’m afraid what might fall out of it if I open it up – I’m leaving it tied up and hoping for the best. Which means that I need to keep the windows closed to avoid looking like a pin cushion in the morning, which means I’m in a pitch-black den with no natural light – ohgod, I’m feeling worse than I did when I started writing just describing this place!
Just because I can’t go too much further down this road without a little balance, I do have a lovely, rickety porch overlooking the Mekong – and it’s just a stone’s throw away – kids are playing in the river and while it looks a bit dodgy right here with people bathing and washing clothes in it, it does beckon me to jump in in all this heat.
You really don’t want to hear about the bathroom – but you’re going to! Cold water shower only – which is true everywhere on this island except for the fancy digs, which I don’t need to discuss for another second! The water pressure is almost completely non-existent – there’s a bucket with a filthy plastic container with a handle on it inside – that’s to pour water down the toilet because there’s no mechanized flush for the toilet. Now I don’t need to get all high and mighty because this has been true in other places and is common in Asia – but like I said, I made the mistake of stepping up and now I’m back down and not liking it one bit. So because the shower water pressure is nil, I’ve taken to filling the small (filthy, remember) plastic container and pouring water over me to rinse off – with it as hot as it is, the cold water version of this isn’t so bad, actually. I try to forget about the filthiness for a moment, but writing about it isn’t helping.
The water faucet in the sink isn’t working, surprise, surprise – I went to ask about it earlier today and the faucet handle is stripped – with no English to discuss the situation, he just mimed that I should take off the handle and turn the metal piece until the water comes on – okay, I mumble through gritted teeth, I can do that.
There’s a really powerful fan, which is a good thing – at first, it started creaking and groaning when I turned it on and I thought that would send me right over the edge, until I futzed with it a bit and now it’s working fine. What a relief – something is working fine.
The hammock is a decent, although ancient addition – torn in places and definitely not the most luxurious, it had my name all over it! Upon my dusty, dirty and tired arrival, I plopped myself down into it and within minutes, I was fast asleep – that helped my mood a little bit, at least.It was still too hot to explore when I woke up, so I just took a short walk – internet plentiful, but still, damn expensive. The fancy hotel down the way has free wireless, so I will have to finagle something there, I figure. More on that later.
The village has several of these sorry-ass guesthouses, a few restaurants and small shops selling drinks and snacks. That’s about it. The natural surrounding beauty is one thing going for this place, maybe the only thing. Strange, I was really looking forward to coming down here, but there’s something about the energy that’s putting me off. Funny, it’s the only place I had the least bit of expectation about and it’s the only place that’s been disappointing – therein lies the lesson.
As the day moved toward evening and the noonday sun became softer, it was safer to venture out, so a long walk was a cool balm for my cranky-ass self – back to the smiling Lao faces, the truly gorgeous scenery of the river, dotted with swaying palms; and although my mood was lifted a bit, the crankiness lingered.
I even thought to blow off my rule of no stays of less than 2 nights and leave first thing in the morning – but hold your horses – I already negotiated for a lower per-night rate based on staying for a few nights … and getting ready to head to Cambodia would take some planning, which would require the internet, so I couldn’t go quite so fast. But I decided I wouldn’t unpack, so there – that will show whoever is looking – maybe I’m staying, but not long enough to get really comfortable – that’ll show ‘em! So, yes, my pack still sits here next to the bed, mostly still packed and ready to go when I can make my grand escape!
It was dinner time and I headed to the fancy hotel – and enjoyed an outstanding Mussaman (not Massaman, mind you) Curry – really, it was fabulous – spicy and plentiful and very well done. This helped. And when they told me I could use the wi-fi, that helped even more. But then the wi-fi wouldn’t work – so sorry, Madame, all done for the day – try tomorrow. Okay, okay, I couldn’t get too eager!
I got some basic information from a local person about bus transport to Siem Reap, which is a much lengthier trip than I had imagined – 15 hours or so – and unfortunately the bus arrives close to midnight – now I knew I needed to get on the internet because I certainly wasn’t going to arrive so late without a guest house reservation – I had my work cut out for me.
When I awoke this morning in my pitch-black cell, errr, room, I thought I’d make an early morning of it, rent a bicycle and tour around the sights that include some beautiful waterfalls and a chance to see some rare freshwater dolphins and some beaches along the river. Surely that all sounded good. But then I realized I had work to do to figure out my onward travel from here. And really, that was the highest priority. Fortunately, when I tried the hotel’s internet once again, this time it worked. And right here in my flimsy room and on my funky porch. Things had an air of slight improvement to them, although I wouldn’t dare get too expectant!
So I ended up with an entirely different day than I had imagined – and because I’m in the shithole room that I am, I’m able to access the fancy hotel’s internet because it’s just a few buildings away. If I were in another hut on this property, it probably wouldn’t work, but since I’m in the hut closest to the hotel, so my access is perfect. Interesting turn-around there!
I walked around town to get specific details about the bus and will make my reservation tomorrow. Then I spent several hours researching guest houses in Siem Reap until I was bleary-eyed with all the choices and the reviews and the opinions this way and the other. By then the morning was slipping away and the day’s heat was upon me. It was already way too hot to get on a bicycle and ride for several kilometers. The porch was nice and cool, though, so I ended up hanging out here all day, confirming my accommodation in Siem Reap, uploading all of my photos to the internet (this literally took hours), reading on my Kindle, listening to music on the computer, talking to dear Mary on Skype (which was fabulous fun!), feeling pretty damn sassy with all my high-falutin’ technology, napping and putting a whole different spin on this day!
Then suddenly my pit of a place wasn’t so bad after all. I spoke to the two Canadian women next door and they looked pleased enough with the place – it’s all in the perspective, once again, I am so reminded!
Still, I’m not gonna unfold the mosquito net. And I’m keeping my sleep sack on the bed. And I’m not unpacking my backpack. But now I won’t be running away after one night. Actually, I’ll end up staying three nights!! Because I will take that early-morning bicycle ride tomorrow, find those dolphins and cool off in the waterfalls.
The FFF is coming to a close and sometimes the best thing to do, I’ve found, is let it be, ride it out and it too, like everything else, shall pass.