Thakhek: How Much Have I Actually Changed?

We took our usual tuk-tuk to the bus station on the outskirts of Vientiane. The land had really flattened out at this point; it made for a somewhat less scenic, but also far less nauseating travel route on our way down south. And when I say less scenic, I mean by the high standards I had now fully assimilated into my mind because there was very little that was “un-scenic” about the majority of our travels.

Swaying, emerald rice paddies abounded in field after field of farmland. Clusters of livestock grazed along the sides of the road, often crossing in large groups. It actually brings my mind to a moment back in Kanchanaburi, Thailand where we took our motorbike far beyond the small town’s limits for the first time and came across a massive herd of cows crossing the street on their own, without a shepherd in sight. It was an awesome scene and a pattern that was repeated from time to time as we traversed between the dozens of municipalities we would visit.

Presently, we were on our way to Thakhek, a small town about midway between the capital and the southern Champasak province where we still had plenty more of Laos to see before making our way into Cambodia. I think we wanted to do a dirt bike trail or something along those lines, but it was kind of hazy and still is when I think back. Unfortunately, this one particular stop became overshadowed by the absolute difficulty in finding a place to stay for the night. One failed attempt sucked up some of our resolution and etched a feeling of dismay in our hearts which seeped into the rest of the evening.

When we got into town, it was already starting to get dark and there didn’t seem to be any place to rent a motorbike. Surprisingly, we didn’t even see any tuk-tuk drivers soliciting there services to travelers; normally they swarm you the second you step off of a bus anywhere in Asia, but this town was eerily quiet in that regard.

We walked about half a mile and eventually came to a guesthouse, a beautiful, newly constructed building about four storeys tall. Everything looked great at first glance. We seemed to be the only ones staying there and it was so new that they weren’t even officially open for business, although the young proprietor certainly had no problem with providing us with a room.

Teresa first noticed a problem: tiny little spiders on the white linens of our bed. No big deal though…we’d seen plenty of spiders bigger than that in the corners of most rooms we’d stayed in. These little ones just happened to be where we’d be sleeping. We’d just shake them off or even have the sheets changed. We opted for the former, not wanting to make an issue out of it. But they kept on coming, kept on coming. I had to know, so I lifted up the mattress.

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them. Nests upon nests of spiders, cockroaches, and other insects, some alive, some dead. It was an entire society unto itself. The spiders under the bed were a hell of a lot larger than the little babies running around on top. Some of the cockroaches were bigger than both of my thumbs placed next to one another. It was actually really disgusting.

We ran downstairs and got the guy running the place to come up. He had verbally sold us the room under the guise of beauty and cleanliness, adjectives which he chose to bestow his guesthouse with. I guess they had set up the rooms so long ago, and never checked back since, that this particular room (and who knows how many others) simply got taken over with all kinds of multi-legged creatures.

We’d done a lot up to this point that was out of our element, and would continue to for the rest of this journey. We couldn’t do this…we just couldn’t. He tried again to convince us that the place was fine, and as he was saying this, a massive daddy-long legs literally crawled up his body from the bed he was standing next to and onto his face. He gingerly wiped it off but didn’t seem to mind that much. I gagged a little and then demanded our money back. Looking back, I actually feel bad for the dude. He got himself an unexpected sale; I don’t think the guesthouse was supposed to be open yet but in this part of the world, you don’t say no to someone offering you money for a product or service you have available, readily or not. But damn, we would never be able to sleep knowing there was a city of insects and arachnids bustling right underneath us. Not now, probably not ever.

So we left, and by this time it was already dark. One thing we noticed was that we did not come across any other Western travelers, both on the bus on the way in and on the roads where we searched far and wide for a place to rest our heads. We must have walked at least 5 kilometers before we had to stop and get something to eat, becoming increasingly worried that we might never find a place. The lady who ran the little restaurant (by that I mean a four tabled kitchen at the front of her house where she cooked) was extremely pleasant and provided us with a delicious pork noodle soup that we happily lapped up after having been walking with all of our stuff for so long. We even considered asking her how much she would charge to just let us crash on one of her couches…we were getting pretty desperate and communication with anyone we came into contact with was mostly through pointing and hand gestures; no one spoke any English here.

As we were eating, two white kids walked by on the street. I ran out and shouted, “Yo!” before they were out of earshot. They stopped and turned around, these two blond British boys who couldn’t have been older than 18 years old. They gave us directions to where they were staying; at last, we were saved.

We walked back in the direction from where we came, and after getting lost a couple times, we finally found the filthy guesthouse that we ended up crashing at. It really was dirty, and there were little flying bugs everywhere, but we just accepted it without complaint. It was run by two Chinese nationals who let us negotiate a cost while they watched ’70s Chinese movies on an old wooden TV.

Teresa wouldn’t let me turn the lights off, even to sleep, and I lost my hat. We left Thakhek the next morning.

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Chug a Beer Lao, on to the next one

2 thoughts on “Thakhek: How Much Have I Actually Changed?

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