Words like filthy, worst place we stayed, infested with cockroaches, and other such delightful descriptions are used so much, I often wonder if there is actually anywhere decent to stay in the world, and what exactly the definition of an ant infestation is, because for me, a few ants in your room in SE Asia is no reason to create a fuss. Hell, they’re probably eating all the other crap you should really worry about.
In Cambodia, a meal wasn’t complete without a token ant on your plate, crawling over your cup or hanging out on your straw. I probably ate, like, thirty ants during the course of our stay, but I certainly wouldn’t say don’t go to Cambodia, worst country ever, or stay away.
Imagine a “Country Advisor” site, filled with harrowing reviews and photos of litter-filled streets and mangy dogs… No-one would ever travel!
I read a review of a guest house the other day that read, DON’T STAY HERE, THE STAFF STEAL! Heavy stuff. I had to read on, as the thought of having my precious laptop or camera or worse, passport stolen would really put a dampener on my day.
The reviewer went on to describe how her $80 compression stockings were stolen by the cleaner.
Bah ha ha ha haaaaaa! What would a Laotian cleaner want with compression stockings???? It’s 35 degrees celcius in the shade! Is she planning a long haul flight to Canada?!
Somehow I don’t think so.
So that has basically been my cynical response to most of the doom and gloom guest house reviews out there online. For the most part, I have refused to take them seriously, considering myself a little more resiliant than those who feel the need to wear compression stockings, let alone lose them and then blame the cleaner.
But now I fear I may have joined the club of the jaded and the wronged, after a late night exit from our guest house last night…
We looked at three places before deciding on a basic but impeccably clean place on a quiet street in Vientiane. Really, we gave up rather than deciding on it. Taking pride in finding the ‘right’ accommodation, I stroked my guest house-finding ego with comments like, “this place is so clean,” and “I’m happy we found this place, it’s just so clean.”
And, “I much prefer tiles to carpet, it just feels so much, well, cleaner,” to which Tyrhone would respond with an insincere “Hmm” or a disinterested “I guess.”
He wasn’t as impressed by the cleanliness factor as me. Maybe because I had snubbed the first place we looked at with the vague excuse of “it gave me the heebee jeebees,” I felt the need to substantiate traipsing around town in the searing midday heat, laden with back-packs.
I wanted my untarnished record of finding top-notch budget accommodation to continue, so I sung its praises endlessly, snapping photos of the street from the balcony whilst ignoring the air conditioning unit’s hot blast on my legs. “Just like being in France,” I thought.
My denial continued through dinner.
“I want to eat at a local restaurant, not one of these fancy farang places,” I whined. And, as usual, I got what I wanted. We sat down at a simple open-aired eatery, pleasantly surprised that they had an English menu. As a farang (foreigner) myself, I like to use the word as it makes me feel like a local. Which I am obviously not.
“Hmm, I think I’ll try the pork, stir fried with chilli.”
Tyrhone went for basil and chilli chicken.
We needn’t have bothered ordering, as we both got pork, and there was very little chilli. But still I persisted, refusing to believe that those farangs were having a good time chomping into juicy hamburgers and putting away french fries at the cafe across the road.
I laughed off the ordering misnomer, tried to find the surly waitress endearing, and excused the toughness of the bland pork dishes. Both of them.
“It’s soooo cheap!” I cried when we got the bill, trying to rally Tyrhone’s excitement, even though mine was fading fast. If I could convince him that I was making wonderful choices, then maybe I could convince myself that Vientiane wasn’t as bland, overpriced and unwelcoming as it appeared.
Through my fascade of positivity, I had a thought that brought me back to reality.
If I get sick from that meal, I’ll be really pissed off. It SO wasn’t worth it!
The spicy papaya salad from the roadside stall in Bangkok- totally worth it. Vientiane’s bland pork two ways- definitely not.
After dinner we returned to the guesthouse to be comforted by the familiarity of reality TV on cable. I know, we totally live on the edge. Nightlife? Adventure? Nah, The Voice Season Two is on telly!
After singing, judging and sledging our way through ‘the battle rounds’ of The Voice (a singing show, in case you didn’t know), marvelling at Christina Aguileira’s breasts, and secretly wishing we were friends with Adam Levine, it was finally time for sleep (I told you we live on the edge!).
I crushed a bug on the bed, which deposited a rather disturbing amount of blood on the “hospital-grade clean” sheets.
Another tiny one appeared, bearing the unfortunate brunt of my iphone, and again, bright red blood spilled from it’s meagre carcass.
Oh my God, are they? Could they possibly be? In my eat-your-dinner-off-the-floor clean room?!
Part of me thought they were really just part of backpacking folklore, having never experienced the critters myself. Part of me (a big part) wanted to keep believing that. Another part of me was ripping off sheets, scouring mattress seams and annihilating the tiny critters with my phone, like some sort of mad woman (I know, I’ll have to wash it).
“There’s another one!” Smack! “Look, BLOOD!!!!” I yelped, trying to convince myself of their existence.
It was 1130pm. We were in our underwear, and my backpack looked like an exploded clothing bomb. Meaning, my shit was everywhere.
We started packing, unsure of what we were actually going to do. Screaming the house down was not an option, of course. Neither was sleeping here. Surprisingly, neither of us had been bitten, and we wanted to keep it that way.
After packing our bags and dressing, we headed downstairs where, thankfully, someone was on duty. Apologetically, we explained our situation. The young guy behind the desk offered us the keys to another room. Out of politeness, we checked it out, but at the sight of the first bug, we knew we had to get out.
After apologising again (us, not him, that’s just the way it works here) we told him we had to leave. We hadn’t paid for that night yet, so it was an easy decision. We’d leave quietly, and he wouldn’t charge us. At least that’s the deal I made in my head.
He did apologise, but as the night shift guy, a mere teenager at that, we weren’t expecting any more from him. We said we’d return to talk to the manager the next day.
We returned to the first place we’d seen on our first day in Vientiane. You know, the place that gave me the heebee jeebees?
I decided my judgement was no longer to be trusted. The front desk guy didn’t seem surprised by our midnight entrance, nor was he particularly interested in our bed bug story, which we thought was, like totally hilarious. But he did give us a room that after checking the sheets and the mattress, was decidedly bug-free.
It was not, however, impeccably clean. In fact, I exploded into laughter when Tyrhone asked “Did someone DIE on that lampshade?!”
By the look of the stains on it, maybe they did.
It was the sort of place that really would’ve been something ‘in its day’. Red carpet, chandeliers and ornate ceilings created a feeling of faded grandeur that had seen better days. It just hasn’t seen a vacuum cleaner since that day.
Grateful to have escaped the bed bugs with relatively little fuss, we laughed off our diabolical evening. Laughter is definitely the best medicine when adventure turns to misadventure.
“Let’s go back to Thailand,” Tyrhone joked, as he switched of the lamp, avoiding the ‘crime scene’ of a lampshade.
“We’ll see…” I replied wearily, happy that I no longer felt the need to pretend things were perfect, and somewhat amused by our midnight exit from the guest house I had convinced myself was ‘such a good choice’…
No, I’m not going to ‘name and shame’ the guest house we exited from, nor am I going to write a scathing review online. I will however suggest to all travellers to check the sheets and wooden beds before agreeing on a guest house. Bedbugs live in the wood, as we found out!