As we arrived in Muang Sing, we pulled into the driveway and saw the guesthouse, a smallish concrete building tucked away behind another large wooden one, well off the road. The ground floor was wide open, revealing a couple tables and chairs and a desk. A small Lao woman stood watching us as we climbed out of the ancient Toyota minivan. Our trip leader had spoken highly of this place and its proprietress, and we were excited to finally arrive. After signing in, we were given our room keys and sent off to get settled before dinner. We had been staying in hotels, and this was our first guesthouse.
My roommate, a young Lao woman, and I mounted the stairs with our bags, and found our room, number 9. After unlocking the padlocked door we entered and saw a tiny room with two twin beds, each with a wooden frame over it, covered by a pink mosquito net. On my bed was a thin, stained mattress with a heavy blue fur blanket spread over it. A tiny hard pillow lay at the top of the bed. There was no fan to move the stagnant air, and although the windows had no glass, no breeze passed through the iron railings. The bed had no sheets, and the thick fur blanket promised a long night in the sweltering tropical heat.
The room had its own bathroom, which was quite a luxury, apparently. It had a toilet, a sink and a shower head sticking out of the wall, which sent water all over the little room. There was a window with an iron grille in the bathroom as well. After I unpacked, I went in to take a shower, and a gecko came flying through the air, slapping down on the toilet seat in front of me. I decided I’d go to the other, shared, bathroom in the hallway for my shower. It had no running water, just water in a thermos, but the lack of flying geckos was more attractive to me than having running water.
This was the beginning of a tense couple of days. I didn’t want to be seen as wimpy or a complainer, but the situation was so uncomfortable, that I felt a sort of desperation. My bed smelled like many others had tossed and turned on that blue fur before me. After sweating through the first night I decided I had to look around for other accomodations. I felt that maybe no one would even notice if I didn’t stay there. The town was a small one, easy to cover in a short walk. The first morning I found the only other lodging was a Chinese hotel about two or three blocks from our guesthouse. It looked newer and fresher, and I was so tempted to go rent a room, but I held back. I decided against going so far against the grain, and after being almost knocked down in the town marketplace (because I was so disoriented I probably walked right in front of people), I trudged back to the guesthouse, where I spent the next two nights.
The days in Muang Sing were rich and varied. The first morning, after a breakfast of rice and eggs and coffee I set out to explore. I found a little stand with Lue women selling classic Lao skirts they had made, called sinhs. One woman was most eager for me to buy one, and they were beautiful indeed, but so small. I patted my body and held the skirt up and said, “Too big! I’m too big!” She laughed and patted my butt, repeating “Big!” over and over. Somehow her saying that didn’t hold any sting for me, and I would have loved to buy a sinh from her. Later that day we walked through a village on the edge of town and there she was, my friend from the morning. We laughed and hugged as though we’d known each other forever, as though we could communicate with one another. And honestly, I felt a great connection with her. Even though we had no common language, our hearts were in tune, I suppose. Thinking of her makes me smile even all these years later.