“I’m telling you, it has to be!” “But it can’t be, it’s way too scummy to be a brothel.” “But what else could it be – there’s only women working here, there are several small thatched huts, a couple of different bars and karaoke, and it’s all in a strange location, outside a small village.” “Maybe you’re right…but it’s cheap, and it might be 50km to the next guesthouse, and sunset isn’t far off – let’s just stay here. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve slept in a brothel.”
I was making my way down through Laos, and had recently met up with Tim, who has got roughly the same start and end points as me, yet left 6 months earlier, and has taken an almost entirely different route. We were riding on of the longer legs, from Seno down towards Pakse, and wanted to do it in 2 rather than 3 days. We had been talking too much, and not quite covering enough ground to make the place 2/3rds of the way south, so we were stopping in all the little villages, doing the mime thing to find somewhere to sleep.
And so we ended up at a brothel. Was actually OK though – after 5 bottles of beer Lao, and some laolao (a local homemade firewater) I slept remarkably soundly. We washed using a scoop from a 40-gallon drum of water, outside in the sunshine, with the locals. Better than many showers I’ve had. The walls were just thin rough thatching, so I did wake up early, feeling a bit fragile – but we managed to get out without having to purchase any “services.”
I crossed over from Vietnam into Laos at Cau Treo, and a different world. The roads were superb condition, but with almost no traffic. I thought Vietnam was far less developed than China, but Laos is another step down. Possibly feels like the poorest place I’ve been, except for the roads. The people are great though, laid-back but friendly. Maybe the best cycling country yet. The distances between guesthouses require a bit of planning though. There was not much in the way of Internet access around, hence my delayed/missing replies to various emails – sorry!
Reaching a tourist site after six days, we were amazed at the high number of guesthouses (at least 5) and Westerners (at least 9). Nevertheless, other tourists were heard to complain at how few tourists were around, and how few guesthouses there were. Guess it depends on what you’re used to. I am firmly onto the “Banana Pancake” tourist trail now though – lots of identical places to stay, with identical menus, and plenty of English spoken. A few of the soap-shy dreadlocked archetypal stoner backpackers around too. Doesn’t matter. Just strange, after where I’ve been. In Central Asia, you meet some interesting types, been out and about doing tough/crazy/stupid stuff. Here, it’s a different sort of tourist. OK, but will take some getting used to.
Our mini peloton grew by one when we met Natalie, a Belgian going the same way – like-minded company is always welcome! We took a rest day at Don Kong Island, some of us doing rather little. Well, drinking beers overlooking the Mekong counts as a tourist activity doesn’t it? And besides, I had to rehydrate, as things have really started to heat up since I came down to the Mekong plains.
I’m back to riding by myself though, as I’ve headed down into Cambodia, and the others are going back up towards Pakse – they both have to get to Bangkok before I do. It seems to have gotten even hotter, and there is just no shade out on the road. Can’t step too far off the tarmac either, too many landmines. One village had a bomb mounted on display. Apparently found nearby. Hmmm. But the heat is my biggest problem, think I ran low on salts today – not so much lack of water as salt. Better add extra salt to my dinner tonight.
I’m a few days away from Angkor Wat, where I’ll take a rest for a few days, then push on to Bangkok. Will try and catch up with my email there – I have read them, I’m not ignoring you!