People had warned us that traveling in Southeast Asia could be unpredictable. Hotels wouldn’t appear like they do in the website photos and tuk tuk drivers are only nice if you also pay a visit to their friend’s gem shop.
When we arrived in Luang Prabang at 2:00am after a 9-hour delay of three connecting flights (Siem Reap to Prakse, Prakse to Vietenne, Vietenne to Luang Prabang), we took a half hour taxi to the hostel we had reserved three days prior via hostelworld.com.
(Positives of the layover: a free food voucher [including wine] and seeing these mannequins all day!)
As soon as we got to reception, a pimply teenager in a gangster hat was woken up by the guard who let us in the front gate. He was sleeping on the mattress next to the desk, groggy-eyed and disoriented.
So for the next 20 minutes as he fumbled around in the check in book, said things to guards and random employees and furiously opened and closed different dorm rooms, I attributed it to his just woken up stupor.
With a big smile on his face, he says “no more beds. You come late.”
Skip past ten minutes of clarification and questions, we understand that because we had booked for the 23rd, and because of our 9-hour delay we ended up arriving technically on the 24th, we missed our reservation.
They gave our beds away and with a continued smile he just kept repeating “reservation 23, today 24.”
It’s 2:00am! We’re two hours late! How could they do that?
He told us to go find somewhere new, and that he couldn’t call any other hostel because it was too late and everyone would be sleeping. They did offer to let us sleep on the hammocks with other drunk and rowdy guests, and maybe if someone checked out the next day we could have their space.
To that we said, “No thanks.” With our backpacks, food bags and purses, we walked shamefully out on the street to find a new place.
While we are slouching and dragging our feet, a bright tuk tuk passes us. Screaming young people coming back from a party, they were laughing, taking selfies and singing. Jennifer and I glanced at each other and shook our heads. Oh, how our worlds diverged.
After trying to get into the front gates of three different guest houses, we finally got an answer from a man with a pot belly. He said we could sleep at his as long as we were out by 8:00am. There would be other guests coming. For $7 a night we got a private room and bathroom with air conditioning and a T.V.
Exhausted and irritated, we were so happy to have a place to go. We fell fast asleep, until the explosion of events in the morning.
Cut to 7:00am, where I wake up to our door wide open and at least 15 Laotians scurrying past and apologizing (with a smile. It’s almost as if anything is acceptable as long as you do it with a smile). Confused, I get up and shut the door.
7:30am. We hear people shouting outside. Wondering what’s going on, I see a woman outside with the other Laotians cleaning- this was our first meeting with Hang.
“Do we have to leave by 8?” I asked.
“No, no don’t worry, you stay here.”Relieved and still tired, I go back to sleep.
8:00am. A loud knock from the door. It’s the same pot-bellied man who let us in the night before. Woken up again, I told him a woman told us we could stay.
Turns out, there weren’t other guests coming. In fact, we were the only two people in the massive guesthouse, and that morning was Hang’s first day as the new owner. From Ho Chi Minh, Hang was renovating the facilities that were in very bad condition.
Because our new guesthouse was across from the loud and social hostel we had intended to stay at, we walked past in multiple times a day. Each time we left our empty and dark sleeping quarters, we were slapped in the face by the smiling, tan, carefree youth of the other.
Back at our asylum, we asked to do laundry. Hang informs us that we have to take it across the street- aka, rejection corner. We just couldn’t escape our past.
Later that day Hang asked us how we got to her guesthouse. We explained the situation, and she started laughing. She said, “ahh, you’re the ones who have reservation for 23 but arrive on 24! Ahaha..”
Is this common knowledge or something? Does everyone know?Hang explains that the owner of the other hostel is her cousin.
Still worried about not wanting to loose the deposit we had put down on “the cousin” (cousins are the best), we returned to try to book a room, at least for the next few nights.
What a tease. Each time we came in, there were people lounging on hammocks, drinking beer, playing cards, and swimming in the pool. And each time we left, they were full and told us to check back again the next day.
For the first three days we were in picturesque Luang Prabang, Jennifer and I didn’t meet anyone. Normally we socialize and goof around, but this time we were isolated. Even trying to do a tour company’s group trek we thought people would go on, we were alone. In the end, it was just Jennifer, myself, our adorable guide Sii to face the jungle.
One night at the market, we sat down for dinner. A few seconds later another guy sat down near us with three others. We couldn’t believe we might actually meet someone!
In a sad twist of events, he and his lads had gotten food from a different woman’s stall, so they were told to leave where we were sitting. One shot, and it slipped out from underneath us. The universe is not conspiring in our favor.
Finally, our last night in Luang Prabang, we got in the coveted hostel. We were sad to say goodbye to Hang, but thrilled at the thought of seeing new faces.
Our presence was welcome on the premises. And everyone was so nice. Our bunk mates walk in with a smile and say, “new roommates!”
Seriously. They were so nice.
We will remember Luang Prabang fondly. The beauty of its architecture, the savory sandwiches and $1.25 buffet dinner. The colorful tuk tuks and decorated boats, the candle-lit lanterns and melt-in-your-mouth coconut desserts. The breathtaking jungle trek, soft smiles and precious children.
But most of all, we will remember it as the place where we had “that weird and awkward living situation.”