Just what does $4 buy you in Laos? I stayed in a truly basic bungalow in Nong Khiaw and, though it lacked most amenities, I enjoyed it so much that I stayed an extra day.
Another traveler had recommended the Bamboo Paradise Guesthouse, saying it was cheap and clean, but nothing fancy. For 30,000 kip ($3.75 US), I got a bamboo bungalow on stilts with a fan, my own bathroom, hot shower, a large bed, mosquito net, and a balcony with views of the Nam Ou below.
There were cheaper options: I checked out a room up the street that went for 20,000 kip per night, but it was just a small, windowless wooden box with a bed and a door. The rooms had one shared bathroom and no views or common area and there was no breeze. I passed on the sweat box — a balcony and bathroom seemed well worth the extra dollar.
There was plenty of room to move about and the bed was big, but hard — you could feel the springs under a thin layer of padding. I checked the pillows for a mint, but didn’t find anything. Mosquitoes weren’t a problem –surprisingly– and I never had to use the net.
A single florescent tube ran through a hole in the wall, providing weak light to both the room and the balcony — efficient, certainly, but dim. Nong Khiaw has only had full-time electricity for a few months, so I was grateful to have power at all.
Okay, so the bathroom was nothing to brag about. The walls were stained and there were no towels or tiny packets of shampoo. But, it had a flush toilet, was clean, and the hot shower worked — the water here in the mountains is pretty chilly in the morning. The step down from the main room was about 18″ and I nearly did a face-plant the first night. They should add “Adventure” to the hotel name and double the price.
The balcony made up for the bathroom and any other complaints I might have had. There was a cool breeze blowing up from the river and I could comfortably sit during the hottest part of the day and read or write. At night, there was no traffic to be heard and I would be lulled to sleep by the sounds of frogs and cicadas.
Then, I’d be woken the following morning by a monk who walked around with a drum at 5 am, chasing away the evil sleep spirits. Even the roosters hated him.
During the day, large colorful butterflies would land on my drying laundry. They were probably enjoying the salt I hadn’t managed to rinse out and I always had two or three of them to keep me company. Birds darted about, chasing each other through the banana trees and high grasses below.
The view was pretty nice. I could have paid more and found a guesthouse closer to the water, but I was quite content here. The river below was lovely and serene, but the limestone mountain that loomed above the town really stole the show. In the morning, it would be shrouded in thick, slowly-dissipating cloud and at night, it glowed in the moonlight. I could have watched it for days.
Actually, now that I think of it… that’s exactly what I did.