Tuesday, March 6, 2012

our $12.50 bungalow

our bungalow, with wifi!, nong khiaw, laos.

here's the thing about southeast asia, it's cheap. no news flash, i know, but it's still mind-boggling.

that bungalow over there on the right, the one in front, cost us $12.50 a night. what you can't see: from that porch is an amazing view of the nam ou river in northern laos. this is their "top-end" accommodation at nam houn bungalows in nong khiaw. for us, it was one of the best places to pass hours in the hammock doing nothing but watch the boats go by and the sun set behind the mountains. incredible.

we'd just floated downriver to nong khiaw from an even smaller town called muang ngoi, which will forever hold a very, very affectionate spot in our hearts. it's a village only accessible by boat and there we had a bungalow for $11.50. think about what you would get in the u.s. for that much money. you couldn't get anything, could you? maybe $60 will get you a room at a motel 6 along a freeway off-ramp somewhere.

nam houn riverside guesthouse, nong khiaw, laos.
any bus ride through laos will illustrate why things are cheap, i mean there are people living with not a whole hell of a lot. this didn't seem to affect their outlook on life, as we met some of the most wonderful people on our travels in that country, but it's clearly evident there's not a lot of cash flying around.

now, thailand's a different story: i had a conversation with a friend in chiang mai about world currency, something i thought i once almost understood. or maybe value is more accurate a word. now i definitely understand a whole lot less about how the world works. in chiang mai, where we stayed for $20 a night in a very fine room for a few weeks, where said friend was also staying, we ate some incredible food, had massages nearly every day, cheap transportation wherever we needed to go, and these things barely cost us a couple of dollars each time. life in chiang mai is really, really good. infrastructure is there for pretty much anything you need. people aren't living hard lives as you would expect in a place with prices like that. i talked to a guy from the u.s. who, with his thai girlfriend, bought a home in a nice neighborhood of chiang mai, completely gutted it, and rebuilt it from the inside out for a total of $60,000. all this with a view of the ping river. i sat open-jawed with my beer halfway to my face when he uttered the total.

medications, too. we purchased tylenol for $1.50, cold medication for $1, an entire course of antibiotics for $4-$5, and these weren't asian brands, either, they were companies like phizer, glaxo-smith-kline, merck... american companies we all know, at a fraction of the price. why is that? another friend was in town and needed a visit to the emergency room. he's a retired doctor who reported "that was one of the best medical experiences i have ever had. top-notch doctors, outstanding diagnosis and prescription filled, all for $25. i was in and out in under an hour."

our $10 bungalow, koh lanta, thailand.
on koh lanta, an island in the andaman sea, we paid $10 a night for a bamboo bungalow a few minutes walk from the beach. $10! we'd walk out in the morning to be shaded by palm trees in the breeze and eat breakfast of fresh papaya and mango and, i might add emphatically, really good coffee.

we're now in cambodia and have been here for nearly a month. so far we've stayed in a guesthouse in siem reap for $16 a night, a bungalow on otres beach for $10 a night, a bungalow on a nearly deserted island for $40 (this was a splurge! but worth every bit of it.), and a guesthouse in kep for $20 a night.

what you get for the cost spans everything from air conditioning to just a fan, a cold water shower or sometimes even a hot water shower and surprisingly, more often than not, comfortable beds. i remember only one very uncomfortable bed and it was basically a futon seemingly gone flat back in the 90s. a word about the bathrooms, too. typically they're tiled rooms with a toilet, a sink and a shower head. no shower stall or curtain, just a shower head. if you think about it, where else could you take a pee, brush your teeth, have a shower and clean the bathroom all at the same time? it's win-win-win-win.

almost every one of these rooms has had a mosquito net, and thank god. for the entrepreneurs out there, here's a suggestion. if you care to start an import business to bring window screens to this part of the world, you know, the part of the world with ALL THE MOSQUITOES? you'll be rich. there are none to be found, it's truly astounding. you're welcome.

hammock rentals, $2 for all day, along the sea.
they would even make you fried rice or noodles and
bring it to you while you swayed. kep, cambodia.
if our cambodian visas weren't about to run out, we'd still be in kep. if you're thinking of traveling to cambodia, and if you aren't, you should be, find your way to kep. seriously, now. kep has been a sleepy backwater on the south coast of the country, "the little sister" to kampot, as they're fond of saying. well, kampot is cool, but kep is on the water with some of the freshest crab in the world. that's their major claim, fresh crab. i would add an ever-present breeze, lush greenery, a tremendous national park with the best-marked system of trails in all of southeast asia and the most laid back population we've ever met. we sat in our restaurant and ordered the "kampot pepper crab." then we watched the woman wade out into the waves, retrieve a crab from the basket floating in front of us, take out a crab and walk back. minutes later, that poor sap was on our table and wow, was he tasty. if you aren't a big crab fan when you arrive, you will be when you leave. but things are changing, the money is pouring in, you can see it all over town. the people aren't here yet, but the hotels and roads to support them are going up as i type. oh, and that crab meal? $4. see what i'm saying?

our bus on the road between kep and phnom penh.
it's a beauty, no?

we took a bus from kep to phnom penh this week, a distance of 90 miles. ticket price? $4.50 per person. granted, not business class on british airways or anything, but a fine bus with full size seats and air conditioning. the funny thing is, the longer you're in this part of the world, the more skewed your expectations become. upon arriving in phnom penh, michelle noticed a sign for the bus in the opposite direction but here it was priced $7. "my god! $7? that's insane." let's be honest, we're talking the price of a large latte at starbucks.

being in phnom penh, the prices of things reflect "city" living. what we're talking about here is that entrees are now $4-$6 and tonight with dinner we purchased a "jar of beer," a pitcher really, for $3. and it was happy hour so we got another for free!

as i was typing this post, sitting in our $25 a night guesthouse (city prices) in phnom penh, the power went out. did we mention it was hot? no? well, it's nearly 10:30pm and it's 86 degrees. so long air conditioning. when the power goes out, they shrug their shoulders and say "we get our power from vietnam," like that explains everything.

here's a parting shot: a scooter ride along the south coast of cambodia.

no one else around to take our picture, so we did it ourselves. that there is the
gulf of thailand in the background. believe us, although we've been traveling for
seven months we are still astounded by the places in which we find ourselves.
and by how goofy humans look in helmets.
kep, cambodia. 

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