Budgeting in Laos

A few years ago, some friends and I were travelling around South East Asia. We had just crossed the border from Thailand into Laos and were staying in the capital city called Vientiane, on the banks of the Mekong River.

When we first arrived there, I think we had come in by coach and it was quite late in the evening. We just wanted to drop our stuff somewhere and go and eat. We weren’t really big on the whole planning-ahead scene. We loved the carefree nature of just turning up and seeing what we could find. So we hardly ever pre-booked hotels or anything. Sometimes it ended us in some pretty sticky situations but, on the whole, we preferred it. It suited us because we didn’t always know when we would be moving on, or where to.

So this time, we got off the coach, wandered along the front and saw somewhere which looked quite nice (we usually made do with ‘a bit grotty’ but this time we went for ‘quite nice’ because we were too tired to keep looking).

We go in, ask for a room for three and are taken to a really nice, quite plush room with wooden furnishings and a generally lovely ambience. It was a bit pricey but we agreed that we would just stay one night and find somewhere cheaper the next day. We still had a few weeks of travelling left and not a lot of money to do it on.

So the next day, around midday, we packed up our bags again, shouldered our weights (mine was getting ridiculously heavy by this point as I kept collecting books faster than I could read them and pass them on), paid our bill and told the owners we were leaving. As we stepped outside of this lovely comforting enticing hotel, the heavens opened….

We trudged the streets, getting more and more soaked, looking in any hostels, B&Bs or hotels we could find. We walked for maybe an hour and found a hostel with a room for three people which already had five hundred fleas in it, another place with a cockroach in the bath and some other places more expensive than the one we just left. I think we saw a few which just looked quite old and about to fall down. The entire time, it rained.

Fed up and getting quite grumpy by this point, we stopped in a little cafe to dry off and get something to eat. The afternoon was arriving and we hadn’t had anything, having not suspected that finding a room would prove so difficult. We started arguing a little bit with each other. This person needed to stop being so fussy, they were only fleas. And that person needed to relax about the big crack down the wall, what’s the problem, it probably only lets a little draft in. What’s a cockroach in the bath? We won’t bathe then, no big deal. And who cares if the room smells like urine? You’re getting too fussy, we’re on a budget here!

After skirting around the obvious for a long while, we eventually all admitted it. We had nowhere else to go but back to the same hotel we left an hour ago. We’d come full circle in our search and as we left the cafe, we realised that we were just around the corner from the hotel.

Sheepishly, we shuffled around the corner and approached the hotel. We sneaked a look in the front and, sure enough, the same people were at the desk. Earlier, they had asked us why we were leaving and we had explained that we were students on a budget, we needed somewhere more affordable.

We hung around outside for a few minutes, deciding who should lead the walk of shame back to the reception desk. I think I was nominated in the end and we re-entered the hotel, quietly explaining that we would like ‘a room for three, please.’ Of course they recognised us. With huge smiles on their face, they took down a key and lead us back to the exactroom we had left an hour ago and told us to make ourselves at home….

When we left the hotel a few minutes later, desperate to put some distance between ourselves and our shame, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. And it stayed pretty sunny for the rest of our stay in Vientiane at that hotel.

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5 responses to this post.

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