One Day in Thailand, This Happened…
“When do you think those blankets were last washed?” I ask Tom, as I survey our sleeping arrangements.
He gives me an exasperated look as he swings his day pack off his back.
“What?” I ask in mock innocence. “I’m just curious.” Really, I’m wondering how the OCD part of me is going to handle this very rustic sleeping arrangement.
I have just arrived in a mountain top village in the mountains of northern Thailand for an overnight stay as part of a two-day adventure trek I am partaking in. Our Thai guide, Ti, has deposited us in front of a wooden hut that is built on stilts with holes in the floor and a thatched roof. The hut is divided into two sections around a large open area with a bonfire pit in the middle.
On one side of the bonfire is a small room where Ti immediately disappeared into with the announcement that he was going to start cooking dinner after he showed us to the other side of the hut: a narrow, long room with two rows of knee-high wood scaffolding stretching along either side of the room. Pairs of ancient looking cots are lined up along the top of the wood, with thick, pilled blankets folded on top and a mosquito net hanging from the rickety ceiling above each pair.
I remind myself of the many ghetto hostels I have slept in over the years. This is the same thing…sort of.
“You’ll be fine,” Tom reiterates to me and puts his pack next to one of the cots of our hut accommodations and pulls out warm athletic pants to change into out of his sweaty, dirty hiking pants. It had been a long day of hiking up a very steep trail – most of the time with a lack of any semblance of a trail except for Ti cheerfully calling us on through layers of thick brush and overgrown vegetation. I open my pack to search for clothes to change into as well and nod my head in response.
“I know,” I lie with a grimace, and then pause thoughtfully. “I’m going to put my jacket over the pillow though.”
To my surprise, Tom agrees with me. Usually any part of my germophobia, he is quick to counter by licking the object of my disdain (ok, that only happened once, but still…it was disgusting. He on the other hand thought it was hilarious). “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” he says. “Me too.”
We head outside holding our change of clothes to find a private area to undress and Ti pokes his head out of the other room.
“Showers down there if you want!” he shouts at us cheerfully and points toward an outhouse a short walk down from our hut. I look at it dubiously and see the French couple on our trek coming up from them; the wife’s hair is wet and she laughs when she catches our eyes.
“It’s very cold,” she warns in her thick accent.
Her husband appears behind her. “It’s wonderful. Refreshing!” he proclaims loudly. These two barely broke a sweat when walking up the mountain and the husband was telling us more about the plants than Ti was. I decide these two outdoor enthusiasts are not who my city girl self should listen to when it comes to roughing it on a mountaintop.
I smile at them and then lean into Tom’s ear. “I’m NOT taking a full shower. I’ll never get warm again.” Tom just laughs. I groan. I’ve taken cold showers before while traveling, but usually I at least have a warm room to go back into after. There is no heat or electricity in this village.
We reach the shower, which is next to a wooden outhouse, and peer in. The shower head is connected to a snake-like tube staked through the wood. The ground of the shower is muddy and I step tentatively into the shower onto the least muddy looking area, holding my change of clothes in my arms. Changing into clean clothes might not work too well in here. Tom follows behind me and grabs the shower head from the wall. He turns it on and I squeal in surprise as a jet of cold water hits the ground and icy droplets ricochet onto me. Now, despite being a city girl all my life, I am always up for an adventure, but being cold on that adventure? Not so much. It will be interesting to see how I fare if I ever make it to Antarctica.
I put my hand under the freezing cold water and shudder. This is as warm as it’s going to get.
“That French couple took an actual shower in this?” I hiss through already chattering teeth. “They are my new heroes.”
“You’ll be fine. It’s warm outside,” Tom says and gestures me toward the water. I shake my head. “Uh-uh, you first.” And I wasn’t convinced about the warm part. The temperature had been rapidly dropping with each additional inch the sun set behind the mountains. The hot Thailand day was going to turn into a cold mountain night before long.
Tom partially undresses and runs his head under the water. I shiver and laugh at his pained expression. Too soon, it’s my turn. I step out of my hiking clothes and hand them to Tom to hold, who also is holding my clean clothes. “Don’t drop them,” I command, staring down at the mess of a ground that is getting muddier and more slippery by the second. I sidle over to the edge of the stream of water and, unlike Tom who spun his upper body around in it, I cup my hands to wash my face and the rest of myself.
“Wimp,” Tom calls. I’m about to toss water on him when I remember he’s holding my clothes. Best to keep those dry as my body is already going into shivering convulsions.
“This. Is. Freezing!” I pant. Refreshing? Not at the moment. I was shaking too much to feel anything other than cold. I grab our small travel towel from where it’s slung over Tom’s shoulder, still wet from his shower, and quickly dry myself as much as I can, then hurry into my awaiting dry clothes. As we walk back up to the hut, my body temperature comes back to normal and I feel…refreshed. Of course. Why are outdoorsy people always right? As if on cue, the French husband appears at the railing of the hut porch and nods at us with a wide smile.
“Good?” he asks.
“Cold, but yes, it was good,” I reply with a grin. His wife also smiles at me in camaraderie for braving (barely) the shower. I purchase a beer from Ti’s beverage cooler and as I open it, I take a deep breath and look at what has been trying to command my total attention since I arrived: the view.
From the small patio adjoined to the open middle area of the hut, the view is astounding. As I lean my forearms against the rail of the patio, all I can see is scenery. There are no houses, no people, just the world – which I literally feel on top of. This was prime real estate. I am also starting to understand why people hike mountains.
I look behind me again at the hut that I’d be lying my head down in in just a few hours and feel an elated giggle escape my throat.
“What?” Tom asks and looks at me curiously – probably expecting that the near hypothermia of the shower and the prospect of sleeping in unwashed blankets is making me go psychotic.
“We should be paying way more for this,” I say. “This is incredible!”
That night, after an amazing curry dinner and stories by the bonfire, the two Chang beers I consumed are ready to come out. It is pitch black beyond the hut and I can’t see anything except stars. I also can’t remember the last time I saw this many stars in the sky – maybe never – but instead of searching for shooting ones I tug on Tom’s arm as he laughs at a story Ti is telling.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I whisper as he turns his head toward me.
He grins wickedly. “Great. Go.”
“To-om,” I growl. “You have to come with me.”
“Oh, do I?” he replies, but begins to get up. We grab our flashlight from our daypack and make our way down the rickety stairs and path to the outhouse.
I open the door and we both step into the wooden outhouse. We barely fit. I shine the light briefly around the outhouse, but skip the corners. If there are spiders in here I don’t want to know about them. The bathroom holds a simple toilet – no seat, but that’s normal in Southeast Asia. It also has the requisite tub of water for adding additional water to the toilet to trigger a flush if needed. Which I also of course find mildly disgusting. Tom the engineer finds it ingenious. I take a deep breath and step forward towards the toilet.
“Ok, you hold the flashlight while I go,” I say and hand it to him. I bend over the toilet and hope there aren’t any spiders or snakes waiting to bite my butt.
Suddenly, the flashlight goes off.
“Tom!” I squeal. His response is maniacal laughter.
Next, I see a bright flash go off. More laughter.
I pull up my pants and scowl as the flashlight goes back on. “Well, that’s going to be a lovely picture. Is this the highlight of the trip for you?”
“You should have seen your face,” Tom laughs. “You looked terrified!”
I grab the flashlight out of his hand. “Because I don’t like darkness when I’m peeing in the middle of a jungle!”
He just keeps laughing and despite myself I can’t help but also smile at my petrified response to the lack of light.
We make it back to the bonfire and a British couple on our trip gets up to head down. I warn her not to let her man control the flashlight.
I decide not to drink anything else for the night. I am NOT braving that bathroom at three in the morning.
We climb into bed a short while later. We lucked out and got the cot closest to the doorway, meaning we’re closest to the bonfire heat, though Ti said it would be put out once we’ve all turned in for the night. I pull the blankets up and fold them away from my face so they’re not touching my skin and lie down on my jacket-covered pillow. Well, this isn’t too bad. I snuggle into Tom and fall fast asleep, my body exhausted from the day’s hike up the mountain.
A couple hours later, I wake up shivering.
The impossible has occurred – this was colder than the shower. I pull my blankets tighter around my body and over my head, not caring anymore how many people had used them before me and if they were touching my face. What’s the worst that could happen – I get a cold? Heck, we were heading to Ko Phi Phi after this and I could nurse myself back to health with Pina Coladas on the beach. Right now, all I care about is somehow getting some semblance of warmth. I tug at another blanket, waking Tom up, who insists with a hiss that it is his and to stop stealing his blankets. Sheesh, sleeping on cold mountains makes people crabby. And I’m sure I’m not possibly one of those people as I grab back part of his blanket as soon as he falls back asleep.
The next morning comes too soon as I am awaken from my cold, restless sleep by a crowing rooster and grunting pig walking underneath the wooden floorboards beneath me. I peek over the cot and squint through a hole in the floorboard and sure enough, there is a big hog down there. I groan as I roll back over. Is morning really here already? I force myself up and to my surprise as I climb out of the cot, I actually feel quite alert. The same elated smile spreads across my face as it did the evening before upon my glance at the mountain view. I did it. I survived my night in the mountain top jungle – and had fun. Old blankets, cold showers, scary bathrooms – it all just added to the amazing ambiance and I’m actually bummed we can’t spend more time here. I breathe in the fresh morning air and as it fills my lungs, I become more excited for the day – especially to get up and see the amazing mountain top view again.
But in order to see that I must first put in my contacts. Which I do, right after applying my hand sanitizer.
Tips for Sleeping in a Mountain Top Bamboo Hut
- Bring Warm Clothes. I repeat: Bring warm clothes.
- Cleansing Wipes. Bring easy to transport wipes or washcloths (Oil of Olay face cleansing cloths work great and are easy to transport in a small sandwich bag.)
- Hand Sanitizer. Yes, may be the OCD in me coming out, but since there’s no soap and you don’t want to get sick on your vacation…it may come in handy.
- Bug Spray. The mosquito nets won’t protect you from everything.
- Camera. Take some postcard and frame-worthy pictures.
- A Great Attitude. Because roughing it can be more fun and memorable than lounging in luxury.