After 4 days of doing nothing on the sleepy (especially in low season) island of Don Khon in southern Laos, I was starting to get a bit bored. My family was happy to keep lounging around, so I headed off on a walk by myself.
I had seen a map that showed a road encircling the north half of the island. I had no idea the distance around, but it seemed like a good path to follow. I figured that if it was taking too long to go around, I could just turn around and come back the way I came.
I turned left out of our guesthouse and headed down the dirt road. It was a Saturday and I walked past families sitting on the woven floors of their open living rooms watching TV. Although I am starting to get used it, I am still struck by the juxtaposition of simple rural life and modern technology.
Farther down the road, the view opened up to fields on one side and the Mekong river on the other. Raised thatched roof houses dotted the landscape. I could hear the jingle of bells around the necks of water buffalo. I passed carefully around these beasts when they walked near the path, noting whether they were tied up or not.
The locals greeted me with a friendly Sabaidee, which I returned.
The already gray sky began to darken. Luckily, I thought to bring an umbrella. It started to sprinkle and I kept walking, watching the rain fall on the fields and the river.
As the rain fell harder, I reached a section of the road surrounded by trees. I ducked and dodged to avoid tearing the umbrella on a branch and failed.
I was now in the middle of a down pour with a ripped umbrella. I stopped under a large tree for extra protection and waited.
I stood there enjoying the scenery when I noticed a woman peeking her head out of the door of her light blue raised house. She waved towards me. It seemed she was gesturing that I could wait under her house to stay dry. I gratefully stepped under the house, closed my umbrella and sat down on a woven cot.
Suddenly the rain came down even harder. The woman appeared on the house’s entry ladder and waved for me to come inside. I slipped off my shoes and climbed the ladder.
Inside the house was an adorable little baby sitting on the floor of a mostly empty, small, rectangular room. I sat next to the baby on the woven mat on the floor.
The woman, the baby’s mother, also sat down on the floor and smiled as I cooed over her daughter.
We sat in silence for minute and I sent a quick text to Rand to let him know that I was waiting out the rain, and to make him jealous that I had gotten invited into a house with a cute baby.
A moment later, two more little girls came up the ladder. Soaking wet, one totally naked, they smiled and sat down next to me, an unexpected visitor.
The mother said something in Laos and the naked girl ran into the adjoining room, returning quickly with a cotton dress on.
The mother spoke again and pointed to the baby and the formerly naked girl. From my studying of Thai, I recognized a word loek sauw. Daughter. And remembered that Laos and Thai share some of the same words. She was telling me that these two girls were her daughters.
I flipped through the pictures on my phone, looking for a photo of my own daughters. Finding one, I pointed at it. Sawm loek sauw. Three daughters, I said. The mother smiled.
Since I knew numbers in Thai and Laos were the same, I told my daughters’ ages and then pointed to her daughters and the other girl with a questioning look on my face.
Sip et. Hok. Jet, she responded. The older girl was 11 and her daughters were 6 and 7 (months, I inferred for the baby).
By now the rain had stopped. I got up and headed for the door.
I placed my hands together and bowed. Khap Jai, I said thanking my kind new friend and made my way down the ladder.
I continued my walk the way I had been going, marveling at what I had just experienced. Never before have I been invited into someone’s home to get out of the rain. Here this woman had seen a foreigner and asked her to come in, knowing we wouldn’t speak the same language. Her humble home had no furniture or decorations, but it had a floor to sit on and a roof to keep us dry.
I continued to ponder the hospitality of my five- minute friend as I dodged mud puddles on the road.
At one point the water was so deep on the road that I decided to walk through the vegetation on the side of the road instead, and ended up getting stuck on the other side of a fence. I had to climb the fence to get back to the road. I hoped no locals saw me flailing over wooden railings.
I came to a turn that I thought would lead me back around the loop. Before me was a river, which according to my map was a good sign. If I followed the river, it would lead back to the main road.
I followed the river until I was no longer on a dirt road, but a path through a forest. It was beautiful, but when I checked the gps on my phone, it seemed that I was going the wrong direction.
Not necessarily trusting my gps in such a remote location, I kept going. But the gps continued to show me going farther in the wrong direction, so I turned around.
I tried to stay on the same path, so I could just retrace my steps and return to our guesthouse the way I had come, but a water buffalo was blocking the path, so I diverted around it and couldn’t figure out how to get back to the same path.
The diversion turned out to be a good thing because I ended up on a path through a field that looked like the same field I had seen when I first started walking.
As I crossed the field I heard off-key singing. Believe it or not, there was a karaoke bar in the middle of the field. Eight or ten local guys were inside having a great time. They waved as I passed.
Soon I found myself back on the main road. I wasn’t quite sure where on the main road I was in relation to my guesthouse, so I had to guess which way to turn. When I came to the bridge to Don Dhet, I knew I had gone the wrong way, so I turned around. I made it back to my guesthouse just as my family was ready to head out to lunch.
My leisurely walk around our do-nothing island turned out to be an very eventful morning indeed.