Before coming to Southeast Asia, I (to my knowledge) have not slept in a bungalow, let alone a “beach bungalow”. The only things I knew about them were 1) that they were on the beach and thus probably sandy, and 2) the word “bungalow” was fun to say. In my imagination, staying in one of these sandy getaways took the form of little more than a hammock with a roof on top, hovering over some deep white sand and the occasional wave from high tide. I had a slight misconception.
On the river island of Don Det in Laos, I finally introduced myself to these legendary waterside homes. There was indeed a hammock, but it was outside on the porch. For $2.50 a night, the bungalow consisted of a bamboo shack with a hard-as-bricks mattress and a mosquito net. I’m a simple guy and sufficed.
When I jumped onto the hammock, I actually jumped through it. A gaping hole left me flailing foolishly and futilely.
The mosquito net, I discovered, only protected you from mosquitos, but seemed to absolve its magical barrier for anything and everything else that wanted to hop into my bed and pester me while I slept; especially ants. To this day, I still find ants from that bungalow scurrying through my stuff, creating new colonies and dynasties. I believe right now the Toiletry Kingdom is waging a bloody war against the Socks Empire. There is no clear victor.
An Estonian friend of mine staying at a bungalow a few doors down removed her mosquito net in an anxious rage to escape the suffocating heat. During the night, a cockroach fell on her face as she slept. Take a second and imagine that. She stayed awake in fits of paranoia for each successive night, holding a flashlight on that exact spot on the ceiling in an attempt to ease her anxiety.
And in the end, there was no sand.
A much better beach bungalow experience occurred on Koh Rong Sanloem, a quiet island paradise off the coast of southern Cambodia.
I rented a room for a week at Sunset Bungalows (highly recommended!). Besides the amazing sea and sunset views, private bathroom, oscillating fan, front yard hammocks, and sand pathways, the restaurant, Sunset Kitchen, made some damn good food.
Sunset Bungalows provided everything that a beach bungalow should have, including a giant lizard.
Now, I know there are geckos running around everywhere in Southeast Asia. They scurry along in a timid frenzy and croak in your ear when they want attention. These geckos are not the lizards I’m talking about.
In my bungalow lived a foot and a half long, three inch wide, camouflaged, bug-eyed lizard. I named her Sandra.
When I first spotted Sandra, I was terrified. I don’t know why I looked in the corner of the room, but I did, and there she was clingling to the wall next to an escape crevice, gazing at me unblinkingly. We held an all day championship staring contest. I lost. I looked away, looked back, and she was gone. I walked into the bathroom and peaked around. There she was, in a different corner, in a different position, next to a different hole, and still gazing at me.
Initially, I wanted to tell the cleaning staff about their extra attendant who wasn’t paying rent. But after spending an entire day gazing at the critter, I came to terms with the fact that it was her bungalow and not mine. First come, first serve.
We got along fine. She welcomed me home each day I came back from the beach, and wished me goodnight when I brushed my teeth before bed. And I gave her no hastles about wandering around the bungalow in my presence. Mutual respect.
However, on my fifth day, I made a keen observation that Sandra had disappeared. I looked everywhere. She was gone. I made an easy observation that there were suddenly a hundred mosquitos in the bathroom and spiders above my bed. Sandra had indeed checked out.
The moral of the story is: If there’s a lizard living in your bungalow, keep it, or else cockroaches will fall on you while you sleep, and ants will wage war in your toothpaste.