Mondo Weirdo: The strangest place I've ever slept

Thai whiskey and Burmese soccer

Published October 7, 1997 9:42AM (EDT)

Drunk on Thai moonshine

The strangest night I've ever spent while traveling was in the jungles of northern Thailand. My traveling companions and I entered a camp where a bunch of villagers were sitting around chewing red roots that made them look like their gums were bleeding. The village head came over bearing a large bottle of liquid that had chunks floating in it, and offered it to us. Our guide informed us that we should drink some because otherwise it would be disrespectful. The entire population surrounded us to watch our reaction to the homemade whiskey. I managed to put a glass of it down without an outward grimace. This made all of the people laugh. Then the two Brits with us downed some -- and one choked and the other almost threw up. All of the villagers were very amused at this.

Suddenly, surreally, military helicopters hovered over the village and landed. Out came a group of soldiers who, it turned out, were on a mission to find opium. The village head did not want them to search the huts, so he challenged them to a whiskey drinking contest instead -- and somehow involved us as well. They took him up on the challenge, so we had to keep drinking until the soldiers were so drunk that they blew off the search and wandered off into the jungle in the middle of the night. Then, at last, we were led into a hut in which to sleep, and the village elder came and kissed us each on the forehead and said thanks for helping his people out. It was a rather strange night indeed.

-- Lalena Florek

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Burmese border soccer

While traveling up the Mekong River on my way to China, I would stop off and spend the night in small, obscure villages. After days of traveling, I reached one of the most remote places along the river -- Muang Mung, a village most people have never heard of, let alone been to. The village was located in the far north, on the border between Burma and Laos, and despite the small amount of international commerce between the two countries, there was an official customs house in the village. No guest houses though. The customs official spotted me wandering blindly down the dusty, palm-lined main thoroughfare. When I asked where I could stay, he said there was a hotel in Pak Beng, about 60 miles south, where I'd just come from. Once he understood that I wanted to stay there, in Muang Mung, he was perplexed. He said that I had to let him think about it but in the meantime, we should play soccer. I must have performed admirably enough in the village soccer match because after that, he let me into the customs house (a bare, wood shack with a desk in one corner and a fire pit in another), where I slept soundly, knowing that at least this Lao official didn't mind bending the rules a little for a wandering American who could play decent mid-field.

-- Jeff Booth

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Foreign farmyard ferry

When I was living in Japan, my 70-year-old grandmother flew over for a visit. As part of her round-the-world adventure, we decided to take an overnight ferryboat to South Korea. Since my grandmother was traveling with us, we booked nice berths on the ship. Unfortunately, our reservations were lost in the translation and we ended up having to sleep on the floor in steerage with wall-to-wall people and their favorite barnyard pets. The single bathroom was inadequate for the hundreds of people on the ship and visits to the outside decks were impossible due to the cold and a storm raging over the Sea of Japan. We ended up sleeping head-to-toe on long pallets of bright blue indoor/outdoor carpeting, where each person was provided with a black vinyl rice-filled pillow the size -- and softness -- of a brick. I finally fell asleep to the sound of random animal bleats, strange singing and guitars being played by a traveling group of Norwegian college students.

-- Debbie Dalebout-Feo

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