Rangoon 2: Attacked in the Night


As I wrote in the prior blog, I still don’t know how I found the “guesthouse” where we spent that first night in Rangoon. At first it seemed like a great value. But in the end we got more than we bargained for…

It was a small place owned by Indian traders, on the second floor of a decrepit colonial building lost down a forgettable side street. We had to trudge up a dark stairway full of auto parts and then walk through some sort of machine shop to get to the door. I struck a deal for a tidy little room with a shower for less than ten bucks — not bad given how overpriced rooms in Rangoon were at the time.

It was only later that night I realized what a shithole it was.

The wooden walls of the room didn’t extend all the way to the top. There was a one-inch gap opening onto the hallway. Unfortunately the wall at the end of the hallway that separated these concrete cells from the lobby wasn’t a proper wall either. I think it was made of plastic painted to look like fake wood. The lobby seemed to be some sort of social hub for other Indian or Pakistani traders. They sat there past midnight drinking tea and chattering like old ladies in shrill voices, and they resumed their discussions once more as dawn broke. Their conversation reverberated down the hall and funneled through that gap at the top of the wall, amplified to a volume that had been precisely calculated to shatter sleep.

I don’t know if the mosquitos were pushed through by the sheer acoustic power of the gossip or if they fled to escape the noise, but as darkness fell the room was infiltrated by a plague of buzzing misery. Malaria was rampant in the region and all we had were pills purchased over the counter at Hanoi — who knows what they contained.

We burned mosquito coils until our eyes and lungs ached in a futile attempt to choke the bastards out, but I was tormented all night by a fresh assault each time a coil ran down. Any bit of flesh not covered by blankets was stung grievously, and by morning the bed was surrounded by the bodies of those slain in single combat.

I thought the mosquitos would be the worst of it, but that was yet to come. I had just finished writing my notes and was reaching for the light switch when I noticed something moving beneath the shower door. Now, the “shower” was just a dank concrete cube with a hole chopped in the floor for a drain, and a cold water pipe sticking out of the ceiling. It actually looked as though it had been built in the space between the walls. Anything that crawled out of the dark corners and moldy shadows of that place couldn’t possibly be welcome.

As I got up to investigate, a giant cockroach crawled out through the gap in the shower room door and approached me with it’s guard up. The hideous creature was nearly the size of my palm.

I grabbed a hiking boot and wasted no time taking the fight to the enemy. I feinted with the left and dealt the beast a mighty blow with the heel of the boot, but it had absolutely no effect on the carapace of this freak of evolution. The son of a bitch came straight at me again like I’d blown it a kiss. I hit it a second and third time in rapid succession, and only then was it reeling enough for me to deliver the shell-splitting blow that finished the fight.

I’d just scraped the thing into the trash when a second and then a third slipped out from beneath the door. I picked up the other boot and laid waste to my 6-legged foes with a matching pair. Before reinforcements could enter the field again, I yanked down the faded curtain that tastefully hid the entry to the shower, and I shoved it beneath the door, filling the space and bracing it with a stack of books.

We wouldn’t be menaced by any more insects that night, but when I woke in the morning and went in there for a shower, I found that half my bar of soap was missing. The remainder was covered in tiny teethmarks. A rat had evidently eaten it in the night.

I reached back out for my knife, whittled away the chewed sections, and finished my shower. I was perfectly content with this, but my girlfriend insisted we find new lodgings the next day. She said the place didn’t meet her standards. But what did she expect for seven dollars?

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.



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