After leaving Vang Vieng we moved on towards the capital of Laos. A city called Vientienne. There really isn’t so much I can say about this place, but it really is on your route if you are moving through Laos. The city itself is warm, expensive and full of mosquitoes. They seem to thrive on the banks of the Mekong. Our only real highlights were the unbelievably cheap room, at $10 you can’t complain; the amazing stupa temple and surrounding wats; and last but not least the amazing pizza at a little place called “via via”.
Luckily we didn’t have to stay so long and got on a night bus to Pakse, a town in the very south of Laos. The only real reason for our trip there: the Green Discovery Treetop adventure!
After sharing the night bus with 3 random Lao men we arrived in the sleepy little town of Pakse and basically made our way to the Green Discovery office. This company offers lots of different eco-friendly tours all over Laos, but we had researched a specific tour which you can only do in 2 places in Laos. One is the quite famous Gibbon experience in northern Laos and the other is the Treetop explorer near Pakse. As we weren’t going north we, or better still I had my heart set on such an experience. The tour consists of lots of jungle treks, lots of Ziplines and very few people. It does however come at an extreme cost: $272!!! As things here are so cheap this is an amazing amount of money to shell out on any one thing. In comparison in Vietnam we had been canyoning for almost a full day for around $30. This made the financial loss to our tour fund very had to justify, but in hindsight the trip was worth every penny.
After an uneventful day in Pakse and a good night’s sleep, we were up bright and early to make our way to the pick up point if the tour. We safely packed away our large rucksacks in the locked office upstairs and came back down to find a few more than the previously discussed 2 other participants on the tour. At the time of booking there were supposedly only 3 other people booked up and we were beginning to feel really excited about such a small group. Somehow a mixture of last minute booking and mix ups with the other offices had led to the group expanding promptly to 10! It was a colourful mix and the bonding began on the 2 hr bus journey, where we also first met our guide – introducing Porn from Pakse! He would probably spell his name differently but I chose to try and remember it like this.
The first hour of the journey went smoothly, but the second was at an agonisingly slow pace. The 10kms really took us away from civilisation and eventually led to a tiny village in the middle of a massive coffee plantation. This is where we got our water, climbing gear and final instructions. We swapped our bus and driver for 3 local guides who spoke ZERO English. Porn was the main man and his English was more than good enough for our needs. He gave us a little introduction about the climbing harness and the basic make up of the next few hours. Without giving too much away he told us we would have to trek fora bit before really entering the jungle.
Our mood was good and the pace of the walking was brisk but nothing too difficult. The sun was really beating down and walking on the dirt road between all the coffee trees was really beautiful, but super hot. Eventually we turned off the road and began a slight desent into the jungle. We came to our first river crossing where we had to walk across a metal rope. Then it was already time for a nutritious Laos lunch served up on banana tree leaves. After lunch we really started to go downhill and the path through the trees became a little more testing. Thankfully it hadn’t rained here for a while otherwise it would be very difficult without proper gear. My runners were doing a perfect job but the difficulty of the descent became more and more extreme. Now and again there were ropes to hold onto but mostly you were left to navigate your way down. Slowly the forest opened up to reveal large, thick and very old trees.
This is where the adventure began. The first zipline was hung between two of these massive trees. It was a fairly short line of maybe about 20 metres, a nice easy start to get used to the lines. As part of our hear we each had a curved wooden stick to use as a break to slow you down on the line. Some people in the group got the hang of this concept a little more quickly than others, but more on that later. After a longer zipline we went absailing down the trees to get a little bit lower every time.
Laying in wait for us was a little highlight: zip lining across a waterfall! I really wasn’t expecting to see the waterfall but once I got going on the line and moved out of the trees the view was spectacular. On one side was the amazing waterfall cascading down and on the other the first glimpse of the amazing valley in front of us. I hardly had time to take it all in before the ride took me back into the cover of the forest and jungle. Thankfully that wasn’t the last ride across the waterfall. After some more absailing we were able to go back across another line further down the mountain. This time you could really take it all in and it really is something that you jus can’t find everywhere. The smile on my face was beginning to really take over. I was able to just sit back and take in the view and took some time to think about where I was and what I was doing. The journey to get here was already paying off and my heart was racing. I was throughly enjoying myself. Everyone was feeling the same and there was such a good atmosphere in the group. We were all flabbergasted at what we had just done.
We basically zigzaged our way down into the valley and the views were just amazing. Eventually we reached our base camp and caught our first glimpse of the tree houses, which resembled something from Return of the Jedi. These Ewok-style houses were set really high up in the trees. We had some seriously strong Lao coffee with copious amounts of condensed milk and were able to sit and relax in the restaurant part of the camp and take in the amazing views of the monkey waterfall which we had been ziplining across. Our guide told us that the names of the waterfalls, monkey and tiger, came from the fact that monkeys and tigers lived in the area. We actually saw some monkeys crossing near the waterfall on one of the days. Sadly we didn’t see any tigers, but they are supposedly very rare as they have been heavily hunted in the past. I went for a quick swim in the waterfall to clean myself up a but and then it was time for dinner. The food on all the days was amazing and the first dinner was a mix of rice, curry, vegetables and fresh spring rolls, yummy!
Pretty soon after dinner at around 8.30 pm it was already time for bed. The camp runs it’s electricity off a little generator, which only has a specific amount of fuel to keep it going. The guides brought us to our tree houses and we had to put on our harnesses again to zipline directly into the houses. The living conditions were extremely basic, but there was even a toilet in the tree house. Sadly for us the toilet was home to a massive colony of ants who went really up for sharing their domain. I spent the last few minutes of electric light trying to patch my wrecked mosquito net, it was in terrible shape. Once the lights went out at 9 pm the only light was from the almost full moon, but it was so strong it iluminated the entire jungle and surrounding cliffs. The sounds of the jungle were a mix of birds insects and the constant drum of the waterfall. This was my lullaby.
Day 2 kicked off with a very bright-eyed awakening around 6 am. The sun was beginning to light up the cliff surrounding the waterfall and the shadow of darkness was creeping away for the day. I found it so relaxing to just sit and watch the sun move across the rock and listen to the sounds of the jungle. I had repacked my bag to make it a little lighter because today was going to be a full on day and we could leave any excess baggage at the camp. The next sound was the tttzzzzz of the zipline and our guide coming to pick us up at 8 am. They were worried that we might not be able to hook onto the line and get back to the restaurant. Breakfast was simple, just bread and an small omelette. Some fresh pineapple for desert and a super strong coffee to wash everything down. The day then kicked off at 10 am once everyone had refilled their water bottles, a very important thing for the day.
We left the camp and walked down the hill towards the river and moved along the river for some time. We hadn’t gone that far until we reached the first line of the day. The theme of day 2 was definitely “no brake” the command meaning no need for your wooden stick to slow you down. This really was a game changer. Once you don’t have to think about steering or breaking then you can really sit back and enjoy the ride. This also opens up the chance to be a bit more acrobatic on the zipline and I took full advantage of this. I had seen one of the guides flipping upside down and zipping across so I decided to give it a go too. It was such an adrenaline rush that going across normally didn’t really appeal to me anymore. The best “no brake” line was coincidently also the longest at around 450 metres. The line is so far you can barely see where it ends! Day two also involved swimming in one of the waterfall pools, an amazing lunch on the banks of the river, some fairly scary rope bridges and some nice trekking through the jungle to get to the final sets of ziplines.
By the time we got back to camp we were all fairly exhausted and quite hungry. Before dinner I had a quick bath in the river and afterwards gobbled down our delicious dinner. We chatted as a group and recounted our favourite parts of the day and then it was time for our early bed again. We needed our beauty sleep before our last day. I made a point of going to the toilet before going to the tree house, as I still wasn’t up for dealing with those ants again.
Our final day began the same as the previous but today we knew there would be no more ziplining We had already conquered all 22 ziplines. Day 3 began we a decent ascent up the mountain further and further from the camp. It was tough going but we quickly reached our goal: the via ferrata. This is basically the only way back out to civilisation so the whole crew was with us today, even the girls from the kitchen. The via ferrata consists of metal rungs somehow mounted into the rock face and it functions as a sort of ladder both up and around the rock. It is actually easier than it looks but it takes a moment to get used to clipping the safety ropes in and out of the hooks. Once you move around the overhang it gets a little tougher but it’s so rewarding as you are basically climbing parallel to the flowing waterfall. Once at the top you are more or less standing on top of the waterfall looking down upon the wonderful valley where we had our adventures on the previous days. The view is out of this world. Next we grabbed lunch together and as we ate we were able to gaze into the distance far beyond where we had just come from. The last leg of the journey involved a 90 min trek back to the original village and a celebratory beer with the guides.
I have to admit that this trip was one of the most amazing experiencs I have ever been involved in. The whole thing was just magnificent from start to finish. It may have involved a loaf of money but the memories will stay with me forever.