We woke up early enough to go for breakfast across the street at Xian Mai where I had an omelette and a shake. Back to the hotel to grab our things and literally walk across the street to Green Discovery Lao where 2 people were already waiting. I paid the rest of the deposit and then we stored our stuff upstairs in one of the rooms with a few others bags. We hopped into the van and went on our way picking up a few more. Our jungle crew consists of Pet our guide, Stephanie (Doctor’s assistant/resident) and Noami (physicist) who are currently unemployed and are from Bern, Switzerland . Rudy and Deanna from Amsterdam who work in healthcare, Kiwi and Thip (sells washer and dryers) from Bangkok, Thailand, and a Russian couple who was told they were going to be living in a luxury jungle hotel overnight but not actually expecting what we did with all that hiking in mud and all as they brought their full luggage onto the bus.
First off, if you plan on doing this tour, you need to be in moderately good shape and expect to get dirty and wet (its a jungle and the weather changes quickly). I thought November was going to be dry and it has for the most part been ok but jungle is different. Whatever bag you bring with you, you will be carrying majority of the trek so don’t carry to much or too big (camera, phone, swim suit, sleeping clothes – long sleeve/pants if you worry about bugs, clothes for the second day, toilet paper, deet etc). You need to be moderately fit although we had a older Russian couple who weren’t prepped at all but eventually make it through. Bring rain covers for your bags and if you have a waterproof casing for your cameras/phones please use. Rain jackets are useful at points too. A dry bag or tons of ziplock bags are so important. Make sure your phones are fully charged before going as there is only 1 set of plugs in the main area to charge if needed. Bring toilet paper and DEET!
We did the 2 days 1 night tour. In total, we had 9 in our group and Pet was our amazing guide. Here is the run down. Drive about 1-2 hours from Pakse to Paksong. Once you reach the clay dirt road heading into Champassak province – Ban Nongluang – the roads become very bumpy and its about 30-45 minutes riding through these roads avoiding potholes as the road isn’t cultivated and more rural. There are so many adorable and kind kids and people along the way that will smile and wave at you. We finally came to a stop at this one particular spot which is somewhat a little storefront and home base out there for the workers – there we were joined by 3-4 other guides (they don’t all speak too much english though but know main gestures) and 3-4 girls who are our cooks for the adventure who do the trek in flip flops and casual clothes such as jeans and sweaters – what troopers. It is here where you get accessorized with your harness and your brake which is a tree branch (it will be your saviour this whole trip – to have better control on braking, slightly twist the stick on the wire to slow down). There are also a few toilets in the back you can use but be warned they don’t usually have toilet paper and are squatting toilets. They will give you 2 water bottles that will be your water for the 2 days but you will have to carry them. They do have a water filling system at basecamp. You can buy a few snacks here to bring with you. Then begin your hike into the park on said clay dirt roads with rocks. Watch out for leeches! You end up hiking for about an hour-hour & a half then stop for lunch. Lunch is served family style on huge banana leaves (they literally cut it from the trees) and you asian squat to eat with your hands food that was freshly made. Very tasty! The trail becomes very different when dry vs being wet for sure. We continued hiking and eventually ended up to our first zip line where they give you safety instructions and then you just go. In total, you zipline 21 lines. First day you zipline 8 and second 13. There is also bit of belaying and crossing tightrope / sky bridges. It was raining the first day and harder to control the brake on the wire. I’ve been zip lining before so the guides actually just let me go ahead of them with a little instruction on if i need to brake a lot or not. The ziplines are very basic so if they tell you to brake hard; brake hard as they don’t have a wire space for recoil and you may kick a tree (the guides will try to stop/catch you). When you make it to basecamp, there is the main area where you will spend most of your time and then a path to the waterfall. The path is slippery and the rocks at the waterfall is very rough terrain if you want to actually explore it and is VERY SLIPPERY! but a beauty to be seen. There are 2 showers (just cold water) and 1 outhouse (please don’t flush toilet paper down and put it into the garbage bin).
The main area has a firepit where they regularly have fresh boiling water and Bolaven plateau coffee that they pick up locally from a old lady’s stall along the way and they also sell lao beer. Here is where they serve you dinner and a little time to relax and socialize. When you want to goto bed, you just need to let them know and then you need to suit up in your harness again and then they show you to your treehouse for the night. Warning: you are in the middle of nature.. there are rats that climb the cables into the room searching for food so please leave at at main basecamp area for them to hang or make sure its securely closed and hung. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BAGS ON THE FLOOR. There are nails for you to hang your bags to keep them clean and safe. The beds are singles with mosquito netting on them with sleeping bags in them. There are tons of bugs at night attracted to the light. There is a toilet and sink in your treehouse and depending on your tree, you may or may not have a clear view. The generators that controls the power and lights will go out about 10 minutes after the last group gets into their treehouse so get settled quickly. I had a good sleep. The mornings are a little cooler so there are no bugs when you wake up to catch the sunrise. You can zipline out of your tree whenever you feel like coming down in the morning when there is light. There is toilet paper in your treehouse but the main outhouse only runs on maybe 2 rolls the whole trip.
The second day, you wake up and check out of your treehouse and return to the main area for breakfast. You can leave your bags there for the morning half of zip lining as you return for lunch before hiking back out. Our second day was dry for the first half and braking was so much easier and the view and hike is just much nicer. We lucked out when we were leaving as it started pouring hard. It was majority all down hill the first day, its all uphill on the last day. No more zip lining as you leave but there is climbing on the side of a cliff which is a little tough but full. You stand on makeshift street reinforcement bar steps and climb. You end up on the top of a waterfall and the view is spectacular! The girl cooks were so quick and nimble to climb and catch up to us even in flip flops! The guides were incredibly helpful especially to the russian couple. You end up hiking under zip lines you zipped the previous day so the grounds becomes somewhat familiar again. Then its the long hike back out of the park (you end up coming out the side where the sign from the previous day directed to a waterfall) and walk back to the storefront basecamp where you can buy some snacks, returns he harness and say your last goodbyes to the guides and drive back to Pakse. It was a hard, wet and slightly tiring experience but it was fun and we zip lined through a frigging jungle with a few wounds. I got rope burn on my arm, little flesh ripped from the wire trying to adjust my position and 2 leech bites (one by my crotch – how does that happen) and one by my ankle. I did all of this hiking in a tank top and volleyball shorts with non-waterproof Nike Flyknit Lunars at one point during the hike back up taking Amy’s backpack. We did however use the hose outside at Salachampa and sort of washed/rinsed our shoes. This is when baby powder comes in handy to get rid of odours! I purchased a bag of Bolaven Plateau coffee grinds from the basecamp of where we got our harness gear and where the cooking staff and guides stay.
We got back and all I wanted to do was shower because I wore the same clothing both days and at one point of the first day we all hit a tree branch that covered us all in mud and well I pretty much stunk. Back to Salachampa we went and then off to Daolin for dinner – they have really good fruit shakes here! and have a strong wifi connection. I got the Lao soup and the iced green tea latte which was delicious – 35000 kip. Then back home to sleep after a long day. Unfortunately we did not make it to the housewarming party with our new friends.