It’s rare that I book much before I leave for a trip. However, a bit of research before you go is never a bad idea. After all, that’s why you’re here right? When Tom and I started planning out trip 6 week South East Asian Adventure we did some research on Laos and stumbled on a company called Green Discovery – Adventure and Eco-Tourism (….thank you internet).
We were instantly drawn to their 3 Day/2 night Tree Top Explorer Tour at the Jungle Hotel Paksong. Zip lining through the jungle along raging waterfalls and sleeping in tree houses high above the forest floor sounds pretty good right? Yep, that’s what we thought too.
The Jungle Hotel can only be reached by foot on a trek through coffee plantations and lush forest. No cars, no noise, no fumes! Sounding better and better isn’t it? But there were two things that held back our excitement at our discovery.
- The tour was a weeeee bit more expensive than 2 broke backpackers hoped to spend
- To guarantee a place on the tour, you needed to book and pay a deposit in advance… and the payment system seemed a little dodgy.
But we weren’t about to let that stop us.
We were lucky that we hadn’t left for our trip yet so we were able to re-evaluate our budget to accommodate the tour. So we took a chance, picked a date and sent our money from Australia off to Laos in hope that when we arrived in Pakse in a few months’ time that would be heading off on our jungle adventure and not hanging our heads over our 50c beer Laos cursing ourselves for being so foolish.
And guess what? It paid off!
Tom outside the Supermarket in Ban Nongluang Village where we set off on our journey
The tour departed the town of Pakse in the south of Laos. Our group consisted of Tom and I, the Green discovery Guide and a German couple . We took a bus to the small town of Ban Nangluang, a place where if your legs are long enough to reach the pedals then you are old enough to drive. We were issued with our safety gear for the next three days. 2 local guides from the town joined us on our expedition.
Kids driving in Ban Nangluang
Then we hiked. And we hiked. And we hiked some more through coffee plantations into the jungle. Through streams and down a steep slippery gorge in 100% humidity. We eventually stopped for lunch by the side of a waterfall. Our local guides pull out a rolled up banana leaf full of delicious, much-needed food. In Laos, locals eat sticky rice with every meal and use the rice to pick up vegetables and meat and place in the mouth. So we tried to give this a red hot go, much to the amusement of our guides (thank god for hand sanitizer though).
Lunch by the water fall
After what seemed like hours we finally got far enough into the gorge to begin zip lining. The next 2 hours were spent flying from side to side of the gorge making our descent to the Jungle hotel located halfway down. This is what we came for.
Our accommodation that you can only access via zip line
But how hard is it really?
Now while zip lining 30 times on lines up to 500m long sounds like a breeze, I need to be real with you for a moment. While this was one of the most incredible experiences of our South East Asian Adventure, it was hardly a walk in the park. This was the most physically challenging experiences of my life. It was three days of hiking. While you can zip line down , you can’t zip line back up. The only way out is to hike and rock climb.
I am far from fit. So this was the toughest challenge. It was damp and humid in the jungle and every bug in there wanted to be my friend. It rained on us, my legs burned, my skin itched. There were multiple occasions where I thought I was going to die in that jungle (OK, maybe overreacting). But I wouldn’t change a second of it. The feeling of euphoria (plus the view) when we reached the top was worth every mozzie bite, every stitch and every drop of sweat.
Celebratory photo when we reached the top… only to find out we were only half way
Cost of Travel in Laos
While this trip is a bit more expensive than the average backpacker activity, these experiences are why we travel. Laos is a really cheap country to explore. To balance out the cost of this activity we looked for other ways to save money by drinking the local beer, Beer Laos (hands down the best beer we discovered this trip and at 50c for a long neck you can’t go wrong). We ate more meals from markets and street stalls. We also had some days where we explored towns on foot or bike to save some $$’s. On the plus side all meals and non-alcoholic drinks were included in the trip and they were ace. Highly recommend trying the traditional Laotian coffee made over the camp fire.
Tourism always has an impact on the visited location. It can be economically perfect, but also be extremely harmful in terms of environmental and social aspects. The Tree Top Explorer team works with the local community to provide jobs and protect the environment.
Did you know that it is illegal to cut down a tree in Laos? Neither did I. Our guide told us one night around the fire that they only build from trees that have fallen! That means that for all the tree houses, board walks and other buildings at the Jungle Hotel locals carried naturally fallen timber from the local area down to the gorge from the town… yes the same day hike I almost died doing. Pretty cool huh?
What you really need to know
As the jungle hotel is far from the rest of the world, they run a generator for power. This means that there is no power during most of your stay… don’t worry you’ll be out zip lining and swimming in waterfalls during the day. I recommend bringing a power pack to recharge your camera. There is no phone reception or wifi either.
While there is some makeshift showers most op to bathe in the waterfall by base camp so bring your bathers. Your big packs can be left secured in the Green Discovery Office in Pakse where the tour departs. Bring a small backpack with only what you need and you are willing to carry on your back. And for the love of god don’t forget some decent insect repellent and sunscreen.
I know I complained a lot about this trip, but I must let you know it’s in my nature and I’m sure Tom and the other couple on our trip would argue that it was fine. Our guide has told me that they have had kids and grandparents complete this tour before.
More info on the Tree Top Explorer and Green Discovery can be found here!