Tree Top Explorer at Ban Nong LuangWhen I was researching Laos I was pretty exicted when I discovered the Tree Top Explorer tours. These multi-day tours comprise of a bit of hiking and zip-lining before you take refuge in a treehouse for the night. For me, it was every childhood dream rolled into three adventure filled days. Initially, we had planned to cross the boarder in the far north and were planning to complete the Gibbon Experience in Huay Xai. When our plans changed, we opted to head south for the Tree Top Explorer in the Bolaven Plateau.
Green Discovery has been running Tree Top Explorer in Ban Nong Luang for nearly five years. Many locals are employed and are involved in all aspects of the tour. The guides, maintenance men and most importantly the cooks come from the local villages. They all contribute to ensure an incredible experience for those of us lucky enough to have the opportunity to go. By employing people from the local villages, there is an authenticity which could not be replicated elsewhere. It also boosts the local economy, which I believe is important. As an eco-tourism group, Green Discovery takes pride in fair pay for all workers as well as ensuring jungle conservation efforts are made.
After packing a small bag each, we wandered to the Green Discovery office in Pakse. I was probably more excited than a small child on Christmas Eve. After introductions with the 15 others in our group we took off towards Paksong, where we turned onto a very rough dirt road which lead to Ban Nong Luang, the tiny village which serves as a base for the trip. Here we met with the local guides who managed install an overwhelming sense of safety throughout the trip without speaking more than a few words of English.
After harnessing up, we quickly took off into the jungle, wandering for about an hour before we stopped for lunch. I would have expected something simple, considering we were camped besides a small river. After the local guides set up our table of banana leaves they proceeded to lay out one of the most incredible spreads of Lao food I have experienced since being here. There was such an abundance of beautiful food!
After overeating, we continued to the first series of zip lines and without warning we burst out of the jungle to zip across the face of a massive waterfall! As we zig-zagged through the valley I was so overwhelmed by the incredible scenery I didn’t know where to look. To one side there was a huge waterfall and to the other stretched a valley of dense jungle.
Still feeling like an excited child, we arrived at the campsite mid-afternoon. Set at the base of the waterfall, we were all in awe of the incredibly serene spot chosen as the campsite. We were encouraged to head for a swim under the waterfall (which was freezing) before returning for a Lao coffee (served with condensed milk) before dinner. It was great to have the opportunity to chat and learn a bit about everyone in our group. The local ladies who cooked for us really spoilt us with the selection of Lao food they produced, all of which was over a campfire in the jungle! I’m still amazed at the incredible food we ate over our time at the ‘Jungle Hotel’.
Armed with a harness, a helmet and the brake, we went off to find our beds. Sleeping in a treehouse is extremely cool. Lulled to sleep by the sway of the tree and melody of the waterfall was definitely up there with top experiences to date. Most impressive, we had a flushable western toilet and a sink with running water! It could not have been easy carrying a toilet down to the campsite!
Throughout day two we were entertained by even more zip-lines, the longest being 450m and tallest about 100m off the ground. Words cannot describe how incredible the experience was, flying through the valley, suspended above the treetops. We also crossed a couple of challenging wire bridges. We stopped for a picnic style lunch at the bottom of the valley alongside a waterfall. The food continued to be an incredible display of all things Laotian and yet again I managed to overeat.
Day three was the most physically demanding. We basically scaled the face of the waterfall. Near the top we were harnessed in, climbing a series of iron staples. I was seriously doubting my upper body strength as I was hanging backwards off this cliff. At they top we were rewarded with an incredible view over the valley. It really was truly incredible.
Returning to the Ban Nong Luang village Boun, the English-speaking head guide, took us around a coffee plantation, expanding on what I had learnt on our previous tour. Coffee berries grow once a year, but year round, meaning they can be picked almost continuously throughout the year (aside from the rainy season). To produce a high quality coffee, the berries are put in a tub full of water. The good quality berries sink while the poor quality berries float, and they are scooped off the top and discarded. Once sorted, the good berries are skinned before being further sorted (by hand) to ensure only the best quality beans are used. Once sorted, they are dried in the sun but at least a metre off the ground (many plantations dry the coffee on tarpaulins on the ground). Once the moisture content is low enough the skin is removed to expose a green bean. It is this bean which is then roasted and sold.
I thoroughly enjoyed the three days we spent exploring the jungle via zip-line. We had 15 awesome people in our group which really enhanced the experience. While you don’t get to pick your group, I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of people to spend the time with. I really enjoyed everyones company and the easy camaraderie we all shared. The Tree Top Explorer was a great way to finish our time in Laos and I’m excited to be heading for Cambodia!