Monday, January 11, 2010

Treking in Southern Laos

Dec 28 to 29, 2010 (by Swiss)

Ok, I'm still playing blog-catch up. But we're getting closer to 2010, and I have this feeling Jason will have Siem Reap up soon. But first, a little synopsis of Chris and my trek in Pakse :)

As Jason wrote in his last post, Chris and I spent two days in Pakse doing an overnight trek at the Dong Gau Sao National Protected Area. The trek would cover a coffee plantation, a hike through part of the Bolaven plateau, checking out some waterfalls, all coupled with an overnight camping spot near Tad Taget (I think) waterfall. After the somewhat lackluster hiking experience in Chiang Mai, I was ready for a more challenging hike. The trek was rated intermediate, though we quickly learned that this seemed to be a somewhat conservative evaluation. The trek was a beast to say the least.

Day 1

We met at the "Green Discovery" tour company office at 7:30, prepped and ready for a full day of hiking. The guys at the shop advised us to bring warm clothes, as night time temperatures can dip quite low. We had hoped that our tour group would be larger than just Chris and I, but as luck would have it, nobody else signed up. This kept the tour price quite steep, as there were less folks with whom to split the cost, but such is life. Luckily, X-mas had just passed and we had a little extra cash in our coffers thanks to generous family donations. So thanks Mom, Dad, and Grandma :)

Shortly after arriving, we hopped in a tuk tuk along with our guide, Khom Sing, whose English was a tad sub-par but was supplemented by a notebook and pen for graphical illustrations of what he was trying to say to us (and vice versa.) The first hour was spent on paved roads where we enjoyed the natural air conditioning of a moving open vehicle. The remaining 45 minutes were then spent on a dirt road, with dust flying everywhere. We arrived at the coffee farm with a soft, orange-brown glow from dust exposure.

It was here that we met up with a local guide who would be guiding us through the jungle. I forget his name, but he was super nice and one hell of a hiker. While Chris and I needed all our mental energy to focus on the terrain to avoid ankle breakage and falls, this guy flew through the stuff wearing nothing but flip flops! Perhaps that is why they described the hike "intermediate", as in: "You know, our guy does this hike in flip flops." Also amusing was his choice of "backpack", which literally was a giant rice bag fitted with a cloth strap and a tree branch to allow him to carry it as, well, a backpack. Very MacGyver. Pics below.

We packed up all the gear (tents, food, pots/pans, water, comfort stuff) which was divided among us and the guides, with the majority of the load taken by MacGyver. Packed and ready to go, we hit the trails a little after 9am.

The first part of the hike was semi-challenging, especially given the amount of food and gear we were carrying, but quite fun. Once we hit our first rickety bridge, it became very apparent that Jason likely would not have enjoyed this little adventure:

It was around 11 when we stopped at a river/waterfall for some lunch. The lunch consisted of sticky rice (very good), some veggies, and smoked meat served on banana leaves from the jungle. This was Chris' first introduction to less "sterilized/hygienic" Laos food, an introduction that would haunt him for the better part of a week. The break also afforded us a chance to take a dip in the water, which was downgraded to washing our face and feet as the water was on the colder side of comfortable.

After lunch, it was off to hike down part of the plateau towards our camping spot. This is where the trek started to get much more into the advanced category, at least in Chris and my book. We climbed down multiple steep cliffs, over creeks, up and down rickety ladders for a good 2-3 hours. Coupled with our gear, we arrived alive and absolutely exhausted at our "camp site."

I put "camp site" in quotes as we had figured that there would be some open areas for camping. What we didn't expect was a giant rock laden opening near a beautiful waterfall (I think it was Tad Taget, but I'm not sure) with very little tent real-estate. Since spots for tents were scarce, and while the local guys pitched their tent next to a giant rock on very uneven terrain, Chris and I decided to pitch ours on a fairly flat rock in the middle of the opening. It sounded like a good idea, and it was - for most of the night.

Our guides promptly started to set up cooking arrangements, while Chris and I caught our breaths and re-hydrated. Given that we were in the middle of nowhere, stainless steel Viking ranges weren't quite available. So we opted for a more rustic kitchen composed of a fire pit and bamboo structures. Meat was clamped between a split bamboo stick and slowly cooked near the coals, while rice was cooked overhead and veggies were steamed and combined with oyster sauce and some Knorr seasoning. Although the meat was a tad on the tough side, it was quite a delicious experience sharing this meal with our guides.

After dinner, we joined Khom Sing on a giant rock where we consumed a couple shots of local Lao Lao (from the village, appropriately packaged in an empty water bottle) while playing cards and watching the sun set. Bed time came early, as we were all very exhausted and needed energy for a long trek the next day.

I think it was around 3 or 4 am when we discovered why our sleeping spot may not have been the most ideal choice: wind gusts started to pick up to the point of literally crushing our tent. This, coupled with our location on a small rock island with a slight incline, caused our tent to move (kind of roll, I guess) at least once towards the edge of our rock. We both had to get out of the tent to move it back up so as not to fall off the thing. I'm sure Lawton would have loved this one :) Unfortunately I didn't think of taking a video.

Needless to say, sleep came at a premium after that, and we finally gave up around daybreak when we decided to disassemble the tent to avoid having it getting blown down the river. Our amused guides, safely sheltered behind the large rock I mentioned earlier, came to help with the teardown.

Day 2
Breakfast was prepared and eaten shortly after all our gear was packed away. It consisted of eggs, local Lao coffee, and bread that managed to get infested with ants and thus had to be "toasted" over the fire to get rid of the little critters. Chris was starting to feel the effects of the lunch-bug from the prior day, a handicap that would make his day even more challenging. We hiked out soon after we were done eating, with Flip Flop wearing Macgyver leading the way up the treacherous plateau.

The plan for the day was to hike about 4-5 hours in total, including a visit to a nice view point overlooking a couple of waterfalls. Unfortunately, the day ended up being a tad hazy/cloudy, so pictures were only so-so.

It was now time to hike back towards the coffee plantation, which after a quick hot lunch near another stream...

...was reached in mid-afternoon.

The remainder of the day, after we purchased some coffee from the plantation, involved being shuttled to the Tadfane waterfalls and a green tea farm. The Tadfane waterfall, pictured below, is said to be named after deer that go to the stream to drink water and get swept off the cliff by the strong currents. It's 120m (360 ft) tall, so you can imagine what the survival rate of those poor things is,

And so we would reach the end of our two day trek. A hot shower and decent night's sleep was in order, after which we departed for Siem Reap for some "tempelage."

Oh, and Selah, here you go:


Selah said...

Thanks Swiss, he's a cutie! That trek looks so awesome! I am jealous!

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