Publiboda

Laos honeymoon

Laos has one of the most pristine ecologies in South East Asia.

An estimated half of its woodlands consist of primary forest, in particular the tropical rain forest. Unlike the vegetation, which grows in the climate Europe and the United States, tropical rain forest is composed of three vegetative layers. The top layer features single-trunked, high-reaching trees called dipterocarps. The middle canopy consists of hardwood such as teak. Beneath, small trees, grass and sometimes bamboo can be found.

In addition to its fascinating vegetation, Laos plays host to a diverse animal kingdom. Several exotic mammals are endemic such as leopard cats, Javan mongoose, goat antelopes as well as rare species of gibbons and linger, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black bear and guar. The discovery of the Saola Ox, a breed of deer-antelope, in Vietnam a few years ago caused a sensation. This extremely rare animal inhabits the eastern border regions of Laos. It is thought that these remote areas probably still hide other unknown species.

In the south of Laos, near Khong Island, Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit the Mekong River. While many species of wildlife are shy and can rarely be seen, spectators will generally be able to spot the dolphins in spring when the water level of Mekong is lowest. Laos is also rich in resident and migrating birds. One of the more notable ones is the rare Green Peafowl.

Activities and Excursions

Preservation of Natural Beauty in Laos

Laos, the Jewel of the Mekong, is rapidly becoming a new and exciting tourism destination. The country offers a diversity of unspoiled ethnic lifestyles and traditions, as well as some of the richest and most extensive ecosystems of the Indochina Region.

Ban Na, the Elephant Village

Only an hour's drive from Vientiane, the small and peaceful village of Ban Na on the outside of Phou Khao Khouay offers guided trekking and a great opportunity to watch wild elephants from the safety of an observation tower. Finding numerous tracks and possibly getting a glimpse of these wonderful creatures will be an unforgettable experience!

A Brief History

In the mid nineties, a considerable part of Ban Na's land has become ‘home' of an elephant herd of more than 40 heads, victimizing the local farmers by frequently raiding their fields. The shifting of the elephant's territory from the upper hills to the lowland has probably been caused by the planting of sugarcane or disturbances due to the construction of a reservoir for power generation several kilometers to the north.

It became difficult for the farmers to plant new crops for which they originally hoped to earn their living. Even after giving up planting sugarcane, the elephants do not show any signs of returning into the mountains, but continue staying in the extensive bamboo belt between the village and the park. Therefore, they are posing a permanent threat, physically and financially, to the people.

The elephants also destroy a large part of the bamboo while bulldozing through the vegetation, thus having a possible future impact on the village handicraft (rice basket weaving) as well. Nowadays, community-based tourism is introduced to provide the villagers with a new source of income.

Elephant Observation Tower

In April 2005, Ban Na opened an observation tower in the forest. From up here it is possible to observe wild elephants (yes, wild elephants!) from a close distance at a saltlick and while they bathe in the nearby stream. Elephants usually have to go to such ‘saltlicks' to get essential minerals, which are lacking or in low concentration in their staple food, by taking in some soil.

With a bit of luck, you can watch elephants visiting the area around the tower, usually in the evening hours. No guarantee, though, can be given to see the animals! They're wild animals with their ‘own schedule and free will’. Other animals, such as deer, wild pigs and wild dogs might also be seen or heard at the saltlick. In the early morning hours you are woken up hearing nothing but the sound of countless birds around you.

Occasionally more than fifteen elephants (some visitors claim forty) have been seen at the site at one time, but often they come in a group of five or so. A huge tusker (male with ivory tusks) is in the family and several very young ones as well. According to many visitors up there, it's a rewarding ‘experience of a lifetime, just fantastic’. With you being seven meters above ground, the elephants may even be directly beneath you under the tower. Many traces of elephants, such as tracks, dung and destroyed vegetation, can be seen in the area, too. All this so close to Vientiane!
Because you're in the midst of the elephant territory, it is very important to observe rules for your own safety. To minimize the possibility of an accident, the number of visitors is restricted and the instructions of the guides have to be followed strictly at any time. Thus, no self-guided tours are allowed. The most important guidelines are handed out to you for reading before you leave the village for the tower. Since the elephants usually visit the river in the early hours of the night, one cannot walk back to the village in the dark. No one knows whether a lone bull is waiting for you somewhere…! We urgently call on you not to take any risks!

Please do not feed the elephants. This may have unwanted consequences for your safety or for future visitors, since giving food to the animals will most certainly change their behavior. Please do not forget, wild elephants are not pets. Let us preserve them in the most natural way possible!

Don't miss the great and thrilling experience on the elephant observation tower!

Rural Village Life

The village of Ban Na exists since 1948. It is a quiet, typically Lao rural village. It has 600 inhabitants or 110 families, tendency slowly increasing. This friendly village is a good place to learn more about the genuine lifestyle of the Lao Loum people.

Most of the villagers are subsistence farmers (rice and vegetables like eggplants). The women go daily into the forest to collect some additional food from there. Men may go for hunting, even into the nearby-protected area, or for fishing in the numerous creeks during the rainy season. After work, children play a game of football or takraw, a combination of volleyball and football, in the playfield.

Most of the villagers are subsistence farmers (rice and vegetables like eggplants). The women go daily into the forest to collect some additional food from there. Men may go for hunting, even into the nearby-protected area, or for fishing in the numerous creeks during the rainy season. After work, children play a game of football or ‘takraw’, a combination of volleyball and football, in the playfield.

In the evening, villagers meet in each other’s houses to sing and play the guitar, drink a Lao Lao (locally brewed rice whisky) and eat sticky rice with fish or soup. You can also visit the local ‘pub’ for a refreshing soda. During the months of December and January it can be quite cold and in the early morning hours the people are gathering around smoky fires along the village road with a hot meal or drink in their hands to warm up after a chilly night.

Local Handicraft

Almost all women and young girls of the village are engaged in basket production. With astonishing skill and speed they split and weave the raw bamboo into neat small baskets. To provide the villagers with some income, these commonly used baskets for sticky rice are finally sold in the region, Vientiane or even Thailand.

A Lao company producing high-end handicraft by using natural materials and dyes has committed itself to teach 50 young people of Ban Na until the end of 2007 the technique of weaving baskets, bags and other items in best quality for export to Japan and Europe. The company is supported by the German Development Service (DED) in a joint venture called Public-Private- Partnership, in which the local partner gets financial incentives from DED when following a good practice agreement to the benefit of the people and the environment.

A walk through the village will give you first hand opportunity to observe the whole process of basket weaving, from cutting the raw material to the finished product ready for sale. If you are interested, the villagers might even teach you how to weave a rice basket yourself! Ideally, you just stay a day or two longer in Ban Na. Before you leave, you may purchase a traditional sticky rice basket from one of the families for a reasonable price as token.

Trekking at Ban Na

Ban Na has more to offer than ‘just’ elephants. Longer treks to more distant places are rewarding, such as Nam Hi or Tad Lung waterfall, or the more distant Tad Fa, a 40-meter high cliff. This might of this waterfall is unfortunately only seasonal. In the future more trekking opportunities will be explored.

On the way to Tad Lung, the Dan Khoan plateau reveals wonderful views over the Mekong into neighboring Thailand. The Nam Hi River, with its beautiful forest and many birds, is a wonderful place for a trek and adventurous overnight stay in nature at its finest. During the dry season, 2-to-3-day trek can also be organized from Ban Na to Tad Leuk

Tourist Sites in the Neighborhood

It is worthwhile paying a visit to the nearby Wat Phabath, one of the more important pilgrim sites of Laos because of its well-known Buddha footprint. It is located at National Road No. 13, directly on the way to Ban Na, which is on 1.5 kilometers away. The footprint (phra bat) of the right foot of Buddha lies behind the stupa and points at the nearby Mekong River. Every year in July (with full moon) the temple celebrates a major festival in honor of Buddha.

The serene Wat Phonsane (2 kilometers away from National Road No. 13, turn right at Ban Phabath) lies on a small hill. It is said that Buddha, before leaving his footprint at Wat Phabath, came here to rest. When you climb the seventy steps, you have a superb view overlooking the majestic Mekong River.

Every year in October (at full moon) people come from all over Laos to watch the mysterious Naga Fireballs. You can see these pink fireballs coming up from the Mekong at the nearby Pak Ngum. The legend tells about the powerful Naga-king rising up from the depth of the Mekong, blowing fireballs out into the air in honor of Buddha.

How to get there

As a sensitive wildlife area, we recommend you to visit Ban Na only in an organized group booking pre-arranged tours from a licensed tour company, which will be responsible for the trip including transportation, provision of guides and collection of the fees. Here you will also receive your trekking permit.

For those who nevertheless want to go on their own, public transportation is available from the southern bus station in Vientiane Ban Phakhan Km8. Most of the buses are passing Phabath (at the temple) and you have to disembark here. Don’t take a VIP-bus, though, they may not stop. From the highway you have to walk to the village for about 1.5 kilometers. However, the most comfortable way is to hire a vehicle with driver, which can be provided by various tour operators in Vientiane.

Pick-ups go from the southern bus station to (or on request directly to Ban Na [from 9a.m. to 5p.m. every 30minutes] they say...)

Where to stay

In Ban Na you can stay with a home-stay family in one of the typical village houses. Here you can experience the hospitality and friendliness of the villagers. You will stay in a traditional wooden pillar house and participate in local family life. The home-stays in Ban Na are basic, but clean and are equipped with mattresses, pillows, mosquito nets, bed linen, French toilets and ’village showers’.

Pre-arranged tours can be booked through various tour operators in Vientiane. If you consider going for an overnight trip by yourself, we advise you to inform the villagers of Ban Na in advance. Call Mr. Bounthanom under 020 220 82 86. This way they will be prepared for your arrival.

We would like to inform you that if you visit Ban Na without contacting the villagers in advance, they might not be able to provide you with accommodation, food or even guides

Mountain Trips at Ban Hatkhai
Ban Hatkhai is a small village just outside Phou Khao Khouay, where you can experience authentic village life. Mountains, dense forests and bright-green rice fields surround the village. Its beautiful location at the banks of the Nam Mang River offers an ideal setting for a picturesque picnic under a fig tree.

Trekking at Ban Hatkhai
The village is an ideal starting point for exciting trekking tours into the nearby mountainous area or some startling waterfalls. Most trips include a rewarding boat trip on the Nam Mang River prior to the trek.

From here you can visit the twin waterfalls of Tad Xay and Pha Xay. More trained hikers can do a trekking up the mountain of Pha Luang, a breathtaking cliff which offers views over Phou Khao Khouay and the Mekong lowland as far as Thailand. You can combine this tour with walking up to Houey Ki Ling, a small stream that leads to a beautiful sandstone plateau, where you can spend a night in the forest. Houey Ki Ling is also worth visiting as a one-day trip.

Rural Village Life
The more than 200 years old Ban Hatkhai is a quiet, typically Lao rural village. Its inhabitants belong to two ethnic groups, of which the majority is the Lao Lum. Only about 86 families, or 600 people, live here. The villagers are farmers and predominantly produce rice and vegetables.

Local village life mainly consists of working in the nearby rice fields or herding water buffaloes. The quietness of the village is only disturbed by the sounds of the tinkling bells on the neck of these buffaloes, or by children jumping down from the high fig trees into the Nam Mang River.

In the evening, villagers meet in each other’s houses to drink a Lao Lao (locally brewed rice whisky) and eat sticky rice with fish or soup. You can also visit the local ‘pub’ for a refreshing soda.

How to get there
Ban Hatkhai is relatively easy accessible by car or motorbike from Vientiane via National Road No. 13 (South). Turn left at Km 90, short before entering Thabok. Here you will also see a big bill board pointing to the Nam Leuk hydro power plant. The road leads to Ban Houay Leuk (after 5 kilometers). Follow the signs and turn right at a junction just 1 kilometer after this village (and crossing an iron bridge over the Nam Leuk). The village of Ban Hatkhai is just two or so kilometers away. The collapsed bridge 400 meters before the village has finally been repaired and Ban Hatkhai can now be reached directly.

Ban Hatkhai can also be reached by boat from Thabok (in just over an hour). It’s not a regular tour, so the only way is to find someone to bring you there and negotiate for the price.

Public transportation is available from the southern bus station in Vientiane. Most of the buses are passing Thabok and you have to disembark here. Don’t take a VIP-bus, though. There is no regular bus going to Ban Hatkhai. In Thabok you have to look at the market for a Songtaew going Long Xan, passing the junction to Ban Hatkhai. From here you walk about two kilometers to the village.

With some luck and negotiation you may find someone in Thabok to bring you directly to Ban Hatkhai with a motorbike – or call the guide leader in the village to pick you up. (Please note that such a “personalized extra service” may be a bit expensive)

However, the most comfortable way is to hire a vehicle with driver, which can be provided by various tour operators in Vientiane.

Where to stay

In Ban Hatkhai you can stay with a home-stay family in one of the typical village houses. Here you can experience the hospitality and friendliness of the villagers. You will stay in a traditional wooden pillar house and participate in local family life.

The home-stay in Ban Hatkhai are basic, but clean and are equipped with mattresses, pillows, mosquito nets, bed linen, French toilets and 'village showers'.

It is also possible to do a 2- or 3-day trekking, and sleep overnight in a tent or hammock in the forest. Pre-arranged tours can be booked through various tour operators in Vientiane.

If you consider going for an overnight trip by yourself, we advice you to inform the villagers of Ban Hatkhai in advance. Call the guide leader (probably Mr. Bounthiang or Mr. Khamoune, but it may be someone else since the guides of Ban Hatkhai apply a rotating system for their services) under 020 224 03 03. This way they will be prepared for your arrival.

We would like to inform you that if you visit Ban Hatkhai without contacting the villagers in advance, they might not be able to provide you with accommodation, food supplies or trekking equipment (boats, guides, etc.).

Swimming and Camping at Tad Leuk  

Tad Leuk is the most popular destination in Phou Khao Khouay, but it is by no means crowded. It is ideal for relaxing, swimming and camping, or as a starting point for trekking in the surrounding forests. As someone put it: “What a paradise here! If I’d knew it before, I’d come here for more than just a day.”

laosTad Leuk is a waterfall within the Nam Leuk, one of the three major rivers of the reserve (‘Tad’ means waterfall, while ‘Nam’ means river). The riverbed is a relatively wide sandstone plateau, dotted with numerous, sometimes deep holes. These so-called ‘whirl pools’ have been drilled into the ground by water currents, setting quite big and heavy stones into motion.

The waterfall itself is not a very high one, only about 6 meters high, but can be quite a noisy experience during the rainy season, when the river turns into a wild and torrent ‘beast’. The amount of water varies considerably with the seasons, thus the river will get calm and gentle during late October/November, falling nearly dry thereafter.

Facilities at Tad Leuk

laosThe Tad Leuk Visitor Information Center holds a permanent exhibition of the flora and fauna to be found in the area. It is written in Lao as well as English. Inside, you can also use the small ‘visitor library’ with survey reports and field guides on the regional plants and wildlife.

Next to the visitor center, a small restaurant serves basic Lao food and drinks. The friendly family will be happy to welcome you and to give any assistance if needed, although they only speak Lao.

The visitor centre is also the start of the ‘Houey Bone Nature Trail’. Red and white triangular markers guide this 1.5-kilometer trail on trees along the way. It offers a good overview of the flora and fauna in the park. The restaurant owner, Mr. Savay, can provide you with a copy of the trail booklet.

May we kindly ask for your support: If you see any wildlife or make any other observation (insects, plants etc.), please record your discoveries in the Visitor’s Sighting Book in the Tad Leuk Visitor Centre or inform the National Tourism Administration in Vientiane. Thank you!

Tad Xang Waterfall

Tad Xang, about two to three hours walk from Tad Leuk upstream, is another beautiful waterfall well worth a visit. Two bridges crossing fiery and deep tributaries (during the rainy season) allow you to enter the nearby forest at any time.

You could try to find Tad Xang by yourself, but we strongly recommend you to hire Mr. Savay, the supervisor of Tad Leuk, for a reasonable fee as guide. He knows the area very well and you will not get lost in the sometimes-tricky labyrinth of trails. Please be aware that he doesn’t speak English, but he can nevertheless manage to communicate well.

At Tad Xang, a large pool is inviting you for a refreshing swim. During the dry season, you might consider walking back to Tad Leuk on the other side of the river. The landscape and vegetation is quite different there.

How to get there

Tad Leuk is relatively easily accessible by car or motorbike from Vientiane via National Road No. 13 (South). Turn left at Km 90, short before entering Thabok. The road leads to Ban Houay Leuk (5 km). Follow the signs and turn right just 1 kilometer after this village (and cross an iron bridge over the Nam Leuk).

After another five kilometers you will reach the checkpoint at the park’s border, where you have to pay a minimal entrance fee. Three kilometers ahead, you turn left to Tad Leuk (small signboard). From there it’s another four kilometers.

Please note: The road through the park is good but can be dusty. Only the last stretch of the way leading directly to Tad Leuk is difficult to use at few places since it has dramatically deteriorated there in the recent past to the point that rocks are protruding around deep ditches of eroded soil. It needs a good driver and a high 4WD-car to be able to safely navigate around these hindrances, particularly during the rainy season.

Where to stay

Tad Leuk and the nearby Tad Xay can be visited easily on a one-day trip, since it is only a 2.5 hours drive from Vientiane. After exploring Tad Leuk first, you might consider combining it with the nearby Tad Xay and Pha Xay (20 kilometers away).

At Tad Leuk camping is permitted. Camping materials such as tents, mosquito nets, sleeping bags and mattresses can be rented for a small fee. Tad Leuk offers clean toilets and washing facilities. A refreshing bath can be taken in the crystal clear river water.

It is also possible to stay overnight in a home-stay in the village of Ban Hatkhai, from where you can visit Tad Leuk. Pre-arranged tours can be booked through various tour operators in Vientiane.

During the dry season, the riverbed is an ideal place for picnics or small bonfires in the evening. Please be extremely circumspect with any kind of fire and do not start any without permission. It may quickly run out of control and ignite the dry vegetation, turning into a huge forest fire with uncontrollable consequences. Extinguish any remains of the fire completely before you depart!

The Twin Waterfalls of Tad Xay and Pha Xay

Tad Xay and Pha Xay (‘Tad’ and ‘Pha’ respectively mean ‘waterfall’ and ‘cliff’) may arguably be the most beautiful ‘twin’ waterfall in Phou Khao Khouay, particularly during the rainy season.

The Houey Xay stream has its source in the northern mountains of the park, meanders through dense and relatively untouched evergreen forest and empties finally into the Nam Mang. By reaching Tad Xay, its crystal clear waters are cascading over seven 1- to 3-meter steps. The water then flows through a picturesque valley for about 800 meters before plunging over another steep 40-meter cliff (Pha Xay). It falls into a breathtaking gorge surrounded by dense forest.

The amount of water varies considerably with the seasons: being calm and gentle during the months of December to May, the river may turn into a wild and torrent thus dangerous river for the rest of the year.

Exploring Tad Xay and Pha Xay

Two trails are marked with colored triangles: one (white-red) trail enters the forest about 100 meters before you reach the parking area (where the incoming road turns left) and ends at the near-by viewpoint almost in front of Pha Xay. The other one (yellow-red) guides you to Tad Xay after crossing the small bridge at the parking area. A large pool filled with water all year round at the foot of Tad Xay invites visitors for a refreshing bathe.

During the dry season you may also cross the river itself and walk up-stream inside the sandstone riverbed to Tad Xay. If you walk in the riverbed to Pha Xay (about 200 meters away) on the right (dry season only!), watch your steps – it can be hazardous! The magnificent viewpoint doesn’t have a safety fence as of now and has to be approached with ultimate care. Remember, it’s going down 40 meters straight and it can be very slippery when wet!

The evergreen forest here is still good and harbors a great deal of wildlife – but you have to be more than patient and lucky to see any of the larger animals (such as primates)! Birds may be silent during daytime but it gets ‘noisier’ in the evening or at dawn. Colorful butterflies fill the air with romance during the rainy season.

The area is also rewarding for its abundant orchids, ferns and flowering plants, the latter particularly at the more open places, filling the surrounding air with a special, ‘bewitching’ scent.

How to get there

The twin falls are relatively easy accessible by car or motorbike from Vientiane via National Road No. 13 (South). Turn left at Km 90, short before entering Thabok. The road then leads to Ban Houay Leuk (after 5 kilometres). Follow the signs and turn right just 1 kilometer after this village (and crossing an iron bridge over the Nam Leuk).

Pass the village of Ban Hatkhai, just two kilometers away. The rest of road (about 7 kilometers long) inside the forest may occasionally get a bit rough and steep. In the rainy season the road can be partially muddy and slippery.

Instead of using a car up to Tad Xay/Pha Xay, it is highly recommended to opt for a rewarding and relatively easy combined boat and trekking tour. This trip will start in Ban Hakhai and can be directly organized there. A 45-minute boat trip will take you to the bottom of the mountain. From there the waterfalls are just an hour-walk away. Pre-arranged tours can be booked through various tour operators in Vientiane.

Ban Hatkhai can also be reached by boat from Thabok in a bit more than an hour. It’s not a regular tour so you must find someone to bring you there and negotiate for the price.

Public transportation from Vientiane is available from the southern bus station (km 8). These busses will pass Thabok, where you have to disembark and fetch one of the often over-crowded “Pick-ups or carries” heading for Long Xan. From a junction short after Ban Houay Leuk (ca. 6 km from Thabok, watch the sign board) you have to walk to Ban Hatkhai.

Another option is to find someone in Thabok for a motorbike ride to Ban Hatkhai or to call the guide leader there to pick you up. (Please note that such “personalized extra-service” may be occasionally a bit expensive)

The most comfortable way is to hire a vehicle with driver, which can be provided by various tour operators in Vientiane.

Where to stay

It is possible to stay overnight in a home-stay in the village of Ban Hatkhai, from where you can do a trekking to the waterfalls or other places like Pha Luang.

Camping at Tad Xay may exceptionally be allowed after consulting the park authorities. For further information, please contact the National Tourism Administration in Vientiane. Otherwise, you may opt for camping at the nearby Tad Leuk.

In the center of Ban Thakok are two small guesthouses.

Relaxing at Ang Nam Leuk

The Ang Nam Leuk reservoir is a small artificial lake, located in the central-northern part of the park. It is surrounded with dense green forest. This magnificent scenery is a tourist destination in its own right. It offers a cool retreat from the heat of Vientiane during the March to May hot season.

Boat Trips and Trekkings

The beautiful narrow lake is best explored by boat. These boat or canoe trips are particularly interesting for bird and wildlife watching.

It is also possible to visit the Tad Leuk Waterfall, a beautiful nature trekking where you can enjoy wildlife observation go camping in the forest. Multiple-day trekking can be booked on pre-arranged tours in Vientiane.

Nam Leuk Dam

The river Nam Leuk originates in the far northwest of the park at the slopes of Phou Sang Mountain (1,666 m). A dam, about 15 kilometers upstream of Tad Leuk and opened only in 2001, has been constructed for power generation. It covers 1,280 hectares at the height of the wet season.

How to get there

The lake is relatively easy accessible by car or motorbike (and of course bicycle for the ‘die-hards’) from Vientiane via National Road No. 13 (South). Turn left at Km 90, short before entering Thabok. Signs along the way will guide you.

Where to stay

From Vientiane, Ang Nam Leuk is just a 2.5 hour-drive away. It therefore makes for a perfect day trip. It is possible to go camping overnight on a pre-arranged trip through various tour operators in Vientiane.

Source: www.tourismlaos.org

Related articles:

Your comments

Comments (0)






Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment:


Advertising

We recommend