We always appreciate local, environmentally aware companies when we travel and, unfortunately, such companies are not the norm so were more than thrilled to find Green Discovery Tours in Laos. We had been hanging out for over a week in the delightful capital, Vientiane, when we found our Indian visas would not be ready for at least five more days. What better way to spend our time than on a trekking and kayaking tour in Vang Vieng. We signed on for a 3 night adventure with 1 night at the Ben Sabai resort, 1 night on the tour, and 1 night back in Vang Vieng at Ben Sabai.
Vang Vieng is a town you love and hate simultaneously. It’s a popular stop on the banana backpackers trail for good reason. Amazingly gorgeous, small town friendly, lots of inexpensive backpacker options, Vang Vieng also has a dark side; several bars downtown show nearly 24hr/day episodes of Friends and the kayaking scene has become a raucous, party scene which is only appealing in very short doses. I will admit, having been on the road for several months, we were happy to have some cocktails and watch a couple of old episodes of Friends, but we were more than ready to head into the hills for our trip.
After tuk-tuking to the nearby village of Phathao, we began what would prove to be quite a difficult day. We have backpacked in the US for years but are used to the wonderfully established network of switchbacks and partially maintained trails. This was an entirely different ballgame! The trek climbs over downed trees, careens straight up the mountainside, and traverses canyons on bamboo ladders on the way to the 1500meter summit before continuing down the other side to check out Tham Hok caves impressive stalagmites before arriving in the Secret Eden in the valley floor.
The inner valley is only able to be reached on foot, hence the name, and contains an unusual palm forest. While feasting on a spicy lunch of grilled veggies and hot peppers, we rested up, the hike having been more difficult than we’d been anticipating and including a bit of a spill on my part. As I was dreaming of arriving at our eco-hotel for the evening, our guide broke the bad news..yes, we had to climb back out of the meadow to leave the Secret Eden. I was rallying my strength when we watched an elderly man work his way down the mountainside, pick up a bulging bag of rice that had been grown in the valley, sling it on his back and start back up the hill toward town. It was a slap in the face and the reality check I needed as well as a humbling reminder of how difficult life is in many parts of the world.
Another several hours of hiking had us arriving at the riverside at Ban Vieng Samay Eco-lodge. A budget room, semi-warm shower and delicious dinner revived us and the lovely owners of the lodge introduced us to the local version of rice wine. It is an unusual process of fermenting the rice in large earthenware jugs. To drink the wine, you pour water into the jug and wait 20 minutes. Stir, pour in more water, and wait a bit longer. Long straws facilitate enjoying this interesting and extremely potent beverage!
I rolled over to find everything hurt, every muscle and even my toes, were reacting to the hike the day before but there was no time for lying about as we had kayaking ahead of us. The Nam Song river is a beautiful waterway with easy rapids, caving en-route, and rope swings. The day was much more leisurely than the one before, lazily rafting the river and swimming, stopping at one of the riverside bars for a drink and to chat up the locals, before returning back to our gorgeous hotel, the Ben Sabai Riverside Bungalows for a last night before heading back to Vientiane.
As often happens, transportation in many parts of the world survive on one theme: there is always room for one more! When you have more travelers than seats, you simply add plastic chairs down the bus aisle and pack ’em in for the trip back to Vientiane!
We returned back to Vientiane happy but tired. We’d had an incredible few days, got in lots of great outdoor activities, and our Indian visas were ready and it was time to move on. If you happen to be spending any time in Laos, be sure to check out Green Discovery Tours. They offer opportunities throughout the country and we found them to be well organized and offer up an excellent product.