PADDLE LAOS 2019

DATE: 31 Oct - 9 Nov 2019
DURATION: 10 days / 9 nights

This SUP Wilderness Adventure that will appeal to those who are keen to paddle through karst valleys in northern Laos; camping alongside the river and dropping in on remote hill tribes along the way.

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LOCATION OVERVIEW

Often overlooked in favour of its better-known neighbours, landlocked Laos is one of Southeast Asia’s most beguiling destinations. It remains a destination that relatively few Westerners have explored and as such, it retains an old-fashioned charm, with people that are laid-back and friendly. 

Our adventure begins and ends in the ancient capital of Luang Prabang, which is located in northern Laos. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the charming town exudes French colonial influence. Perched 700 metres above sea level, Luang Prabang is encircled by densely forested mountains and sits at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. 

Beyond Luang Prabang lie the caves of Pak Ou with their hundreds of Buddha statuettes and a view that's simply picture postcard perfect. We'll take a boat upriver to visit these before leaving town and travelling overland to reach a point along the Nam Ou River, where jagged limestone karst mountains and lush green subtropical forests characterise the landscape.

Water buffaloes and pigs laze on sandy riverbanks as rice farmers tend their fields. We'll paddle downriver until we reach the sleepy traditional town of Muang Ngoi, which is seldom seen by visitors due to an absence of roads. This area is as spectacular as Vang Vieng, yet - thanks to an absence of infrastructure - it remains traditional in style and authentic cultural experiences are on offer. 

Muang Noi was almost entirely destroyed by bomb attacks by the United States during The Secret War, when more than one million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos. The villagers hid for months in caves in the surrounding mountains and these days, they use the bomb casings as  flower pots, fence poles and even canoes.

Leaving Muang Noi, the next stage of our journey takes us even further off the beaten path and sees us camping alongside the river for two nights. The river upon which we paddle becomes swift and even bumpy at times; increasing the adrenaline thrill.

Eventually however, our time on the river comes to an end and we head back towards Luang Prabang, to focus our energies on the trip project: a day of habitat creation for Free the Bears.

The population of captive animals on "bear farms" in Laos has been increasing significantly in recent years, despite laws to protect the bears. After mother bears and their cubs-both Asiatic black bears and sun bears-are captured, their bile and body parts are harvested for use in traditional Chinese medicine.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

We'll spend a day volunteering at the Free the Bears Sanctuary, where they currently shelter twice as many rescued bears than they have room for.  They desperately need assistance with finishing the construction and painting of a new facility that will house the most stressed bears.

Welcome to the rescue centre for Asiatic black bear (also known as the moon bear) in beautiful Tat Kuangsi National Park, near Luang Prabang, Laos. And let the guys from Free the Bears tell you about how it works and why it is important to protect wildlife.

Free the Bears started in 1993,  when Perth grandmother Mary Hutton saw a television program that contained horrifying footage of moon bears (Asiatic Black bears) held in coffin sized cages. They were unable to move, had dirty catheters inserted directly into their gall bladder to 'milk' their bile and were clearly leading a tortured existence.

The next day, she drew up a petition and stood at the entrance of the local shopping mall collecting signatures to help “Free the Bears”. She collected thousands of signatures and a group of like-minded people and in 1995 registered Free the Bears Fund as a not-for-profit charity (Charity No: A1004507U).

After rescuing a pair of sun bears from Cambodia - and having seen there were more bears in need - she began construction on the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary; which today is the world’s largest sanctuary for sun bears.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have been educated about the threats facing their wild bear populations.

One day, a telephone call from India led to Free the Bears joining Wildlife SOS and International Animal Rescue in the seemingly impossible challenge of freeing India’s dancing bears.

The first group of 25 bears were rescued on Christmas Eve of 2002 and over the next 7 years, Free the Bears helped provide seed money for more than 500 dancing bear families to set up new livelihoods. Happily, the last of India’s dancing bears was handed over in 2009 and a centuries old tradition of cruelty finally cane to an end.

2003 saw the opening of the Bear Rescue Centre in Luang Prabang, Laos followed by one in Cat Tien, Vietnam in 2008. Construction of additional Rescue Centres in both locations is currently in progress and that's where we get to help.

Free the Bears Fund provides lifelong care to over 220 rescued bears across 5 sanctuaries, and also supports over 300 rescued bears in India. This costs a great deal of money to do. The current facility for the bears in Laos is only half the size that is required. The organisation is struggling to complete a second facility to allow the most distressed bears to be moved away from public view so they can recover in peace... but there is still so much work to do.

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DRAFT ITINERARY

DAY 1: Luang Prabang (Arrival & welcome)

Arrive throughout the day. Free time to explore the old city, museum and markets. Welcome drink & dinner.

DAY 2 Luang Prabang (Sight-seeing)

Morning: Half day sightseeing tour

Afternoon: Boat trip to Pak Ou Caves

Free evening

DAY 3 Luang Prabang – Nongkhiau – Muang Ngoi (approx 1 hours paddling)

Transfer by private van and then boat on Nam Ou River, stopping at Ban Sope Jam village, which is famous for weaving textiles.

Lunch, followed by afternoon paddle by kayak or SUP downriver through limestone karst terrain to Muang Ngoi.

DAY 4 Muang Ngoi – Ngongkhiau – Vieng Kham (approx. 3 hours paddling)

Visit Tham Kang Cave, which is full of glittering crystals, unique rock formations, before sinner at local restaurant.

Continue downriver paddle past traditional villages and through forested wilderness areas. Stop at Ngongkhiau village for lunch, then private van transfer to Vieng Kham for dinner and overnight accommodation.

DAY 5 Vieng Kham – Nam Xeng – Ban Had Keo (approx. 5 hours paddling)

After breakfast, we receive a safety briefing before we depart on our multi-night paddle-camping expedition. We pass through a deep limestone valley in a true wilderness area. Lunch is Lao picnic-style on the riverbank.

In the afternoon, we make it to a small Khmu village called Ban Tha Vanh; home to Thai Deng and Kmu tribespeople.

We then continue to paddle further down the Nam Xeng River to Ban Had Keo, where we pitch our tents and enjoy dinner cooked over the open fire.

DAY 6 Ban Had Keo – Ban Huey Yen – Ban Long Ded Aock (6 hours paddling)

Continue our downriver paddle to where we encounter small rapids and swift-water.

Again, a picnic lunch will be served on the riverbank, after-which more small rapids are encountered.

We then reach Ban Huey Yen – a Kmou hill-tribe village – where we enjoy a swim or a game of soccer with the local kids. Afterwards we continue to Ban Long Ded Aock where we have another campfire dinner and pitch our tents for the night.

DAY 7 Ban Long Ded Aock – Pak Seung – Ban Napho - Tat Kuang Si (1 hour paddling)

We make a visit to a village primary school to donate Lao reading books. Continuing the paddle, we pass the confluence of the Nam Xeng and Nam Xuang rivers before taking lunch on the river bank. The final leg involves a few more rapids before arriving at Ban Napho, which marks the end of our time on the river.

Private van transfer to Tat Kuang Si, where we settle in for the night.

DAY 8 Tat Kuang Si (Free the Bears Project Day)

After breakfast, we head to the Free the Bears sanctuary. The bears here have all been rescued and many have endured years of torture as bile bears. Our job will be to help prepare food for the bears, clean the enclosures and help complete the construction of additional sanctuary facilities to accommodate the most stressed bears.

At the end of the day, we’ll enjoy a refreshing dip at the Kuang Si Falls before heading back to Luang Prabang.

DAY 9 Luang Prabang (Free day)

Today is a free day, allowing plenty of opportunity to sight-see, relax, shop or participate in a handicrafts workshop. We reconvene for a farewell dinner and drinks in the historic part of the city.

DAY 10 Departure: Luang Prabang (Departure)

Time to say farewell to newfound friends.

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TRIP BASICS

Trip style: Adventure & wilderness camping
Activities:  stand up paddle boarding/ kayaking, rapids (grades 1 – 2), hiking, camping, cave visits, sight-seeing, wildlife conservation, swimming, culture & history

Group size: 4 (min) 10 (max) people
Minimum age: 15 years
Fitness level: Moderate

SUP/ Kayak skill level: Good

Commences/ ends: Luang Prabang, Laos
Fly in to: Luang Prabang, Laos

PRICE: Au$2900 plus GST / USD 2150

INCLUDES

ACCOMMODATION

9 nights accommodation (incl camping)

MEALS

9 Breakfasts
6 Lunches
7 Dinners
Welcome drink

ACTIVITIES

Half day tour of temples, palace and markets
Visit to Pak Ou Caves
Visit to Kuang Si Falls
Whiskey and weaving village visit
Visits to traditional hill tribes
School visit
Buddhist blessing ceremony

GEAR

Helmet/ life vest
Inflatable kayak
Inflatable SUP
Camping gear
Sleeping bag

PROJECT

Full day at Free the Bears Sanctuary

TRANSPORT

Private road & boat transfers

STAFF

Local guides, river-rats & drivers
English- speaking trip leader

GIFTS

Souvenir t-shirt & cap
Comfort pack
1 hour traditional massage

NOT INCLUDED

Flights & airport transfers
Visas & departure taxes
Excess baggage
SUP baggage costs (rental is free)
Travel medicine & insurance
Food & beverages where not stated
Optional extra activities
Gratuities