tip off
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Zipping through the jungles of Laos

There are worse ways to spend Christmas then zip lining in the southern jungles of Laos.

We began our journey in the small dusty village of Ban Nongluang, two hours drive from Pakse. Dust covered everything; our van, foliage, food stalls, cattle, sleepy domestic pets — everything. Brushing away the dust we headed on foot into the thick humid jungle stopping at a delightful waterfall for Christmas lunch comprising of traditional Laotian food served on banana leaf. There is something very intimate about scooping your fingers into a shared dish with strangers.

From here it was a short stroll to the first of eight zip lines we’d be taking for the day.

Standing on the first wooden platform, I traced the cable until it disappeared out of sight into the jungle beyond. I looked at my harness. I looked at the cable, the ravine below and again at my harness. I’m not afraid of heights but when I realised there was only one strap between me and a 150 foot drop into the rocky ravine below it was fair to say I was a little nervous.

Two of our three guides took to the lines yelling excitedly, throwing their heads back and legs into the air. I assumed they were told to do this in order to settle any nerves us first time zip liners may have been suffering. I also assumed they did this as they weren’t sure if it would be the last time they’d be seen alive before hurtling lifelessly through the air towards their death.

I began to imagine all sorts of morbid ways in which I would die on the forest floor. My personal favourites were:

  • slipping on the wet path, splitting my head open on one of the numerous rocks below
  • falling hundreds of feet into a shallow river bed as a result of a faulty harness
  • eagerly awaiting my turn only to be decapitated by a furiously unravelling zip line

Fortunately, I was not left to decompose on the forest floor. It fact, the day was exhilarating. We flew past waterfalls and rock walls, weaved around colossal trees and hanging vines until deep in the bowels of the jungle. The final zip line led us directly to an eco lodge based at the foot of the giant Kamet waterfall.

After an ice cold rinse under the falls we warmed ourselves around an open fire, drank Lao Lao whiskey (naked flames do indeed turn bright blue when Lao Lao is added) and ate local food deliciously prepared by lodge staff.

It was over several shots of Lao Lao that we began talking to Boun, manager of the Tree Top Explorer. We were absolutely staggered to learn that the hundreds of metres of cabling had been installed by hand. I’m not sure if the photos do the terrain justice but it is steep, wet, rocky and dangerous. I tip my hat to the poor fellows who traversed the difficult terrain with such a load. The installation and construction took approximately one year to complete with assistance from Thai experts who oversaw the exact cable positioning and tensioning. Boun, to his credit, was the first person to test each line, an incredibility courageous decision. We drank to that. Several times in fact.

As the fire dimmed and crickets found their voice it was time to retire. This in itself was an extraordinarily fun event.

Situated 10 meters above the ground each lodge is build around a great hulk of a tree, opened aired, contains eco friendly toilets and to my extreme pleasure very much like every Robinson Crusoe fantasy I had ever imagined. Luckily for our insurance providers there was not a single sleepwalker among us. The only way to reach each lodge was, yep, you guessed it, zip line.

In scenes reminiscent of any Errol Flynn swashbuckler film we converged upon the huts, defeated imaginary evil villains before climbing safely and happily into bed.

The following morning began just as brilliantly as the previous evening had ended. We were woken by our guides on the jungle floor calling “gooood moooooorning!” One by one they zipped into our huts rousing sleepy trekkers. I pitied any honeymooners trying to get fresh in the early hours…

After fresh Laos coffee and a hearty breakfast we headed for the crescendo of our trip, two half kilometre zip lines stretching across, what seemed like, a bottomless ravine. While that distance may not seem far on paper, it is fearfully long when staring at the rushing ground from a hundred feet above. It may have even been a few hundred miles high for all I knew. In fact I’m quite certain I was in arms reach of an orbiting satellite on numerous occasions.

After several exhilarating trips back and forth across the ravine we returned to the Kamet waterfall for lunch before trekking steeply back to the dusty village of Ban Nongluang.

For anyone wanting more information, I cannot recommend the Tree Top Explorer experience highly enough.

Al runs the Tuk-Tuk Sessions project and writes at his own blog Little Kingdoms in Your Chest.

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  • 1
    paddy
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant stuff Allan.
    For once, I can happily enjoy reading a travel yarn in Crikey, but not have the *slightest* interest in actually going there.
    Not fond of heights, so zip lines look and sound like my own personal version of hell. :)

  • 2
    Andrew L
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Wow! As a confirmed armchair traveller, I really enjoyed reading this piece. Thanks for sharing it with us Allan.

  • 3
    The Quiet One
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Amazing, would so love to have the courage to do this. However, if I am wearing a harness and about to ascend/descend to/from a great height I like to have as much back-up gear as possible (triple anchors, two ropes etc. etc.)……..

    Well done on your intrepidness!

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