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Blogging from the Road (One): Dawn Storms & Fuel Tank Boats

22nd September 2016

Ever wondered how a new tour comes together? After our successful trip in the wilds of northern Laos earlier this year - experiencing the unique spectacle of ‘Laos on ice’, my Laos - loving clients asked for a southern equivalent. So once the term at Lone Buffalo came to a close, I packed my trusty North Face bag and headed to the central and southern provinces – with a group of eager local guides. As well as map out a new tour, this off-road recce trip would prove me with the perfect environment to run a guide development program too…

If I could choose my favourite place and time of year to wake up in Laos, it’s usually ‘green season’ in a wooden bungalow beside Hin Boun River, at the mouth of the mighty Kong Lor Cave in the central provinces. Drifting in and out of sleep as day breaks, the pitter-patter of rain intensifying to drown out the crowing roosters. Add flashes of light from a dawn thunderstorm and you have the makings of a romantic novel - or a horror chiller - depending on your mood!

I’ve always felt that more people should visit Asia during the ‘Green Season’. For me it’s when Asia is at it’s best; fluorescent green rice fields with feeder nurseries bursting with seedlings, buffalo lazing in the mud, waiting for the army of villagers to take to the fields for dam na - replanting the seedlings. It’s a chance to marvel at the togetherness of rural communities, working together a spirit often lost in the (Me) First World.

After paddling our way out through muddy fields that surround the lovely riverside resort we drove the dirt road out of the village, passing brown stumps of the tobacco plants, waiting to be turned back into the earth, nourishing the soil again ready for the next crop. In the distance lurk towering limestone karsts of the forming part of the Annamite Range, a 1000 km plus rugged spine that runs through Laos and Vietnam, eventually sweeping south into Cambodia. A simply stunning part of the country.

From the beauty of the Kong Lor area, we headed east for a reminder of the turbulent history that still hampers Laos’ development. An hour later we arrived at Ban Tha Bak, where enterprising local villagers have found a unique way of dealing with left over war scrap – by turning fuel tanks from US planes into boats.

Since first stumbling across them, I’ve always wanted to include these sleek, aluminum craft in a trip. Several years later, I am speeding upstream through the forest in a converted fuel tank, following an instruction to ‘find a place where we can transfer back to the vehicle’. It didn’t quite happen that way.

Just as I am kicked back and enjoying the scenic backdrop from our aluminum cylinders we come across the first in a series of rapids. We clamber out of the boats and over honeycombed rocks to where the boatmen had pulled the boat upstream into deeper water. Approaching a complex of rocks and narrow channels further upstream our boatman cut the engine. The momentary silence was quickly broken by sound of the advancing water. Our boatman sprung up into action, digging the oar deep into the rapid and sitting down again as we effortlessly rode the flow between the rocks.

After successfully conquering a couple of rapids even our expert boatmen met their match at Keng Luey ‘strong rapids’ waterfall. From here is would be a thirty minute trek alongside the river and then a further 30 minutes through the forest to the road. However amid the forests alongside the Namkading River a new tour section had been uncovered!

Read Part Two.

This is not currently a Wild Frontiers tour, however we could arrange it as private group travel, led by Mark, should there be interest.

Mark Steadman

Before he was five Mark's adventurous parents swapped the crowded streets of South London for the sandy beaches of South Australia. By the time he was…

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