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Pristine Beauty in Laos’ Northern Wedge

Days: 8 (plus half day flying Bkk-Udorn-VTE)
Location: Laos
Activities: Kayaking (Class 2-3), hiking, exploring a ridge-top town.

We’re heading for the northernmost wedge of Laos between China and Vietnam to visit a one of the country’s remotest and most beautiful rivers: the far upper Ou River. We’ll have six days of paddling, interspersed with hiking through beautiful rainforest. The paddling is somewhat more challenging than normal but daunting rapids can be portaged. As compensation, we travel through the spectacular Phou Den Din National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA), snug on the Vietnamese border, an area seldom visited by outsiders, hiking its trails in search of herbs. We’ll also wander in Pongsaly—strung along a knife-edge ridge with superb view—the first Lao province to declare for Communism during the 1960s. We’ll spend two nights in hotels, one night in a homestay and five nights camping in the wilderness. We need to obtain our visas before departing from Bangkok.

Day 0
We’re at the mercy of the airlines here and that leaves us only one alternative: flying from Bangkok to Udorn on the early afternoon flight. We then drive to Nong Khai, cross the Lao border, and spend the night in Vientiane.

Day 1
Fly in the morning to Phongsaly, load the van and drive to a small village which serves as our put-in. We’ll inflate the boats and set up for an early departure the following morning. We have time to wander in the village before settling into small bamboo guesthouse.

Day 2
We’ll put-in, paddle for a few hours, then walk with a villager who will explain to us the various plants in the rainforest and their uses. We camp on the riverbank.

Day 3
A day of long rapids that are as fun as they are challenging. We’re still in the rainforest so the backdrop is beautiful. Another night of camping on the edge of the forest with its fabulous bird calls.

Day 4
Awakened by the birds, we’ll have one of our longest paddle days today, through more rapids. We’ll camp on a broad bar at the confluence with the Nam Khang River. The open space will allow us—weather permitting—to stargaze, learning the Lao names for, stories behind, the constellations.

Day 5
Another long day of big, touch rapids with lots of drops and holes but with a stop at a hillside village of houses with bamboo tile roofs. We’ll see if we can set up camp in the middle of the rapids to enjoy their soothing roar through the night.

Day 6
After paddling through the last of the big rapids, we’ll arrive at Ban Oa Tai, a village of wood and stone houses climbing a hillside which will remind many paddlers of Nepal. We’ll explore the village and spend the night in a village house.

Day 7
We’ll break down the boats and, after enjoying the village a bit longer, we’ll load everything on longboats for the journey to Hat Sa. A van will carry us to Phongsaly where we’ll have lunch and check-in at a hotel. We’ll spend the afternoon exploring this very Chinese town and hiking to a tea plantation and drying factory. Phonsaly sits high about the valleys (another reminder of Nepal) and if the clouds haven’t rolled in, we’ll have a celebratory drink while enjoying the sunset.

Day 8
We drive downhill to the airport, fly to Vientiane, look at its temples and shops and then ride to the border, cross, dine in Nong Khai, then ride to Udorn to catch the late-evening flight to Bangkok.

For more information and prices, e-mail +662 653 9712 and +6681 450 5340 noting your country of departure.

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