Early breakfast with Isabelle. Fried eggs and, unusually, some really nice bread. Gave her a lift to the bus station as en route for our 3 hour transfer up to Ban Sonkhoua, and Nam Nern River. The brochure sold it as a safari cruise. We had anticipated a tourist boat capable of serving food, beer and an easy time. What we got was so much better. A high speed long tail boat able to take us, a spotter, a translator and a helmsman plus some food for the night. Sadly, no beer. Paul packed four small cans which doesn’t go far between 5. The canoe got up to 40 kms/hr. Pretty racy skimming over the shallow river bed, but our spotter did have to get out and push once.
The “village” that we were staying in for the night was a good 2 hours up river, probably 30 kms. Late lunch and then a look around this eco-lodge. In fact, it is 5 bungalows on stilts. Each one can sleep 2 people, has one light bulb, and, nothing else. We were staying in the core protection zone, as designated by the Wildlife Conservation Society. This is to support the income of the 14 villages moved out of the zone in the 90’s and to increase the density of wildlife, especially, tigers. This is a very ambitious project which seems to be working well. It pays the villagers whenever a tourist spots an endangered species. For example, villagers receive 40,000 kip (£4) when we saw a Sambar deer.
Our supper was cooked by the guide and spotter on the banks of the river above the village. A bit odd, but a great fire. We then drifted down in the dark for 2 hours while our spotter scanned the banks for any signs of wildlife. Excitingly, we were treated to 3 Sambar deer, a muntjac and a civet. A larger group last week didn’t spot a single animal. Probably too noisy.
Having got back to the village at 10:30 pm, headed to our hut, freezing cold and damp. Linda remained fully clothed all night. No shower, no power, no flushing toilet or sink. Actually quite uncomfortable, but worth it. The jungle experience is to be recommended. This is the first time we can honestly say we have been totally off grid. The nearest help was at least 4 hours away. Fortunately, didn’t need it. No, we have no interest in applying to the next Bear Grylls island survival.
6.30am walk around what was the old village. The jungle has reclaimed it. Back to our bikes and sort of civilisation. A gentle climb, amazing downhill onto the plains and then to a hot spring for a warm bath. We felt we had earned it.