LAOS: Christmas in the treetops
January 1, 1970
by Claudia Lowe
For most people Christmas has some sort of tradition attached to it. I am exactly like most, I have strong traditions in my family and each year Christmas tends to be much the same. But this one year I had decided to spend Christmas away from my family, across the other side of the globe, in a country where a white Christmas would be something of a miracle.
I chose to spend my Christmas in LAOS. Alone.
Well not quite alone, I had booked myself onto the Treetop Explorer trip with Green Discovery tourism. At the grand old age of 20 I would be spending my first Christmas without my family and without the typical English traditions, and if I’m honest with you, I couldn’t have been more excited!
My trip started in the city of Pakse in Laos. Pakse is the capital of the Champsak province in Laos, however there isn’t much to do. Pakse sits on the banks of the Mekong river and so most people enjoy a nice cold beer on the river front. I had arrived the day before and checked into a pre booked hotel, a little bit of luxury having just backpacked through Thailand and Cambodia for 6 weeks. This also meant that the hotel could store my luggage during my trip.
The tour company bus was collecting me at 8.15am, so I made sure I got up early enough to check out and get a good breakfast before leaving. I left my main backpack with the concierge at the hotel and took just my small hand luggage rucksack with me for my 3 day trek. From all the reviews and advice I had read online, the one thing I knew was not to take too much stuff (as I would have to carry it all on my back) and not to take any food (rats were common apparently). So I set off with the bare essentials, enough underwear, one change of clothes, basic toiletries and my trusty GoPro.
The bus took me to the local office where I met the rest of the people on my trip. I was a little apprehensive but was glad to meet a very friendly bunch of people. We packed ourselves into the smallest mini bus I’ve ever seen and headed off to Ban Nongluang where the beginning of our trek would start. Around an hour later we arrived at a small roadside café to get our harnesses and were told this would be our last toilet stop for a while. We suited up and headed off on our 4.5km trek through the jungle.
By about 12 we reached our first river crossing which was pretty much a tightrope. This was right up my Adrenaline junkie street so I could tell I was going to enjoy the next three days. We attached ourselves to the top of the tightrope with the promise of lunch on the other side. A traditional Laos lunch was served on a banana leaf and was delicious.
After a quick lunch we set back off on our trek and a couple of hours later we reached the start of the official treetop explorer. Here we were briefed on safety and how to use our break (a stick) and what to do if we got stuck (I didn’t think this would be likely but alas it happened to us all!). The first obstacle was a bridge, quite simple really, it had great views of a waterfall, but there was better to come. From there we had 8 zip lines and 4 abseils throughout the course of the day. We all got to grips with using the lines and stopping and by the end we (at least I certainly did) felt like pros! We had a tasty dinner, but we all were pretty tired after a long day. A zip line into our treehouses and this is us for the night.
Aside from a welcome rat in our little treehouse we all had a fairly good nights sleep. I had doubts about the possibilities of breakfast, in recent times the offerings were egg (usually fried or scrambled) and bread or rice. As someone not keen on eggs this doesn’t particularly fill me with enthusiasm or fill my belly. However today we were served (to my delight) omelette (manageable) with bread and butter and pineapple! It was delicious, I ate more than most but there’s no change there!
Day Two – Christmas Eve
We set off on our first full day at around 10.30am, we zip lined, crossed bridges and trekked, we spent a couple of hours (I think) at a waterfall when we broke for lunch/swim/nap. I got some great videos on the GoPro and I was in my element. We did the longest zip line at 450 meters long and it was absolutely awesome! Back to camp around 3.30/4!
I had decided that now would be a good time to brave the shower as I knew the water would be freezing cold. The water was exactly that – freezing – but nice all at the same time and at least now I felt clean. A completely different way to spend your Christmas Eve and I had pretty much forgotten that it’s Christmas.
Day Three – Christmas Day
I woke up on Christmas morning feeling very un-Christmassy, but alas day three of ziplining awaited so we got up with a spring in our step. I thought I would be missing home a lot, but the group of people on my trek (most of them adults) managed to make me feel very at home. There was a German family with sons my age who had taken me under their wing as they all spoke perfect English and as I was the only one in my group who was travelling solo, it was nice to feel part of a small family.
Christmas day brought something different to our trip. We went across two zip lines and the guides stopped us in the middle and let us take photos whilst dangling mid-air! Pretty cool. After that we had a trek to the start of what they call “via Ferrata” which is essentially rock climbing. The view from the top was incredible! Better than any other view I’ve had on Christmas day.
We stopped here for lunch before heading off on our 4.5km trek back to the village. This trek was longer and harder than I had remembered from day one, but maybe just because I was tired by this point.
It was a long and bumpy ride back to Pakse before checking back into my “palace” hotel for the night. Upon arrival at the hotel I was greeted with warm smiles and a big box Christmas present! Mum had sent a lovely parcel from home and I was very grateful for all the gifts I received!
An amazing Christmas that had none of my usual traditions. It just shows, sometimes it’s good to do something different. I had an amazing time on my Treetop explorer trip and it will certainly be a trip to remember. I would recommend this trip to anyone who loves adrenaline and/or outdoor sports. I had the best time and would go back in an instant if I could!