Tree Top Laos

 |  May 30, 2011

Standing by the railing of a freshly-stained wood deck, we stared up at a massive cliff face framed in the lush green vegetation of the Laos jungle, with multiple flows of water falling some 100-something feet to the rocky pool below. The girl next to me wowed to herself, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen”. On the cliff face, a family of monkeys move about on the hanging vegetation. A zip-liner flies across the sedimentary shelves of the waterfall, moving about on cables that are invisible from below.

It wasn’t easy to get to where we were. Our leg muscles were sore and our shirts were soaked with sweat. We had hiked up and down steep, rocky trails, walking single-file behind our local guide, the only one of us who had any idea where we were or where we were going. We had zip-lined across ravines, shooting one by one across each void. Each one of us had slipped at least once on the slick rain-soaked rocks on the way down to the camp, and the backs of our clothes were wet and muddy: it was a great experience.

Tree Top Explorer, organised by Green Discovery, is the newest of several zip-line experiences available in Laos PDR. As an ecotourism enterprise, the company promotes environmental protection and appreciation, and strives to maintain the integrity of the local culture in the areas they introduce to tourists. The company has been granted permission to operate within the Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area, and it is supported by the World Tourism Organisation and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Zip-lines are an ideal eco-adventure setup, as they give access to beautiful jungle interiors without the damage caused by frequently-travelled footpaths.

Looking at the Jungle Hotel Paksong, as the company calls the operation’s base-camp in the jungle, it’s amazing to consider the logistical difficulty of building the six tree houses, eating area, and other facilities. Construction took nine months, but the end product is quite impressive: hot showers, beautifully laid-out tree houses, a network of walkways, and of course the zip-line platforms high in the forest foliage. The tree houses each have their own bathroom, a crucial amenity as a full-body harness is necessary to enter or exit each house.

Tree Top Explorer has only been open for three months. Part of the excitement of the programme is the knowledge that so few people have yet seen the breathtaking views in that section of the forest on the edge of the Bolaven plateau. The guides are newly-trained locals, some of which used to work as monkey hunters in the area. Many were born in the nearby village of Ban Nongluang, which, like many communities near the ‘coffee capital’ of Paksong, relies almost exclusively on coffee-growing (mostly Robusta, but also Aribica, Catimo, and Excelsa coffees, originally brought to the region by French colonists in 1815).

Part of the company’s mission is to help local people get their ‘fair share’ of the meagre tourism stream that flows through southern Laos each year. Although some of the local communities participate in the Fair Trade programme, many others make very little money for the green coffee beans they sell to exporters. As part of the trek, the guides stop by a home in a local village and explain coffee-growing’s central role in the local economy. Needless to say, freshly-brewed coffee is abundant and ever-present at the camp, and much appreciated after a long and tiring day. Lunches on the trail are served in the local fashion: sticky rice, fish, and spicy sauces eaten by hand from a banana-leaf spread.

It isn’t at all hard to imagine this small village seeing a large population and income influx in the coming years. The natural beauty of the Dong Hua Sao region is truly staggering (it must be seen to be believed). Adventure-seekers will be drawn by the appeal of the project’s zip-lining and challenging hiking, as well as a bolt rock-climbing section at the end of the trek. Although challenging, the staff makes the course accessible to anyone with the courage to give it a try; our group varied in composition from a group of vacationing high-schoolers to a valiant older man with a hip replacement (and our photographer had to lug quite a bit of equipment). Zip-lines start off short and slow, and progress towards the longest, a 400-metre gap across a wide ravine. Swimming is an option in several of the pools formed by the many waterfalls in the area. Everything is pristine, aside from the narrow trails used by the guides, it is as if the participant and his fellow travellers are the first to see the natural treasures of this area in southern Laos.

Citylife would like to thank Laos Airlines for their generosity in offering flights for our write and photographer to Luang Prabang and Pakse. We would also like to thank Tree Top Explorers for their wonderful support.

Lao Airlines office

2/107 Ground Floor, Nakornping Condo, Rajchapruek, Huay Kaew Rd., Muang, Chiang Mai 50300
Tel: 66-53 223 401 Fax: 66-53 223 400 e-mail: