Study Focus: Bolaven plateau Mekong River tributaries
- Students arrive via Pakse Airport or the land crossing from Thailand at Ubon Ratchathani.
- After clearing Lao Immigration, students transfer by charter mini vans (1-hour) to the delightfully cool highlands of the Bolaven Plateau with healthy snacks served along the way.
- During the drive to our lodge we might stop to explore tea and coffee plantations planted during the French colonial era.
- Our accommodation for the night is the beautiful Tad Fan Resort, set on the edge of a forested escarpment where twin waterfalls plunge 150 meters to the valley below and echo their descent throughout the night.
- The tributary rivers of the Bolaven Plateau feed into the mighty Mekong and will be the first place students see the sights and hear the sounds of Southeast Asia’s greatest watershed.
- After a delicious dinner in the open-air restaurant we will gather around an open fire for a trip orientation session. It’ll be cool here, so bring some warm clothes.
Overnight: Tad Fan Resort, Bolaven Plateau (Laos)
Study Focus: highland birds / waterfall micro-climes / Baci ceremony
- Many species of high elevation birds are resident around Tad Fan Resort so we will rise early to spot them. (Good binoculars come in handy here.)
- After a hearty breakfast, students will pack their bags aboard the mini vans before and depart for a stop at the spectacular Tad Yeuang Waterfall and an early morning swim in the falls.
- Here students can feel the full force of the spray at the base of the falls and swim in some quiet pools either at the base or above the escarpment. Afterwards we depart the falls by mini van and drive down from the plateau to the shores of the Mekong River and cross by boat to the island of Don Daeng, an idyllic island rimmed by beautiful sandy beaches in the middle of the Mekong.
- After being assigned rooms at a community eco tourism camp and we explore the island on bicycles… cycling past rice fields, water buffalo, stilt houses and Buddhist temples glittering in the sun. Our island bike ride is 16km on a flat surface and will take us about 90 minutes. We’ll hear warm Sabadee greetings from everyone we pass along the way as farmers and fishermen return home for their afternoon meal.
- Returning to our Community Eco Tourism Camp, we will have lunch and prepare for the first afternoon of our service project at the local school. After lunch we will have a group meeting with the Lao students to discuss how we will be working together as a team over the next few days and the role of the Mekong in the lives of local people.
- In the late afternoon we will return to the Community Camp to clean up and prepare for a night of Laos traditions, as the village elders will welcome us with a Baci Ceremony. Following the ceremony we will enjoy a family-style Laotian dinner together with six local boys and girls that will join the student team for the remainder of our Mekong River Song journey.
- After our dinner, everyone gathers around a beach bonfire, singing songs and sharing games with the Don Daeng teenagers we will work and travel with in the days ahead.
Overnight: Don Daeng Community Eco Tourism Beach Camping
Study Focus: traditional Mekong village life / school restoration service project
- Everyone rises early on Don Daeng with the roosters crowing, Fishermen gather their nets and head for their boats while farmers lead water buffalo down small local lanes to pasture.
- At the community temple the Buddhist monks returning from their morning alms rounds might have time to offer lessons in meditation prior to commencing our community service project. Learning to calm the mind and refresh the body and spirit from the stresses of life is rejuvenating.
- We will return to our Community Camp for breakfast and then back to the secondary school where we will continue our community project.
- At lunch time ISKL students will enjoy a lunch prepared by the community members at the school.
- We continue our restoration project after lunch until it is completed. We then pack our bags aboard a launch to cross the Mekong River to the ancient city of Champasak.
- Here we check into the quaint French Colonial style accommodations for the night and enjoy a meal at the resort.
Overnight: Inthira Resort, Champasak
Study Focus: merit making ceremony / Mekong River escarpment & falls / French colonial history / Lao & Isaan dancing
- We rise with the sun coming up over the Mekong to make merit by offering sticky rice, fruit, and flowers to the child monks that walk the lanes of Champasak barefoot each morning.
- After breakfast we meet back up with the Lao students and teacher that will be joining us on our journey. These Lao students are keen to improve their English skills and spending several days with us will be an opportunity to do just that. They would be very impressed if students tried to learn Laotian phrases as they practice English with us.
- We board mini vans for a short drive to Wat Phu, a UNESCO World Hertiage site that is situated on a hillside with stunning views of the surrounding area and the Mekong. This considered one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos and is a Khmer temple complex that was constructed in the 5th century. Here students can envision the life that was lived along the Mekong River centuries ago.
- We continue our drive south to what is called “The Niagara of Asia.” Here one huge channel of the mighty Mekong plunges over an escarpment created by a geological anomaly where harder rock aligns with softer rock. As the softer rock erodes much more quickly than the hard rock upstream, the falls are continually getting larger.
- This is the Mekong at its mightiest where the Mother of Watersreaches an astonishing 14-km in width with thousands of forested islands and sandbars are separated by waterfalls plunging over the escarpment.
- After some time to enjoy the falls, we drive a short distance up river along the highway and transfer to smaller boats for the journey to Don Khone, our island home for two nights.
- Arriving on Don Khone, students will be assigned rooms prior to having a study session on the fascinating French colonial history of this area.
- The Mekong escarpment posed a serious navigation problem for French colonial rulers trying to extend their shipping domain up the Mekong River into China. To bypass the obstacles, the French constructed the only railway ever built in Laos. This page of history will be vividly brought to life for us as we hike the old rail bed and see the rusty steam locomotive nearby our lodge.
- Hiking along quiet back lanes of Don Khone we will spend the late afternoon seeing rural homes, a village temple and monastery as well as viewing some of the waterfalls where local fishermen set out huge fish traps as they have done for centuries.
- After dinner tonight, the Don Daeng youth will teach students the refined art of Isaan & Lao dancing.
Overnight: Seng Ahloune Sunset River Resort, Don Khone
Study Focus: net tossing for fish / kayaking the Mekong / endangered Mekong River dolphins
- Don Khone village comes to life in the early morning when fishermen cast their nets on the Mekong in the first rays of dawn.
- Following breakfast we transfer by long-tail boat to Don Det, a neighboring island connected by a railway bridge built by the French in 1910.
- Once we reach the north end of Don Det, we will have a safety briefing and basic kayaking lessons before we paddle the protected waters between Don Det and Don Khone.
- Arriving back on Don Khone, we will cross the island on footpaths past dramatic escarpment falls and resume our kayak journey down the Mekong once the boats arrive.
- There will now be hands-on lessons in river hydrology and terminology (chutes, upwellings, back eddies, etc.) as students and their experienced paddling guides negotiate a faster section of the river.
- The highlight of the day will be exploring the dolphin pools on the border of Laos and Cambodia. Here, with any luck, we will see one of the Mekong Rivers last populations of Irrawaddy dolphins, and possibly have an opportunity for an adventure swim with them.
- While enjoying a good lunch in a riverside restaurant on the Cambodian side of the border we will take part in a conservation activity, charting the movement of dolphins in relation to fishing boats and tourist viewing boats.
- Returning to our guesthouse by open air songtaew along the old French railway bed, we will have time to clean up before enjoying a traditional Lao dinner with music and dancing in the lovely grounds of our lodge. ISKL students will learn and perform Issan and Lao dances and release hot air balloons for a festive final night on the island.
Overnight: Seng Alhoune Sunset River Resort, Don Khone
Study Focus: Mekong River Commission role-play
- Right after breakfast this morning, we transfer from our guesthouse by launch to the eastern shore of the Mekong River and board mini vans.
- Returning north up the highway towards Pakse, we thank our Laotian friends for sharing their culture with us and arrange for their boat transfers home to Don Daeng.
- Students then carry on to Pakse where they will take their lunch and present their positions before a mock Mekong River Commission.
- This real life commission was set up so that all countries the Mekong flows through (China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) would have an equal say in development plans for the river that might affect inhabitants downstream. Unfortunately, China is not a member and dozens of hydro dams are now underway in China with more proposed for Laos that will forever affect the natural flow of the river and everything downstream that is dependent upon it.
- Students representing fishermen, farmers, conservation groups, river transport companies, hydro developers and representatives of all 6 countries the Mekong flows through, will have a chance to formally present their cases and see what, if any, agreements they can reach to the satisfaction of all stake holders.
- A special dinner and closing ceremony will highlight our final night together. Students will be awarded certificates of Achievement and have opportunities to individually reflect back on highlights of the trip during a beautiful closing candle ceremony.
Overnight: Champasak Palace Hotel, Pakse
- After an early breakfast at our hotel, students will be transferred the short distance to Pakse’s International Airport or to the Thai-Lao border at Ubon Ratchathani to begin their onward journey