Photo: Up the river we go.


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Covering 410,720 hectares across three provinces in northeast Laos, Nam Et-Phou Louey is Laos’ largest National Protected Area. Named after the Nam Et river and Phou Louey, the country’s third highest mountain, the park contains unique biodiversity, endangered species endemic to Indochina and source waters for major rivers. Travellers can now enter the NPA on the Nam Nern Night Safari, an overnight adventure that involves wildlife spotting on the river in the dark.

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Wildlife spotting in the dark? It’s an unlikely pairing. Think “safari” and Laos doesn’t spring to mind. Conservation is a new concept for a country that only emerged from civil war as an independent nation in 1975. You’re more likely to see dead wildlife illegally for sale in a market than alive in the wild. According to a 2011 assessment, the three main districts in Nam Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) are in the second highest poverty bracket, with 90% of villages classified as poor. How do you stop poaching and deforestation when traditionally, local people needed to hunt, fish and cut wood to survive? How can they buy into conservation when catching a rare animal is a windfall? Eco-tourism may be the answer.

Into the wilderness. Photo taken in or around Nam Nern Night Safari, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Into the wilderness. Photo: Cindy Fan

Night has fallen and our dinner, a hearty spread presented on banana leaves, is eaten by firelight. Our guide translates a legend that’s being told by one of the boat captains, a local who grew up hunting in this forest. Today, by law, we’re the only ones allowed in the NEPL’s core protected area. To reach the jungle camp, it was a thrilling two hour journey up the Nam Nern river by long-tail boat with a two man crew: one man operating the motor at the back and an oarsmen standing at the front, both working together to expertly steer us around every rock and fallen tree. Launching from Son Khoua village, farmland and ugly deforested hills transitioned: the landscape became greener, the forest thicker and more frequent until the river was crowded with soaring cliffs and ... Travelfish members only (Around 2,000 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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