Photo: We're on a road to nowhere.


The quaint, out-of-the-way village of Ban Khiet Ngong is a good example of how the Lao government is trying to develop a smooth-running, ecologically friendly tourist infrastructure that brings much-needed income to remote regions of Laos.

As you enter the village, you'll see an elephant platform on the left, which makes it possible to get on and off the mammoth beasts, and the only other other "tourist friendly" place in town, Kingfisher Eco Lodge, is well-removed from the central area.

A visit here is recommended, not only for the beauty of the landscape and novelty of the elephant treks, but also to support the future of such low-impact development in Laos.

Ban Khiet Ngong is part of the Xe Pian National Protected Area, 24,000 square kilometres of wildlife and forests reaching through Champasak and Attapeu provinces to the border with Cambodia. The area is rife with birdlife, but also larger mammals like the Asian black bear and yellow-cheeked crested gibbon -- not that you'll necessarily spot any of these on your trek, but they're out there (in theory).

The area is also home to the Brow ethnic group, inhabiting Ta Ong and other villages in the area.

The road that leads to Ban Khiet Ngong is also the start of the rough-and-ready trail that leads eventually to Attapeu.

While there is no public transport along this road, experienced motorcyclists may want to give it a go. We did it by Honda Dream once quite a few years ago -- the trip took 10 hours or so and involved having to dismantle and rebuild the bike ... twice! It's not for the faint of heart.

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