Stray Laos: Lost In The Jungle At Tad Leuk Waterfall

Unimpressive-Tad-Leuk-falls.jpg

We give you the morning to explore the capital city and the stalls along the banks of the Mekong, get some cash out and buy some comfort food before we head off the beaten track again and into the Phou Khao Khouay NPA. We head to Tad Leuk waterfall where we camp between the waterfall and jungle and have the opportunity to swim, trek and maybe spot the rare Phu Wah Rock Lizard found in only 3 places in the world (Tad Leuk is 1 of them and the other 2 are within 100 metres.).

-- Stray Travel Asia

We bid farewell to a few Stray mates this morning, loaded up on cash and toiletries (no ATMs for the next four days) and waited for our bus. For an hour and a half. Since AC did not work on our way down from Vang Vieng the day before, we were hoping go get a different bus for the rest of our trip, but that did not turn out to be the case.

On the way out, we stopped by at a local market to get some groceries for our cook out tonight and then it was an hour and a half ride to Wat Phabat Phonsan. A giant Buddah foot imprint was 'discovered' here in 1933 (even though the original temple was built in sixteenth century. Apparently, there was some sort of festival going as the normally empty huge dirt lot in front of the Wat was full of vendors.

The road we traveled today was flat and in much better condition than anything we have experienced since leaving the nice Chinese-paved road prior Nong Khiaw. For a bit, it was quite a strange feeling of the bus moving that fast. With mild weather, we had enough of a breeze from the open windows to make up for the lack of air conditioning.

Half an hour after leaving the temple, we got into the National Protected Area and soon after arrived to our campground by the Tad Leuk waterfall. The waterfall itself was not very impressive as it is the middle of the dry season, but judging by the wide dry river bed, it should make for an interesting sight with a bit more water. While our guides were preparing dinner, we went out for a quick hike and a few of us jumped in for a swim in the river. Being such a remote location, it felt really relaxing and peaceful knowing that we were the only people out there for miles.

The evening was upon us so we headed back to our camp. Soon, the rest of the guys that went hiking got back as well. That is all of them but Michael and Caius. They went out by themselves and the last we saw them was when we were swimming. At first, we did not think much about it - after all, they still had half an hour before it gets dark and they had to be close as that hike was just a quick loop.

But what if they took the wrong trail? As we found later from one of the army guys that were in charge of the camp, the other trail was not a loop and would take three days of hiking to reach the end. It was dark. They were out in the jungle. In shorts and flip flops, no food or water. No knife or flashlight. If that was not enough, supposedly, there were bears and tigers out there as well as everpresent snakes and other nastiness. This was now serious.

With my search and rescue hat on, I tried to stop others from heading back into the jungle in the dark. After all, The guys should have been able to reach one of the rivers so they would have fresh water and, judging by the evening, the night was not going to be that cold. A few people still made a couple attempts to go into the jungle, accompanied by the local army guys that knew the trails. Meanwhile, we stayed put at the camp playing music and keeping the candles burning just in case the guys could see or hear us.

We woke up as soon as the sun was up and formed four search groups, each led by a local army guide, and headed back into the jungle. Shawna and I went down the river, hopping from one rock to the next for about half an hour when someone answered our name calls. We went into the jungle and trekked up the hill until we reached a trail but neither find anyone nor heard them again. Later, we found out that it was another one of our search groups.

As we all got back to the campsite empty handed, I convinced Charlie to get the bus driver to take her back to civilization where she could get cell phone reception. It was time to call the Dutch and Swedish embassies and get some sort official search and rescue effort going before the guys had to spend another night in the jungle without any food. We also needed to get stocked up on food ourselves  as we were already running on fumes. As we were about to get on the bus, we saw Michael and Caius emerging from the jungle.

It turned out that they mistakenly followed the longer path, thinking that it is a loop, so even when it started to get darker, they pressed on. Eventually, they realized that they will not make it and stumbled upon an old camp site next to the river. They used some leaves, branches, and dry grass in place of bedding under one of the rocks and spent the night there, cold and sleepless, but unhurt. As the sun rose in the morning, they traced their steps back to the camp just in time. That was sure one stray experience to remember.

[message type="info"]Caius has blogged about his experience that night on his blog so if you want more details, check it out. It is in Dutch, so you may need to use some help from Google Translate service.[/message]

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