Where do one find remotenes on a budget? Experiencing a truly deserted spot on Earth by venturing to the North Pole or deep into the Amazonas is possible but such expeditions has a certain price tag. We wanted to try out if the same type of adventure could be realised by our relatively humble budget and lack of expedition experience.
We have earlier traveled in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, and had quickly learned that transporting one through primary rainforrest is extremely time consuming and difficult. Hence, if we wanted to be able to travel larger distances in order to reach unproven grounds, we figured that looking at waterways in the form of rivers, was our best option.
Let the river take you
In order to find inspiration we started reading through blogs, books and news articles of adventurers who had on their own traveled to extraordinary places. “In the Nagas Wake” a book by the Australian explorer Mick O’Shea, which describes his amazing kayak descent on the Mekong river, was one of the materials that stood out as an extrordinary feat – a highly recommended read. As the first person ever Mick paddled almost 5.0000 kilometers from the origin of the Mekong river in Tibet to the sea of Vietnam. Perhaps kayaking was the way to go? If we could find an accessible starting point we could then paddle downriver to more remote areas.
The idea of kayaking wasn’t completely new to us – I had experience as a flat-water kayak instructor and both of us had earlier done a sea-kayaking trip off the coast between Sweden and Norway.
A river – but which one?
Coffee table books is a good place to start, plenty of awe engulfing sceneries presented in an appealing format. Specifically, we found Lonely Planet’s “Greatest Adventures” an interesting starting point as it had a whole section entitled “river adventures”. Yet again the Mekong River was marked as a to-go point, and we started investigating the region further. The Mekong itself was not of great interest to us as most of it is busy with river traffic (and obviously rather well described), but perhaps one of its larger tributary rivers in the region might yet be undisturbed. Hours of googling later it appeared. Nam Ou.
The largest contributory river to Mekong, Nam Ou, emerges from the very northern part of Laos and flows for 450 km before it merges with Mekong. The river is known for its incredible biodiversity and a until recently rather undisturbed flow (more on this later…). At first sight googling “Kayaking Nam Ou” doesn’t yield a promising result if one’s purpose is to explore the unknown: The first 10 pre-planned trips immediately appear from different tourist companies. As it turns out however these trips are all situated around Luang Prabang (dotted red marking) at the very end of Nam Ou, what about the prior 400 km of the river? As seen on the map, the initial section of the river flows through extremely remote areas and even a national park, the “Phou Den Din National Park”. The area had an intriguing mysterious rainforest vibe to it. Googling Phou Den Din won’t help you much; Very limited descriptions are available, no tour operators offer trips in the area (we did our fair bit of calling around) and the latest scientific study done of the wildlife in the area had to do with birds in 1994… What might we find? No travel reports described the northern section of Nam Ou, no detailed maps was available for the area and we weren’t able to get in contact with anyone that could help us in planning such a descent.
We had found our undiscovered gem and so the plan was set to travel to the source of Nam Ou and slowly kayak towards more civilized waters.