The Nam Nern Night Safari
Opened in 2009, the Nam Nern Night Safari is a 24-hour boat-based tour into the core of the NEPL NPA. The trip involves night-time wildlife spotlighting: long-tail boats drift down the Nam Nern River looking for wild and endangered animals. Additional nature activities during the tour include bird watching, wildlife tracking, and a short morning hike. Visitors to the Night Safari stay overnight in traditional Lao bungalows built and managed by the community.
This innovative and adventurous journey is not only one of the few opportunities in Laos to view rare wildlife, but the trip is designed to support alternative livelihoods for local people and generate community support for conservation of tigers and other wildlife.
Nature activities during the tour include bird watching, wildlife tracking, nighttime wildlife spotting, discovery of medicinal plants and an early morning hike. Visitors to the Night Safari overnight in one of our two-person traditional Lao bungalows, built and managed by the community and overlooking the Nam Nern River from the forest edge.
The Night Safari has gained public recognition and international visibility as well as won the ‘World Responsible Tourism Award’ both in year 2013 and 2014. The project currently employs directly around 40 families and involves 14 villages.
Departure from Viengthong by public bus or private van at 8 am. After approximately 1.5 – 2 hour drive along a curvy road through gorgeous mountainous landscapes you arrive at Ban Son Koua, a Khmu Village and the Nam Nern Night Safari tour start.
Meet those coming from Sam Neua or Phonesavan. Village guides and boatmen will be awaiting you to greet you and take you on a short tour of the village where you will learn about daily life and the animist tradition of appeasing the village spirits.
At around 10-11am guests embark on a 1.5-hour journey to the park substation on the Nam Nern River by long-tail boat, along the way learning about upland rice cultivation and having opportunities to spot monitor lizards (depending on the time of year) and bird life.
After arriving at the park substation, visitors will be shown to their accommodation, bamboo huts close to the river, and will then be offered a lunch prepared by the village cooking group. After lunch, you will receive a briefing by park staff about the on-the-ground efforts in protecting tigers and their prey.
At mid-afternoon, the group takes the boat again to continue the journey upriver. After about 50 minutes the boats will stop, and the group will hike into the forest to visit a salt lick. The local guide, a skilled hunter and tracker, explains how local people track deer and other wild ungulates. The guide points out evidence of wildlife, such as tracks or scat at the salt lick.
The boats continue upriver to the dinner site, a sandy, flat bank, where the group takes a picnic around a campfire. After dinner, the guides might share with you the Khmu folktales and stories about dragons, wildlife, and ghosts. The guides educate tourists about the species of animals they might see during the spotlighting and explain the rules and expectations for spotlighting.
The group departs for the night spotlighting once it’s total dark, floating down the river with engines off. The guides (1 per boat) use their headlamp to spot wildlife. If they see something, they will give a clear sign. Then you can switch on your own flashlight to have a better look at the animal. Hence, tourists will have their flashlights switched off most of the time to avoid scaring animals. The guides and boat drivers communicate via hand signals to avoid talking that might disturb the animals. Animals that might be seen include Sambar deer, otters, barking deer, various species of civets, loris, porcupine and owls. (Seeing tigers is very rare because they usually don’t come close to the river.)
Overnight in Lao style bungalows.
Before breakfast, local guides take you on a walk around the jungle, teaching about the use of some medicinal plants and explaining the history of the site, which was once a major settlement during the Secret War. After breakfast, the boats float back through the core zone at a relaxing pace with engines off, while the guides point out wildlife along the way.
Upon arrival in the village, you are invited to fill out a wildlife monitoring form that is used to monitor wildlife abundance and indicate the amount of bonuses put into the village development fund from the tour costs. (There is no extra fee is you are so lucky to see a tiger.)
Visitors may continue on towards Viengxay or Phonesavanh (about 100km+ in either direction) or head back to Viengthong (50km), Nong Kiau (230km), or Luang Prabang (350km).
What to bring?
We ask that you please bring just one small bag/backpack and leave large suitcases or long-‐haul backpacks in the village or your car. Weather can be both very hot during the daytime and very cold at night. It is recommended that you bring clothes for both extremes.
Please bring the following:
- light rain jacket
- fleece jacket (strongly recommended as the night safari can be very cold)
- both sun hat for daytime and wool cap for night
- long pants for walking in the forest
- good walking shoes that are easy to take on and off and sandals for bathing
- an extra t-‐shirt and maybe shorts for sleeping/bathing.
- insect repellant
- snacks (food is provided, but you might want to bring something to snack on)
- binoculars (we have just one pair)
- towel and toiletries
- reusable water bottle (help us reduce waste)
What you don’t need to bring:
- Food and water
- Mosquito net and blankets