Nam Et

There be no tigers here

It was not a long drive from Sam Neua to the village where the safari started. I enjoyed very much our overnight "safari" here. But let's be quite blunt about this, you will not see a tiger. I spoke to the village head man, and he has never seen a tiger: a tiger has not been seen in the area for a generation.

Corruption, and lack of funding, have consigned the tiger to extinction. Any hope of re-establishing the tiger here is a chimera. The essence of the scheme is very good. The government tries to convince the local hill tribes that a live tiger or deer is more valuable than a dead one - i.e., tourists will come to pay to see live animals. To this end, each tourist fills in a form at the end of their safari, and the villages get paid by what you have seen. The problem is that the sums offered for live tigers or deer spotted by tourists are much less than the dead value to the villagers, hence hunting has continued - a dead tiger would get them around $50,000. With virtually no deer for tigers to eat, then no tigers come to the area, and if they did, they would be shot for their black market value.

Having said that, the overnight safari is a really nice visit to the wilds of Laos. You journey upriver for several hours to a permanent overnight camp - the former village before the villagers got moved down to the main road area. Our trip was not without a frisson of excitement when the propeller sheered off on a rock, and the boatman had to wade the icy water to recover it, then bang it back on to the prop shaft.

There you have a number of activities, like spotting animal foot-prints in the mud at a salt lick, and a night boat trip down-river in silence with the engine off- game spotting by the light of the guide's torch - we saw a few deer and a number of smaller animals, which was better than par for tourists. Our spottings did include a Linsang which seems endemic to this part of Laos

There is good, but basic, accommodation and excellent dinner and breakfast cooked by the locals. You certainly have the feel of a Victorian safari - for just 2 of us, we had 2 boats, 4 boatmen and 2 guides

I recommend this trip to anyone, but don't expect tigers

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