Trip Start Oct 03, 2011
Trip End Dec 25, 2011

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Where I stayed
In a treehouse!
What I did
saw bugs, beasties and amazing forests

Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Monday, October 31, 2011

Huay Xai (pronounced Way Sigh) on the Laos side of the Laos-Thailand border, is the base of The Gibbon Experience, a 3 day, 2 night adventure that involves sleeping in a treehouse and zipwiring through the forest - oh, and looking for Gibbons. It's managed by villagers who used to hunt these and other animals, but are now forging the way in eco-tourism, so we can feel smug at supporting their efforts, as well as having an amazing time!

After trying every single cash card combination to get out the 4.7 million kip required (not as expensive as it sounds!) we hand over a huge wadge of notes and are ready to be off.

Michael jumps in the back of the 4WD, while Amy opts for the safety of the front. An hour and a half of ok roads leads to a further hour and a half of bouncing dirt track. The 4WD behind us gets stuck, and we all provide helpful comments from afar as to how we would solve the problem whilst the Laos guides get on and dig some sort of track with their shovel and their flip flops. It only takes 20 minutes to get out - and we're the lucky ones - the dry season has just started. In the wet season, we could be looking at a 7 hour trek up to our thighs in mud rather than the fun of a bumpy ride.

We arrive at the village we're to set off from, and are greeted by the group just leaving who are covered from head to toe in mosquito bites and leech marks - they advise us to spray a lot of deet, and despite it not seeming to have worked too well for them, we take them at their word!

After a 40 minute walk through some paddy fields and a double chicken sandwich for Michael and leftover vegetable one for Amy, we reach the forest kitchen where the local women prepare our meals while we're in the forest. We are also introduced to our petite guides, Pia and Sounang. We're shown how to put on our harnesses, split into 2 groups, and head off into the forest to find our treehouse.

Zipping itself is pretty easy, you clip your safety harness onto the wire, then clip your roller on as well, then just propel yourself off whatever you happen to be standing on - sloping ground, a specially built platform, or the edge of a treehouse. We absolutely love it! Our group consists of Niko & Rose from France, Lise & Robert from the Netherlands and Carla & Anthony from South Africa. Rose is somewhat afraid of heights, so over the 3 days we teach the guide some French, mostly featuring "Mon Dieu!" "Maman!" and "Allez, allez!" which is shouted by us all over the forest as we psych ourselves up for some of the bigger drops. The other catchphrase courtesy of Niko is "Greaaaaaaat" which can be uttered in a straight or sarcastic manner depending on the circumstances (e.g. "what are we doing now?" - "more zips!" - "Greaaaaaat" or "What's for lunch?" - "More rice!" - "Greaaaaaat.")

After climbing down a pretty big hill which we all look forward to coming back up, we come to our treehouse - which is quite simply AMAZING. It's 4 stories high in a tree that must be over 50 metres tall. The only way in & out is by zipwire, and it has it's own shower, solar powered lights and fresh drinking water. We are all in awe.

Our tea is delivered to us shortly after arriving, by a woman zipping in in her traditional Laos skirt which is pretty impressive. The meal consists of loads of fresh fruit, a huge amount of rice, and a variety of little vegetable dishes, some of which have meat in - or as Rose says in her gorgeous accent "little cat" and "little puppy" - just some of the animals we saw lurking by the forest kitchen earlier on. The food is delicious despite not knowing quite what it is. 

After a quick shower in a bathroom with quite possibly one of the best views in the world, we settle down for some cards and some interesting wine (we can't work out if those are grapes on the bottle or not... but it's good for your heart and contains a lot of calcium apparently) then we hit the sack early - we're on forest time now you know (as well as Laos time which is in a different universe anyway).

Although we have been told by previous participants that there are a lot of rats in the treehouses, we decide that the gnawing noises next to our heads as we try to sleep are clearly just some enthusiastic mice - and if they look a hell of a lot bigger than any mice we've ever seen before, it must just be because they live in a jungle. Earplugs in, and off to sleep.

We wake up early and zip out of the treehouse before 7am (before breakfast too, notes Amy), and after huffing our way up the hill, we are rewarded with spectacular views from the zipwires over the morning mists. Alas, no Gibbons are found but I imagine they probably heard the 8 of us 'quietly' walking and our gasps of amazement as we swoosh along the wires.

We head back to the treehouse for breakfast ("Rice!" - "Greaaaaaaaaaaat") then head off again on a tour through the various zipwires and the other treehouses. It becomes clear that ours is a lot newer and more luxurious than some of them and it turns out some people left a candle unattended and burnt our old one down a few years ago. Seeing as it takes us about 10 minutes to get our harnesses on and zip out, I can't imagine how scary it must have been trying to zip out of the treehouse in the dark as it was on fire! I bet they never play with candles again.

Also a feature of the tour are the discovery of what leeches look like. Amy is the first to spot two protuding through her sock and squeaks uselessly as Michael and the guide flick them off and drown them in deet. From then on, we all peer frequently at our feet - and even higher as we meet another dutch girl with blood all over her thigh - but Michael only discovers one as we get back home, with blood staining his sock and it refusing to stop bleeding for a couple of hours. We can't decide if we like leeches or rats (sorry, jungle mice) more.

Back in the treehouse and filled with lunch, then in quick succession tea (it was a long trek), we are disturbed by some crashing noises in the bushes - Gibbons! They lark about in the trees eating a lot and jumping around after each other. We think they're gibbons all night and most of the next morning when we see them again for a couple of hours, until we are informed by Carla (who has seen a lot of this in South Africa) that they're just boring old monkeys. We're still pretty impressed, and even more so when we are serenaded by about 8 gibbons on our final morning, sounding like a cross between a swanny whistle and an oldstyle radio being tuned. Despite not seeing any, we are a very happy bunch of campers.

We spend our final morning zipping around like pros, unbelievably high up, unbelievably fun, then repeat the journey in reverse, this time Amy enjoying the back of the 4WD as well, and avoiding getting stuck in any mud - impressive.

Back in Huay Xai, we grab a quick shower, then head for the night bus - not our first choice, but unfortunately the best option. 16 1/2 hours later, after near constant vomiting from the locals, dodging round cows sleeping in the road, an average speed of less than 20mph, a DIY job on keeping the bus door shut at 3am and Michael sleeping through it ALL, we are back in lovely, lovely Luang Prabang. We head straight to our accommodation for a well earned nap after all our hard work being waited on hand and foot in our amazing forest home.


Lots of love,

Amy and Michael.
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