Laos and the Gibbon Experience!

Trip Start Jun 17, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chiang Rai>Chiang Kong>Houay Xai, Laos
It has been a long time without updating the blog, but we have been out of civilization for many days and are now in a place that seems to have internet without intermittent power outages.  So, from Chiang Rai Thailand, we headed northeast to the border town of Chiang Kong.  We took a local bus which was amusing to say the least.  Dan could not fit in the seat, so his legs hung out in the narrow isle and the man in front of us literally used Dan's knee as an arm rest.  To no surprise, the road was full of pot holes.  Bumpiness aside, it was a gorgeous drive through the mountains. We went through many villages with rice fields stacking the slow increase in altitude.  After the bus picked up and dropped people off through out the ride, we eventually arrived in Chiang Kong so we could cross the river into Laos.  We got our passports stamped by Thai immigration for the equivalent to 20 cents and then took a very long and narrow boat across the Mekong River.  We put our back packs on this long canoe looking vessel and set out across the river (comparable to the Columbia Rver but larger and more turbulent).  We dodged floating logs and other boats and made it to Laos with our packs slightly wet.  We were now in Houay Xai, Laos.  This was a small and uncharming town...we did not see anyone smiling, but we had to stay there as we were leaving from there for the Gibbon Experience. That night, we went to an herbal sauna and got another massage.  The sauna was nice, it was about 90 degrees when we got out of the sauna, but it felt like jumping into a mountain river when we got out of the 130 degree sauna. After the massage therapist beat up Heidi, we ate and hit the sack early.
The Gibbon Experience~
We woke up early to meet our old trustworthy Landcruiser to take us into the Bokeo Wildlife reserve.  We drove for a couple of hours with 9 other people jammed into the truck.  We arrived at a river and the driver said the river was too high to cross in the truck so we would have to walk the rest of the way to the camp. It had been raining a lot lately so the river was high and there are no vehicle bridges in rural Laos.  We got across on a flimsy foot bridge and proceeded to walk.  We hiked through rice fields and up and down mountains on an extremely muddy road which the Landcruiser could do if it were to cross the river.  It rained the entire 7 hours that we trekked through the jungle.  We were drenched and muddy.  We arrived at a village in the middle of no where, it was the Hmong Hill Tribe.  There were cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, gardens and lots of little kids around.  Being too tired to take it all in, we headed straight up into the jungle dredging through slop.  We strapped on our harnesses and took our first zip line our tree house where we would stay for the night (see picture).  We were suspended 150 meters in the jungle.  It was truly an incredible feeling, not just being done with an exhausting hike, but to be in a tree house in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of Laos. We were literally in the middle of no where! 

The tree house had 3 stories, a mini kitchen/social/dining area.  Upstairs was a bed room. Down stairs was two bedrooms and a bathroom with running water that was drinkable through filters and a toilet which dropped to the jungle's floor.  When Heidi used the toilet, you could hear branches breaking below! It was all open air with basically a tent that covered your sleeping area. That night, the Hmong guides brought sticky rice and vegetables, pretty good too.  We stayed up until 10:00 pm and listened to the many mysterious noises of the Bokeo jungle. 

We awoke at 5:50 am to the sound of the Black Gibbons singing.  It sound like a siren slowly increasing in pitch. It was a beautiful sound.  Our Hmong guide was already at our tree house and asked Heidi and I if we wanted to go find the Gibbons.  It was very foggy, so we could not see them from far away and we had to follow there voices.  We put on our harnesses and zipped further into the jungle.  Our guide pursued to take us off trail through the thick, slick, and muddy terrain.  We were tracking the Gibbons.  We saw Gibbon poop on a piece of bamboo, so we knew we were close.  We came up empty handed and had to literally climb about 200 meters straight up the side of the jungle.  Our legs were usless because the ground was to slick and muddy, se we both literally pulled our selves up the mountain, hanging onto bamboo shoots and any other solid fixture.  The Gibbons had stopped howling and we were exhausted.

We ate fresh fruit for breakfast and waited for the fog to burn off and it did.  Our view was incredible, it was sunny and nice.  We set out for a day of zip lining across the jungle.  The lines were as high as 250 meters in the air and as long as 400 meters long.  As we zipped across the jungle, you could see for miles, mountain after mountain.  The adrenalin rush was incredible too!  You moved so fast across on the lines.  Dan took a video on the zip lines (Click on the picture in this blog with Dan's face on the picture, it is a video).  It was awesome.  We visited some other tree houses and headed back to ours.  There were 5 tree houses and 20 zip lines.  The Gibbon experience is a nature conservancy project aimed to protect the Gibbons and the forest. All of the proceeds go to pay for guards and buying tractors for the villages so they will stop slash burning. There is a lot of slash burning and poaching in this area.  We heard a few gun shots. We were not sure if it was poachers or guards scaring the poachers off.  The Hmong village actually had a very small bear cub they were attempting to raise because the mother had been poached.  The cub was very playful and liked to bite!  It like women and there boobs as you can imagine.  At our last night at the treehouse, we visited with our house mates who we eventually traveled with for a few days...two couples from Holland.  We enjoyed our differences and had many interesting conversations.

The next morning, the Gibbons started singing at 5:50 again on the dot.  This time it was much less foggy.  Our guides spotted branches moving across the canyon.  We saw the Gibbons!  There were a few of them jumping from branch to branch and one sitting on top of the tree.  We were looking down on them.  They were basically swinging on top of the jungle's canopy.  We enjoyed the short time we were able to see and hear them.  It was time to start heading back. Knowing that we had 7 hours of trekking through the mud, we were a bit depressed. We walked back down to the village where we hung out for a bit.  A fellow traveler was very ill, so we tried to ask if one of them had a horse she could ride out on....they did, but they did not want to walk back in and money was not a motivating factor.  We were scared this women would not make it. 

We walked for a few hours, taking many breaks for a sick compadre and along came the Landcruiser out of no where.  It felt like superman came to the rescue.  All ten of us and another villager piled in.  We were so impressed by driving skills and the power of this landcruiser. It went straight up the muddy steep road....we could not believe we made it through some of the terrain.  After about an our of mud bogging, we came to the river where we stopped at the bank.  We thought the driver would have us get out and we would take the foot bridge again, but then he began to role up his window and told us to close the windows in the back.  He started driving into this rushing river.  The water was up to the windows and was starting to seep in.  We made it across, but about 40 meters down stream and up the other river bank! We all cheered.  The moment was surreal. 

We stopped in a local village for noodle soup and a beer and headed back to Houay Xai, Laos for the night.  We ate really good Indian food and hit the hay early.  We were tired.  The next day we set off for a 2 day trip down the Mekong River to Louang Phabang, Laos.  There was a fast boat that goes the same route but were advised not to do it because of the multiple wrecks and deaths that occur on the boats due to floating debree and stronge twirling whirl pools.
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