The Gibbon Experience - Laos

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
Trip End May 25, 2009

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

After one of the worst bus rides I have EVER had, Tom and I arrived in Huay Xai and headed straight to the Gibbon Experience office.  The Gibbon Experience is a conservation project set up by a French man for the people of Laos.  It is in the Bokeo province of northern Laos, and consists of a number of zip lines that run through the forest, and tree houses for guests to stay in, so you can fly through the trees just like the gibbons that live there :)  It's not cheap, but the money goes towards conserving the forest, encouraging local people not to take up slash and burn and lose the forest forever.

We had booked our place and made a payment with Paypal... but I'm having absolutely NOT luck with banking at the moment, and Paypal froze the account and the payment didn't go through... Once again, Mike stepped in and paid for us so that we wouldn't miss out, but it was a very tense and stressful few hours trying to sort it all out...

We stayed the night in Huay Xai and then got up early to set off on the trip.  It was a bumpy three hour truck ride into the countryside, but finally the truck pulled up in a small village where we met our guide.  He took us on a one hour trek into the forest where we picked up our harnesses and made our way to our tree house.

Tom and I stayed in Treehouse 1 with five girls - four Aussies and a girl from Belgium.  Our treehouse was split into three levels - the landing level was the living/dining room/kitchen, then on the next floor down space for five to sleep and the bathroom, and on the next floor up space for two to sleep.  Tom and I took the upstairs room :)  When we arrived we pretty much dumped our stuff and our guide, Du, took us out for some zipping.

The only way I can describe it, is that it felt like flying through the canopy.  It was a bit scary at first because you're very, very high - about 100m, whizzing over and amongst the tree tops, but we all soon got really confident and started zipping with no hands.  The landscape was unbelievable - just acres and acres of hilly forest stretching out in front of us.  At one point I forgot where I was and turned to look at the scenery and managed to catch my forehead on the zip line, which has left a bit of a friction burn mark... that stung a bit, but wasn't anything too serious :)  We went over to Treehouse 3 to say hello to the Swedish boys in there and say hello, and they had already had a deadly poisonous tree snake in a tree by their treehouse.  They told a guide and he got a stick - the boys thought he was just going to move it, but he ended up hitting it with the stick and killing it... which we were all a bit upset about, but apparently it was seriously poisonous, and I guess they thought it was better that the snake die than one of their tourists... poor snake...

At the end of the first day the guides brought us some dinner to our treehouse and we sat around playing cards... to make it more interesting we decided that the loser of the game had to night zip (which is against the rules... naughty!) to the path and come back.... naked... One of the Aussie girls lost that game, and she was a really good sport... we let her keep her knickers on though and Tom and I went to the other side first with torches so she could get back quickly... Lucky Tom, eh?!? haha...

The next day we got up early to try and spot some gibbons, as they are most active at dawn and dusk... but I think our group was a bit too loud because we didn't see or hear anything.  We went for a good long hike that day too and got lots of zipping in.  Tom and I went off on our own to have a look around and while I was taking photos in the jungle, I heard something falling from the trees.  I very quietly went over and looked up to where bark and seeds were falling from a tree and saw something moving high up in the branches.  It slowly made its way down part of the trunk and was stripping bark from the tree, moving further and further down, and I took the best picture I could manage, but it wasn't very clear (as you can see!).  Just then Tom called out to me, as he was worried I'd hurt myself or something, and the creature in the tree bolted up the branches and into a neighbouring tree.  I can't say for sure that it was a gibbon, but I'd really like to think it was :)

Tom, Carline (the Belgian girl) and I spent a lot more time then, zipping around, and Tom found an insect with amazing camouflage - its body, legs and head, in fact all of it, looked just liked leaves... he spotted it making its way to a tree near the end of one of the zip lines, it was so cool!!

We spent the second evening much the same as the first, only without the naked night-zipping and Tom and I got up very early the next day to go zipping on our own and try to see some gibbons.  We heard them singing and saw some movement in the trees, but we didn't manage to see anything very clearly, which is a real shame... but apparently it's a bit too cold for them to "sing" so it's harder to find them.  We spent the rest of the morning zipping around together - Tom would attach his harness behind mine and then wrap his legs around me - then we shot off together over the trees - it was really nice to do it together!

When it came time to leave we trekked back through the jungle and got on the truck to take us back to Huay Xai where we met back up with Mike to cross the border into Thailand... more on that in the next blog!!

Just a little side line about Laos, as this is the last entry I'll make about it... we had such an amazing time in Laos and it is definitely my favourite country so far... it's mostly unspoilt and the people are so warm and friendly.  I always felt safe there.  We did so many amazing things in Laos, from Don Det to riding our mopeds through the southern swing, then tubing to celebrate new years relaxing in Luang Prabang and wrapping it up with the Gibbon Trail - one of the best things I've ever done!  If you're reading this and you're heading to Laos, make sure you plan enough time there, because if you're anything like me, you won't want to leave :)

Check out Tom's blog for a different perspective, and
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