Today we were off to The Gibbon Experience. It was a fair distance from Huay Xai so we had about a 3 hour ute drive to get us deep in the jungle. We got really lucky and snatched up the two seats in the cabin of the ute with the driver. The roads around this area are just dirt and everyone else sitting in the back of the ute was copping an epic dust storm while we chilled in the air-con .
About 2 and a half hours into our journey the car began filling with acrid smoke – something was burning! Our driver pulled over and opened the bonnet to find multiple melting electrical cables cooking on the hot engine. Before we knew it our hike had begun early as we walked the rest of the way to the starting point of the trek.
After our walk along the snaking roads deeper into the jungle we found ourselves arriving at a small village. Young children laughed and ran around staring at us sweaty foreigners as we made our way down to a small river, the official starting point for the trek to reach The Gibbon Experience.
^^ Glad we remembered the insect repellent!
We were greeted with the puzzled looks from the car load of people who left 2 minutes before us back in Huay Xai, and their theories of our ute plummeting off a cliff were replaced with a boring broken down car.
After a quick drink the real trek began, it is a two hour trek up the forest covered mountain before we reach The Gibbon Experience base camp. The first 40 minutes was easy-peasy, only a slight incline and a few small streams to cross. The next 1hr 20min was fairly intense. Everyone stopped talking as it got steeper and all you could hear was the laboured breathing and insects laughing at us; although this didn’t stop the guy in front of me needing a cigarette to help catch his breath haha.
At the base camp we were given the safety briefing and told that our group of 14 would be breaking up into 3 groups, each with a different tree house. The first tree house slept 8 people, the second 4 people, and the last one 2 people. No one wanted to volunteer for the tree house with just 2 people, as the thought of meeting new people and sharing the adventure was far more appealing than being cooped up with one other person. So we drew cards. Kirby and I ended up in the tree house of 4 people, which we were happy with. Our two friends for the next 3 days were Frank; a German expat who now calls Chile home, and Nynke; a Dutch girl travelling through S.E.A like us.
It took another hour and a half to get to our tree house, although this walk was unlike any other. We had to cross multiple mountain valleys, what is the best way to cross mountain valleys I hear you ask? Well the answer is by zip line. When you first hook yourself up to the zip line you are still standing in the thick jungle. After launching yourself from the platform you fly through the dense rainforest between giant hundred year old trees, and then all of a sudden you are thrust out into the open air. The mountain forest is left behind you as you float over a deep valley a couple hundred metres below. The zip lines themselves are around 300m-500m long so you are travelling along it for a couple of minutes. Although all too soon you find yourself approaching the next mountain and you dive headfirst back into the jungle, and wallah you have travelled from one mountain to another!
When we finally arrived at our tree house (via zip line of course) it was much more than we expected. It had two double mattresses, a sink/kitchen area, and a bathroom with toilet and shower, not to mention a 360 degree view above the forest canopy, truly breathtaking!
We had a massive dinner feast waiting for us as well, it was much needed after all the exercise and excitement we had today. Did I mention a bottle of wine as well! That afternoon we just sat around sipping our wine watching the sun set below the deep green forest, listening to the forest animals perform their evening orchestra.
^^ Kirby zipping into the tree house
^^ Kirby in the tree house
^^ This is going to be the standard entry method when I build a house
^^ If you look on the left hand side you can see the tree house fly past as we zip away
^^ This video shows our tree house layout!
Later that night Kirby and Nynke got out of bed and watched a huge lightning storm far away on the horizon float past.
^^ The moon
^^ This was in the middle of the night - lightning made it seem like day!
Some time during the middle of the night we were all awoken by the loud cracking and foliage rustling of a tree falling. It sounded really close and the fact that we were sleeping in a tree made the adrenaline pump. It seemed like forever that this tree was moaning and falling as we all lay wide eyed and frozen in our beds. Then a big shake rocked our tree! I dunno about everyone else but I nearly shit myself, so scary haha! A big tree had just fallen over and hit the tree that we were sleeping in. Our tree was the tallest one in the surrounding forest and the tree house was right at the top so we were in no danger of getting hit by branches, but it was still scary. I’m just glad our tree was healthy and decided not to ‘domino effect’. Although with the huge amount of support lines anchored deep in the ground I don’t think our tree can move much even if it was broken.
The next day began with our guide Buongpeng gliding in at 5:30am with our breakfast. After we ate we sat silently listening for the wild gibbons that give The Gibbon Experience its name. We heard them calling in the distance as the sun rose, but unfortunately they were too far away for us to go and see if we could see them. Maybe tomorrow morning we will have more luck.
^^ You can hear the gibbons singing! They sound like they are having a massive laser gun battle
^^ Near the end of the video you can see me zip past in the other direction.
^^ Early morning
^^ The mist rolling through the valley below
All morning Buongpeng took us trekking through the jungle and to see some of the other larger tree houses, currently there is one under constructing that will sleep 10 people! If you have skills in carpentry you can volunteer to help build the new tree houses, a good way to experience this awesome adventure if you have no money.
^^ Kirby zipping away!
^^ Doing the crazy zip!
^^ Don't step on the ants!
^^ Look out for leeches!! This one called my hand home for a few hours.
After lunch we had free time to do whatever we wanted. Needless to say we zip lined HEAPS! We glided through the jungle for like 5 hours, until our bums couldn’t handle any more harness and we were starving for dinner.
^^ View from our tree house
^^ Another view from our tree house
^^ Dinner, doesn't look that great, but tasted wonderful!
That night we had some fruit cocktails that Kirby expertly created with our fresh fruit and my water bottle full of contraband vodka. We played cards with Frank and Nynke and had a great evening chatting about our different travels around the world. I’ve gotta say that travelling is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m really glad we decided to forego settling down and getting a 30 year mortgage as the experience is definitely lifelong and worth so much more than any asset.
The next morning we were woken once again by the smiling face of Buonpeng gliding to our house. This was our last chance to see the gibbons so we were all a bit nervous and hoping they would be close enough for us to try and trek out to catch a glimpse. Although when you look out and see the jungle stretch as far as you can see, you know chances are slim.
It was 6:30am and we hadn’t even heard a single call, and considering they normally start calling around 6:00am our hopes of seeing a Gibbon were pretty much gone.
As we were having breakfast with the big group in tree house 7 we had to leave and head over to their tree house, about 30 minutes walk/gliding away.
Just as we were almost at their tree house we heard a loud ‘whoop’, followed by another and another. GIBBONS!! and they were really close to tree house 7. We ran down the small tracks and made it up into the tree house just as the gibbons arrived!
About 30m-50m away were a small group of 5 gibbons playing in the trees and feasting on the flowers. There were 2 black juveniles chasing each other around, launching themselves from tree to tree effortlessly, while their golden coloured mother watched. It was really wonderful to see these wild creatures doing their daily routine so close, and paying us no attention to us. Tree house number 7 also has a telescope so we were able to zoom right in and see their facial expressions as they rested between plays. Soooo goood!
^^ There are gibbons in there, we could see them much better with our eyes, unfortunately the camera couldn't capture them as well. (Little black gibbon right in the middle of the photo!)
^^ Two black gibbons sitting in the tree with the orange leaves
The gibbons hung around for about an hour before leaving and that marked time for us to leave as well. We trekked back down to the base camp and said goodbye to our guides that had been ridiculously helpful and kind to us for the last 3 days.
Then it was back to the village (only took us 30 minutes, compared to 2 hours on the way up) where the utes (now repaired) were waiting to take us back to Huay Xai. The next day we took the night bus back to Luang Prabang.
As you can see The Gibbon Experience was awesome!! By far the best thing we have done all trip so far. It cost $290 AUD per person for the three days, and at first we were hesitant and unsure if we should do it. We have met a few people who decided not to do it because it was a bit of a budget blow out but I can tell you now that it is worth every dollar and I would do it again in a heartbeat and recommend anyone who goes to Laos to check this out.
You can contact The Gibbon Experience through their website: www.gibbonexperience.org