Swing freely like Jane and Tarzan between the treetops of an old growth rainforest and stay in rustic treehouses. Participate in a harmonious balance between tourism and conservation by helping to preserve the natural habitat the precious Gibbon. And, get served freshly cooked local Laotian food high above the forest floor watching the sunset through the jungle canopy. If all this appeals to your senses, then you’ve landed in the right place.
We’ve had our fair share of adventures and the Gibbon Experience has to be one of the most overall thrilling, adventurous and feel-good experiences we’ve had the pleasure of stumbling upon. But let’s back up a bit as I feel a few burning questions require some answers.
What is the Gibbon Experience?
Well firstly, a Gibbon is one of the smallest members of the ape family. So, for the uninitiated, the Gibbon Experience could be confused with a nature spotting tour. In actual fact, it is the very opposite.
The entire Gibbon Experience is designed so that you don’t actually come into contact with the precious habitat of the apes. Instead, you mimic the movements of a primate by spending three days and two nights on probably the most ambitious and audacious zip-line experience in the world. Your patronage, in turn, supports the local village so that they need not clear the rainforest to make way for further farming. A harmony where apes, locals and adventure tourism can co-exist. Yay for that!
Where is the Gibbon Experience?
The Gibbon Experience is located in the northern jungles of Laos. Accessible from the small town of Huay Xai on the Mekong River bordering with Thailand. Most access Huay Xai from Chiang Mai although we took a 10 seater plane from the Laotian capital of Vientiane. After leaving our main luggage in the Gibbon Experience office in Huay Xai only a daypack with bare essentials is required for the two-night jaunt to the forest.
How do I get to the start of the Gibbon Experience?
After a 3-hour drive in the back of a pick-up truck and 10km of rough four-wheel-driving at the end, you arrive in a village at the edge of the Nam Kan National Park. From here a small shop sells bare essentials while pigs run with dogs, donkeys and chickens through a dusty town.
You split into a few small groups of about 8 people and a guide. These are the only people you will encounter for the next three days. The hike passes through farmland at first continuing for a few hours towards the rainforest and scaling some steep climbs through thick bamboo. This hot and sweaty work is rewarded by the arrival at a relieving waterhole.
Where do the Zip-lines start from?
After a refreshing swim, it is here you are handed your personal harness and attached quick release pulley. These are yours for the duration of your stay. The trail then comes to an abrupt end at a wooden platform looking over a deep ravine. The only way across, to attach your pulley to the zip-line and cast yourself off into the open void!
Travelling by zip-line is such an effortless task. The dense jungle passes beneath as you sail over the top with a cool breeze and a birds-eye view of the jungle. The simplicity of a tight cable and a well-greased pulley attached to a harness creates such an efficient and purposeful method of jungle travel. After your first zip-line in this jungle, your only trouble will be hiding the very wide smile on your face!
What about the treehouses?
After successive zip-lines, one final zip line will lead to a tall standalone tree with a large two-level open cabin made with rough sawn timber built into the main fork of the tree. Now if you are scared of heights you will need to be brave as the treehouse is more than 100m off the forest floor. The railings are also pretty ramshackle and not built to any sort of code. It’s no surprise that the no alcohol policy is in place for good reason!
The treehouses contained the essentials for staying the night. There was a low table with stools for communal dining. Beds were scattered about with curtains to close for privacy. A low railing ran all around and the toilet was in the most exposed corner of the treehouse, but what a view from the loo! Living in the canopy you can witness the treetop ecosystem at work which is mesmerising to watch from the comfort of your bed.
Is there time for endless zip-lining?
Yes! As tempting as it was to kick back and relax, there were so many zip-lines in close proximity which were connected in a circuit. So the 8 of us took to the zip-lines with purpose and soon, whenever we looked out to the valley, all we saw were bodies zooming through the air over the canyon. The all too familiar zinging sound of pulleys running on cables echoed through the canyons.
What is the food like?
Dinner is brought in by zip-line of course. The guide ferries in pots of hot water, rice and some great Laotian cuisines of curry and vegetables stacked in stainless steel pots. These are cooked in small huts strategically placed to service each of seven treehouses on the circuit. The food is fresh, flavoursome and more than we could eat. The sticky rice
At night the jungle comes alive. All manner of insects, reptiles and birds made themselves known in their own peculiar way. We heard one particular deep throaty howl which we were told was the Gibbon. It’s kind of soothing to hear all the animals including the Gibbon going about their lives while you spend a night experiencing their existence as much as possible.
What are the beds like?
Beds are made of thick and comfortable foam mats set against the thin wooden railing running the perimeter of the treehouse. Quite a view to wake up to although and not a place for someone known for sleepwalking! On each of the two nights, you will experience a different treehouse made in unique configurations to fit the formation of the tree. Our second treehouse was 3 levels each with its own zip-line entry and exit!
Living Life in the Trees
Very soon you begin to take zip-lining for granted. There are a number of ways to travel, backwards, upside down, spread eagle, you name it. Braking is also
It is difficult to gauge the calming effect the jungle life has on you, even after just 2 days. For me, being normally a light sleeper, I woke one morning to an animated discussion about a massive thunderstorm in the middle of the night. I had slept through the entire thing. Seems life as a Gibbon living in the trees was agreeing with me.
How to have the Ultimate Gibbon Experience
- Visit the Gibbon Experience website to book your trip in advance
- We recommend choosing the 3-day/2 nights ‘Classic tour‘
- Stay in Huay Xai (Houay Xai) the night before your trip as you need to leave early the next morning.
- Recommend staying at the Riverside Hotel. It is well-priced and right on the Mekong river with plenty of restaurant options nearby. It’s a short tuk-tuk ride from here to the Gibbon Experience offices.
- Take minimal stuff, you’ll need to zip-line with whatever you are carrying! Food and drink
issupplied, you might want to take your own snacks. A pack of cards is a good idea for night time entertainment.