Although I’m on a budget during this trip, I’ve promised myself that I will spend money when it’s needed and on experiences that come across that I am wild about. While researching things to do in Southeast Asia, I kept coming across The Gibbon Experience. This experience hit so many interest spots for me, not only do you get to zipline through the highest trees in Laos, sleep in a treehouse for the night and hike through the jungle but it allows me to give back and support the local economy. Anyone that is heading to Huay Xai is usually partaking in this amazing experience, even if it is a tad expensive for most backpackers. Unfortunately, the only spot I could reserve was the Express which consisted of 2 days 1 night instead of the Classic that I was hoping for which was 3 days 2 nights. I asked my friend if it was worth it for one night for the money and he suggested to take whatever you can get because this experience might be the highlight of your trip! With that in mind, I decided to move forward with only spending 1 night in the treetops and prepared my daypack that I would be hiking with, making sure it wasn’t too heavy and also had all the requirements to keep me warm at night but also cool during the day.
It was time to start our journey! Our group of 15 people set out in the pickup truck 2 hours towards the Bokeo Nature Reserve. When we stopped at a little village, we were given our zip lining harnesses, gloves, and a beer because who doesn’t want to hike before chugging a beer…when in Laos I will do as the Laotians do. Since I missed the safety video to grab breakfast that morning (obviously because since I have arrived in SE Asia all I can think about is my next meal) our guide D1 gave me a quick 2-minute rundown of what I needed to do to be safe and have a good time. After the beer settled in everyone’s stomachs, we started on a 1 1/2 hour hike straight up to get to our first zip line, thinking back it probably wasn’t a good idea to drink a full beer before trekking through the wilderness. During the hike up, I talked to the people in our group to start to get to know the people I would be sharing a treehouse with. We had 4 small groups and 2 tour guides – a family of 5 from France with the cutest little children, a solo traveler like myself, two girls who just graduated from high school from Holland and a group of 3 guys from Holland. Our 2 tour guides had been D1 and Cypon, probably the friendliest guides we could have hoped for with a great sense of humor.
Since I was the only American, the first two hours of hiking I stayed to myself and made sure I got the right footing so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself while hiking, since everyone knows I can be a bit clumsy. While I was keeping to myself the groups from Holland were speaking Dutch and the family from France was speaking French so it was a bit hard to start any conversations with anyone since I was not familiar with either of those languages. It made me realize that everyone that I have met on this journey from foreign countries speaks very good English as their second language and as an American, I only know one language and rely solely on everyone else to speak English to me. I realized then that I was being completely selfish. Hopefully Rosetta Stone can help me out when I get home. Finally, after trekking, sweating through all my clothes and eating a delicious egg and chicken sandwich for lunch, we arrived at our first major zip line, here was the moment of truth! I secured my line and my safety clip and took it slow on the first one to understand how the brakes work and how fast I could go zooming through the trees. It was absolutely EXHILARATING!! After the first one, I was hooked and could not wait to zip line 24 more times – bring it on, this is what life is made of! After I got comfortable, I started running and jumping into the air, zipping wildly through the treetops and a couple hundred feet through the air. Then I started to film myself so I could capture some memories from this amazing trip and after I filmed a couple good clips I started to sit back and relax to take it all in.
I remember one of the zip lines, I closed my eyes for the entire thing to take in the sounds around me and smell the natural air. While my eyes were closed I could only imagine the huge smile on my face that the birds and animals could see from miles away. During some of the zip lines I would just scream the entire time and try pinching myself because this cannot be real – but sure enough it was! The best zip line (video below) was the longest one that was 570 meters (1,800 feet) and below you could see the village workers (who were waving at us), a huge river and all the trees you could ever imagine.
After completing 10 zip lines, we had arrived at our treehouse where we would be staying that evening! It was gorgeous and we were all eager to zip into the house to out our daypacks down and eat some fresh fruit!
After claiming our beds (more like a yoga mat on the floor with a sheet and a mosquito net draped above it), we decided to go to the small village nearby where the guides and cooks live to play some Rattan Ball against the locals. This game consists of 3 people per team with a volleyball type net in the middle. The rules are simple, each team needs to have at least 3 touches before sending the handmade ball over the net using only their feet, thighs, shoulders, chest or head. I must admit, I was very good and scored 7 points by serving the ball, I think it might have to do with the 9 years of soccer I played. Out of 15 games, our group lost all of them but had a great time interacting with the guides and learning a new game, as well as some sweet karate moves (video below). The guides confided in us that they had not lost a game to tourists in over 6 years so that made us feel a bit better as we walked back to zip line to our treehouse for dinner.
After watching the sunset in the distance and sharing a small dinner in the treehouse (I wish someone would have told me to bring extra food because I was absolutely starving 20 minutes after dinner and knew I had to wait until the morning before eating again), we convinced Cypon to lead us on a night walk through the jungle and do some nighttime zip lining. The zip lines at night were incredible because we weren’t around a major city or lights, the starry night sky with the almost full moon was soaring above us – absolutely breathtaking once again. On our night walk we saw a couple large spiders and crickets, heard many birds and insects and the boys who were ahead of us saw and heard a couple wild pigs running down the trail…you could hear them scream for miles like little girls! Since we had an absolutely exhausting day, I was lights out within 15 seconds on my yoga mat and woke up to a huge bumble bee buzzing outside of my mosquito tent at 6am.
Luckily we were all wide-eyed and ready to start the morning activities by 6:30am. D1 and Cypon allowed us to do an additional 5 zip lines before we ate breakfast and packed our belongings up for the trek back down to the village. Nothing like the feeling of zip lining at 7am as the jungle is starting to wake up!! After waking our bodies up with the wind in our faces, we took a couple photos with D1 outside of the treehouse and set out on our way down to the village. Luckily we had another full day of zip lines ahead of up until we could go swimming in the nearby village. The second day concluded around 2pm when we reached the village, had a delicious last meal with the tour guides and headed back to Huoay Xai with a very bumpy road ahead of us.
While we were hiking between zip lines, D1 had told us he was attending a friend’s wedding that evening and was curious if anyone wanted to join in the festivities. Although I was planning on taking the 12-hour night bus to Luang Prabang that evening, I decided to push it back to the next day and attend my first ever Laos wedding!! Since we all agreed we would go to to the wedding together, we asked D1 for more details regarding this wedding (what to wear that would be appropriate, what to bring, `who the wedding was for, etc). We had 45 minutes to freshen up once we arrived back in town and head out to attend the wedding!!