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Gibbon Experience

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For our last hurrah in Laos, we had kept hearing a lot of great things about the Gibbon Experience program. The "experience" is located in western Laos within the Bokeo Primary Forest Reserve. The program was set up by a westerner trying to encourage the preservation of the forests in Laos by getting the villages involved in making a profit through eco-tourism rather than logging. The forest is also home to many families of gibbons and other wildlife. Gibbons are the smallest of all the apes, are the least protected and researched financially, and are the most endangered. The premise of the experience involves zip-lining through the canopy of untouched forest to treehouses where you sleep. The nice thing about it (other than being a really unique idea) is that they limit the number of people and only have 4 treehouses to minimize the impact of the tourism.

We started our "experience" by leaving Luang Nam Tha and heading south on the "new highway". We had heard the road was to be completed in 2006, but considering that 200 out of the 220 miles is still under construction, I don't think they're going to make their goal. Needless to say, we got to spend about 6 hours in the back of a dusty truck to get to the tiny village of Ban Don Chai where we were being picked up the next day.

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The "new highway".

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Typical Laos transportation.

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This is the village of Ban Don Chai, this is about all there was to see.

The following morning we were picked up and whisked away for a hour drive into the surrounding forest to a village where we would begin trekking to the Gibbon Experience's base point. We hiked about an hour to a small base camp where we began the zip-lining. On our way up we passed a few people ending their experience and one of the guys said to us, "you're in for an experience". At the time we were not sure how to take that comment, but after three days with the Gibbon crew, I think we understand what he meant.

I'll spoil the ending now, just in case anyone is reading this blog who may be considering signing up for the "Experience" (if you don't plan on going to Laos and are not considering the Gibbon Experience, skip to the next paragraph). The Gibbon Experience is a great concept, with the zip-lines and tree houses, the forest at night sleeping high above the ground, and the project's goal to show the locals that they can make a good living by protecting the forest and not logging, poaching, etc. And apparently the concept is working as the forest people now carry full wallets to the markets and not bears, gibbons, and other such protected animals that carry a high price tag. However, the program is only about a year old and it shows a bit. For what it costs, a small fortune in Laos kip, the organization of the experience is very weak. We would suggest to anyone going on the Experience to check your accommodation over before your guide leaves, as one night there was only one small candle provided for us (lasting all of 20 minutes or so) and no towels were provided as promised in the brochure. Additionally, if you opt for the waterfall (hiking) option, make sure your guides understand what you want to get out of the hike. We felt quite rushed during the hikes and did not see a reason for the rush.

The main treehouse is the most spectacular, a tri-level structure built high up in the branches of an amazing banyan tree.

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Looking down.

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The view of the forest from Treehouse 1.

After that, the next zip-lines were wonderfully long and glided you through gorgeous canopy and stretches of open space over looking the region. Just spectacular.

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Leaving Treehouse1.

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View while zipping over the trees.

We opted for a route around the reserve that would include a night at a treehouse that overlooked a waterfall. However, this option also involved more hiking, but we figured it would be worth it. And as our first night's accommodation did not have water to rinse with, the waterfall proved to be very refreshing on the second night. The first night I (Justin) woke to thunder and lightning in the distance and a slight breeze kicking up. Remembering the safety instructions that read, "If wind, leave the treehouse", I thought, what constitutes "wind". And where do we leave to, we are an hours hike from the next treehouse and about another 1/2 hour of zip-lines from anywhere where there was a shelter on the ground. So, with no one to tell me that the swaying of the tree you are feeling is caused by the "wind" mentioned in the safety instructions, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep a bit. The storm never made it to us and in the morning we were woken by the gibbons singing in the distance. Their high-pitched song sounded like sirens and went on for quite a while.

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Sunset from Treehouse3.

The second day we hiked along a river for a couple of hours to a tree that hovered over the surrounding forest and waterfall like it was planted their for the sole purpose of sleeping in. As we zipped to the tree house the sound of the waterfall below got louder and louder. In the tree house, the view was spectacular as we were the highest thing around. After a brief tour of our accommodation we zipped back down to the ground and headed to the waterfall for a swim and wash. Of course the water was cold and of course Justin swam alone, but again, he needed a good washing.

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Our guides preparing dinner.

That evening we watched the sunset from our tree house and ate a great dinner cooked by our guides, who stayed in a hut on the ground not far from the base of our tree. The tree house had no facility so any bathroom trips involved putting a harness on and zipping to the ground.

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Our hike back to the village the following morning took us through some gorgeous bamboo forests. At times we felt like we were underneath a giant game of pick-up sticks.

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That evening (after another flat tire) we got dropped off in Houay Xai, the Laos border town where we would cross the Mekong the following day and enter Thailand. We were pleasantly surprised by the town and had a nice evening and morning before we said goodbye to Laos, until next time...

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Last Laos sunset.

Posted by rebmamber 06:23 Archived in Laos

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Comments

Ok, just a minute, I have to give your mother mouth to mouth after she fainted. What a wonderful experience!

13.04.2006 by sbj

did you have a Laosy time there?

i bet justin peed off the treehouse a few times instead of zipkicking down the line

13.04.2006 by zaneycm

Okay Amber, you know i love you and i know that you don't sweat and all... but how many days can one be zip lining through the forset w/o washing up? Well this entry shows me that Jeff and I are not meant to be there... I would have had to zip line down 5 times a night just to pee... amazing pictures (pick up sticks especially) Love you guys!

13.04.2006 by alexia82

Did you actually see any gibbons? I only noticed one photo where I could barely make out the little rascals climbing around in a tree. When you squint your eyes and look real close they look like Xeng "mini-me's". Maybe I need new glasses.

13.04.2006 by JoeW

Those Gibbons look alot like children to me. That may not be the vacation of my dreams....seeing that I am not fond of heights and have to go to the bathroom atleast once a night!! Have fun & see you soon.

13.04.2006 by Fishbone

Fantastic! Magnificent,terrific , tremendous,
marvelous,fabulous,remarkable, superfine...
cooooool !

13.04.2006 by UBe

Wow! You two are really doing it all! What an adventure! I'll wait until the tree houses have a flush toilet and a sink. Do you think that will be next year? Where are you off to next? I hope you are planning another lavish night at a resort hotel before you get on a plane unwashed! Love to you both, Linda and Tom

13.04.2006 by ringwoot

Okay, in rebuttal to your father's comment above: My first comment after reading the blog was, "I want to do a zipline in the treetops! And sleep in a treehouse." (Would need a potty however.) Costa Rica here I come.

Love, Mom

13.04.2006 by sbj

Thanks for all the comments! To answer a few questions previously raised, yes, we are coming home, in about 2 weeks, in fact. We will be washing properly before returning home at another fancy Sheraton (thanks Dad!) - and in my defense, I only went 2 nights without washing, is that so bad??? Yes, Justin may have engineered a more efficient way of relieving himself. And lastly, we really look forward to seeing some familiar faces when we return (and not eating rice!)

13.04.2006 by rebmamber

in order to understand one extreme, wholly indulge in the other...or maybe not...but anyway, in order to complete the 'experiment', a&j could move to a small town in kansas, live there for a time while absorbing the hog-tied, unbounded 'culture.'

p.s. yes, im at work and this is what they pay me for.

14.04.2006 by flowwithme

This is awesome...
Guys, we can't wait to see you.
Michael & Pinar.

15.04.2006 by mharris

This is so great! I love the picture of the sunlight streaming through the forest. Looks like something out of Tolken. Can't wait to see the photos you will bring home!
How come Amber's hair is getting longer, but Justin's is only growing on his face? Is that a Dainish thing?
Love & hugs,
Bonnie

16.04.2006 by Bonnie McG

this reminds me of calvinos 'baron in the trees'
. two weeks - man. how bouts some notice on chicago - still on?

16.04.2006 by iwannafly

i just wanted to say hi, and you will enjoy all the familiar comforts upon your arrival back in the states including my oderiferous b-hind!

16.04.2006 by champkong

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