Featuring zip lines, treehouses and gibbons
14.05.2012 - 16.05.2012 35 °C
One of the things I'd been most looking forward to on my travels was the Gibbon Experience in Laos, a jungle trek with a difference. The main features are the zip lines which span huge parts of the jungle and the tree houses where you stay. In addition this is a really worthwhile environmental project - before the Gibbon Experience was set up 7 years ago this jungle in Bokeo province was awash with illegal logging and poaching threatening the rare Gibbon monkeys and other wildlife. Unfortunately other parts of Laos are still troubled by these threats but at least here the former poachers and loggers are now earning more money in a sustainable way through eco tourism.
From Hauy Xai it was a 2 hour journey in the back of a pickup, the second half along the bumpiest dirt track I've ever experienced. In my group of 8 were Kiwi Mark, the 4 Kiwi girls from yesterdays bus ride, Anna, Jerri, Sophie and Nicola, plus Duncan and Faye, a couple from London who are on their honeymoon. Turns out they both work in TV back in UK, honestly you're in the jungle on the other side of the world and still can't get away from work! It was a really good group and everyone got along fantastically which was good seen as we'd spend every minute of the next 3 days and 2 nights together.
We set off trekking from the local village (about 10 bamboo huts) to the first stop, small waterfall for swimming, with a zip line straight into the middle of the water. Great for freshening up after the trek but just a prelude to the main thing. We were given our harnesses and a very short safety briefing by our guide Nou. He then zipped away on the first line and left us to follow him. Nervously double checking harnesses and carabiners were attached each of us set off. From where you set off you can only see about 50 meters of the zip line before it is obscured by trees. As you zip along building up speed and emerge from the canopy a huge valley opens up below you, the tree tops disappear further and further beneath you and you feel like you are flying above the jungle. I don't think words can really do justice to how amazing the experience is so I have some awsome video to help demonstrate, unfortunately I can't upload them here so you'll have to look at someone elses videos on youtube (http://youtu.be/szaCflf2kFA).
The tree house for our first night was equally impressive, built into the top of a 200ft high tree and only accessible by zip line it was an amazing place to spend the night.
The only slight downer was the leaches which we discovered as we took our boot off. I'd never seen a leach in real life before, they are kind of like little worms which grab onto you as you walk past then start sucking your blood and getting bigger and bigger the fuller they get. I thought I'd been well covered up but obviously not well enough, luckily it doesn't hurt at all, but the bleeding does continue for some time after you pull/burn them off.
The second day involved a 4 hour trek from tree house 4 (the furthest away of all the tree houses) back to number 5 for lunch. A couple of hours rest here were interrupted by some sudden and huge gusts of wind which made the tree house sway violently way up in the jungle canopy. Luckily it didn't last long and we moved on to the spectacular four storey tree house 1 which was to be our home for the second night. The long and arduous walks, the sweat, insects, leaches, the heights etc would probably put a lot of people off doing this but honestly it just makes the experience all the more worthwhile, it feels like such a sense of achievement after getting through it and it makes the zip lining so much more rewarding.
The second night was all going so well at first. The luxurious tree house was complete with dining table which we all sat around for dinner which was zipped in by Nou from a nearby kitchen hut. We drank local Lao wine and ate Lao sweets. As it goes dark so early we started retiring to bed at about 21:00. The mosquito nets cover two mattresses so I was sharing with Mark. He was the first to bed as the rest of us where still downstairs, suddenly he let out a horrible cry which made everyone sit up. Then came more blood curdling moans from him, we all called up asking what it was, maybe a huge spider, another leach? Just at that moment with perfect horror movie timing the solar power supplying the lights in the tree house ran out leaving us in total darkness (literally the darkest darkness I've ever experienced, so dark you can't even see your hand in front of your face). Several horrible moments passed as torches were switched on to reveal that the cause of Marks cries where rats in our bed, and not just that, they had pissed and pooed all over the sheets and pillows.
You probably gathered from my previous blog that I'm not a big fan of spiders, but rats running around as you sleep are 10 times worse for me. With no chance of sleeping in our bed which potentially still had rats inside, myself and Mark had to share with the girls. Under the thick mosquito nets with three people in close proximity the heat was almost unbearable, but at least no rats got in.
The final morning after a horribly sleepless night we were up at 05:00 to try and catch a sight of a gibbon. They start signing at about 05:30 and it only lasts for 20 minutes and this is the only time you might catch a glimpse, the singing is more like an alarm echoing through the trees and its quite incredible to hear. So we zipped out of the tree house, ran up an almighty hill, my heart beating like a bass drum from the exertion so early in the morning, but with the signing of the gibbons getting louder all the time to spare us on. We saw branches sway and a flicker of blackness through a distant tree and then the gibbons were gone. Still, just that fleeting glimpse of such a rare animal in its natural environment was amazing to experience.
More zip lining followed before the walk back to the village where we were greeted by the local children. The Gibbon Experience certainly lived up to the hype and is going down as one of the greatest experiences of my life so far.