I had been dreaming of the day we went to the Gibbon Experience for months and months. It is a child’s dream come true and the perfect balance between adventure and nature. Brad and I did the ‘Classic’ option and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
The Gibbon Experience is an eco-tourism company that takes you into the Nam Ha National Park for an adventure. They have built a handful of treehouses in the forest, way up in the canopy, on some of the tallest trees around. Then, as if that isn’t enough, they built a ‘zero gravity’ system of zip lines for you to get around. You literally zip line into your treehouse!
The company works with the protective agencies to ensure the park is receiving money for numerous projects. They contribute towards patrols (to stop illegal logging), planting of new trees, assisting villages that live in and on the outskirts of the park and so on. The company also employs around 300 Laotians and supports the economy of the whole Houy Xai Town. So, whilst this is on the pricier side, we could rest easy knowing the money is distributed properly.
After a rather long (2 hour) songtheaw ride to a village within the national park it was time to hike into the jungle. The hike was around 1 hour to reach the start of the zip lines at which point we were split into our treehouse groups and allocated 2 guides. Our group of 5 people were given treehouse number 4 and were led by the fantastic guide Thongchan.
Dipping our toes into the zip lining, we practiced on a small 20 metre line. Before long we would be flying across 400+ metres of zip line high above the canopy!
The hike through the jungle to our treehouse was tiring. These people are not magicians and gravity still exists in the forest. In order to zip line into a treehouse, you must climb! So for the next 40 minutes we trekked mostly uphill. Every now and then we would cross the valley via a humungous zip line and witness the vastness of the forest we’re going to be sleeping in. Eventually making it to our humble abode.
Our treehouse was magical. Two storeys, with 360 degree views across the forest. In fact, our treehouse was the only one with a direct view of the sunset, which was insane. The open-walled bathroom with panoramic views was equally amazing. The toilet was a squat toilet, but soon forgiven when you step into the shower and find yourself under ice-cold, fresh mountain water with probably the best view you’ll ever get whilst having a shower. Especially in the morning with the golden orange tones of the sun shining on you, this shower was ace.
On top floor we each had a mattress (2 doubles and a single) with a mosquito net and a nice thick blanket. A small table with a pack of cards on and chairs was also provided! Everything you could possibly need when sleeping in a 40 foot high treehouse.
That night it became perfectly clear why you don’t leave the treehouses after dark. We had been hearing all sorts of noises all night, we are in the forest after all. But at around 11pm we heard something a little different. A very distinct snapping and crunching noise was heard below our treehouse, presumably on the forest floor. The forest is full of bamboo and the noise sounded suspiciously like the breaking of bamboo and then an animal biting into it. It was seriously eerie! We know that bears inhabit the forest, so maybe…
Thongchan settled us in wonderfully with some snacks and a much needed coffee. Then after a little socialising both our guides left us to it. They ziplined out of the treehouse with only the rule to never leave the treehouse after dark.
That night I slept pretty bad. The crunching continued until dawn and we had a family of rats living in the roof. But even worse than that there were tons of ginormous spiders on the roof, right above our heads. I didn’t dare to look or I definitely wouldn’t have slept but everyone had quite a good laugh freaking me out about them.
We woke up before sunrise so that we could be awake to see the forest at first light. We hoped and prayed we would spot gibbons. Unfortunately our wildlife luck didn’t follow us into the jungle and we didn’t see any apes. We did hear them though! Loud and clear the gibbons were calling out across the forest. To hear that during an already surreal shower is incredible.
We spent the day hiking around The Gibbon Experience trails and going on as many zip lines as possible. The views when you look out across the valley, mid-line, are insane. But to be honest just zip-lining at whatever stupid speed we were flying at was a rush. We had so much fun. We were even joined by a little macaque at one point. Not wild, a rescued baby that was brought to the jungle to be free. Apparently the monkey enjoys the attention of the guides too much to leave them at the moment but I’m sure as he gets older he will find some other monkey friends.
For HD please select 1080p from the setting button on the bottom right hand side.
By the time the sun was on its way down we were all exhausted. The constant uphill trekking and zip-lining, and trekking and zip-lining and so on, it really zaps your energy. Especially when it’s over 30 degrees! We spent the evening in our treehouse talking with Thongchan about his rise from 15,000 kip a month (£1.50) to working for The Gibbon Experience. It was fascinating and reinforced our decision to come on the trip. He shared his stories over some homemade Lao Lao, a rice-based whiskey and then left us, the rats and the spiders to sleep.
Nooooo… We were so sad to be leaving. Managing to squeeze in one last shower and enjoy our final meal in the treehouse, we said our farewells. We hiked back to the village, then jumped in the songtheaw to Huay Xai.
The 5 of us from treehouse 4 then decided to stick together for the next 2 weeks travelling through Laos (more blogs to come).
Honestly, The Gibbon Experience was like a dream. All like-minded people, enjoying nature in the most adventurous way. Flying over the trees like… gibbons. Eating some super tasty Laotian food. Watching the sun set over untouched forest. I don’t have one bad thing to say about it.
For anyone that enjoys a bit of adventure but also loves being in nature, this is for you. What an experience.