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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Into the jungle - The Gibbon Experience

LAOS | Wednesday, 2 October 2013 | Views [3417] | Comments [1]

We crossed the river from Chaing Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos by boat, which took a mere 5 minutes. They immigration staff reluctantly (they were watching TV) issued our visiting visas for $30 US each plus a $1 fee for arriving on a weekend! We found ourselves a hostel and went to the Gibbon Experience office to check in.

 

The following morning our adventure began, and what an adventure it was!

We met our group - most of which ended up becoming our Laos family for the entire time we were in the country. A lovely fun Dutch couple called Lieke & Palle and 2 Americans travelling separately – adorable constantly grinning Carrie and entertaining Prianto (who is also Indonesian).

 

We jumped into a 4WD Ute which had a roof and 2 bench seats on the back tray and set off for an hour and a half passing simple villages along the way. It is fascinating seeing a glimpse of how people live their lives surviving off the land and the animals that run free (chickens, goats, cows, pigs etc). The houses consist of bamboo or thin wooden walls and thatched roofs and are generally built up on poles in case of flooding. The women mainly wear sarong type skirts and loose blouses, many children don’t wear anything at all, and the men seem to wear what ever they can find. They never wear revealing clothing, even when they shower, which is usually done outside.

 

Laos is so similar to Thailand in a lot of ways but there are also so many differences. They drive on the opposite side of the road (on the bridges connecting the country’s they have to change lanes half way!), the cost of things are mainly in the thousands instead of hundreds, the language is different and many houses (that have money) have a colorful European influence.

 

We stopped at a make shift shop / house / café on the side of the road and mattresses were loaded onto the roof of the Ute. A group of locals who gave no indication as to whether they spoke English or not, squeezed onto the back and hung off the sides. Changing drivers, we then turned off the tar-sealed road onto an incredibly intense road. We drove through a river and the water flooded up to our ankles into the enclosed part of the Ute at the front where Andrew and I were sitting. The road was muddy clay surrounded by bush with seemingly no civilization in sight. With no explanation, we stopped and the locals began changing every single tire as we waited in the hot sun with no shade. Back in the Ute we powered through wheel deep mud for an hour, sliding in every direction, up & down hills with humongous holes and trying not to bottom out with the gears and engine screaming. We were thrown in every direction and it was very real fear that the car was going to roll! Mud was flying in through the windows and the surrounding tree branches were grabbing at us. We just had to laugh! The driver looked like he was only 18 and probably didn’t even have a license but he sure knew what he was doing and he pushed that car to its limits.

 

We got dropped off in a village where we were advised not to give the people gifts or take photos of them as it they do not want to be seen as a tourist attraction and if they feel like they are, they will begin to dress up in “traditional clothing” to get the attention of tourists and beg for money, therefore changing their culture and everyday lives.

 

A group of Dutch people had just finished their tour and were waiting to get a lift back to Huay Xai. They looked exhausted and defeated and they only had negative things to say about their experience. Luckily our group remained optimistic and in the end we agreed that they were just weak!

 

The Gibbon Experience was started by a French man who wanted to help the Laos people protect their ecosystems and resources. He converted wildlife poachers into security which protected the newly formed National Park and animals, taught slash and burn farmers how to create rice farms with proper irrigation techniques that did the least amount of harm to the jungle and gave permanent jobs to over 100 village people who needed the money the most. They built tree houses high up in the trees (around 200 metres) and a series of zip lines crisscrossing over the jungle canopy’s – some up to 1km in length and much much higher than 200m off the jungle floor. A majority of the money generated from tourists goes towards the maintenance of the National Park and to the village people. It is completely managed by the locals who only speak basic English, if any at all.

 

We were greeted by our guides Khamphi & Don and set off on a 1.5 hour hike through the jungle – mainly up hill which was hard work and extremely hot. We were given the most important thing in our possession throughout our stay - our harnesses, which were attached to little wheels that hook onto the line and is covered with a piece of rubber as a brake. Thankfully our first zip line was a good level to begin with to grow our confidence and we were taught how to hook ourselves onto the line and how to brake. It began in the trees on a low platform so we weren’t literally stepping off into nothingness (like some of the other ones later on!).  I jumped on second as I knew if I let myself think about what I was doing and how potentially dangerous it was, I would psych myself out. One of the long lines started enclosed in trees and then it opened up and the jungle floor dropped away dramatically beneath me and suddenly I was flying fast with the wheels on the wire buzzing in my ears and I was too captivated by the moment to scream in fear. The views high over the endless lush green jungle and the adrenalin inducing superhero experience of flying was the ultimate combination. I think it would be near impossible to find any other zip lining experience that would compare.

 

Our peter pan type tree house was a big kid novelty! We stayed in the largest tree house which had 4 small levels, with no walls. The first level had our zip line arrival and departure platforms and the “bathroom” which consisted of a curtain blocking it off from the stairs, a squat toilet, a rainwater shower and a sink. As there were no walls, it was quite an invigorating experience being naked out in the open looking down at the surrounding trees. You also had to remain on high alert as it was also the favourite place for a swarm of wasps to hang out. The second level was the “living area” with a “kitchen” consisting of a low table and stools, a sink and a few dishes & utensils. Under the stairs leading to the next level was also a “bedroom” which consisted of 2 mattresses which you could cover with a heavy sheet for privacy & to keep mosquitos out. The 3rd level had another bedroom and the same on the 4th. Andrew and I were on the middle level where the bats liked to sleep and flutter around in the night.

 

Dinner arrived by zip line and afterwards our guides left us. We enjoyed our bonding session of good conversation and a game of cards. We had one solar generated light which wasn’t very bright so it was a struggle to see the cards. As it grew dark, the jungles inhabitants began to get incredibly noisy. There was the constant hum of crickets and then a bizarre loud insect noise that sounded quite similar to the zip line buzzing on the wire.  Then, out of nowhere, a loud alarm sounded and began echoing all around us. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves and had no idea what it was for. It was at that moment that we realized just how alone we were. If something happened to us, we had no idea where to go in the dark to get help, and even if we did make it back to the village, they have no vehicles except the one that visits once a day to drop off and pick up tourists. It would be another 3 hours walk from there back to tar sealed road with the house that had power. But it turned out, the alarm was just a bird. A group of very scary sounding birds when you are not expecting it!

The light we were siting under was attracting a very large amount of insects and Andrew got stung by a wasp and had a nasty big red welt. After that, everyone started getting paranoid about things they couldn’t see crawling all over them so at 7.30pm, in pitch blackness, we went to bed!

 

It was like a sauna under our heavy sheet protecting our beds and it definitely didn’t keep all the bugs out – ones that could crawl still came right on in. Mainly big ants though and a few small spiders. Thank god I didn’t see any big ones as I don’t think I would’ve been able to cope! In went the ear plugs, on went the layers of insect repellant and we attempted to sleep in musty rotting sheets. We got some sleep in the end but it was very broken.

 

The next morning we were greeted with torrential rain. It was quite a sight! We wrapped all our valuables in waterproof bags that we brought with us and watched as our beds got a hammering. Breakfast was late as it wasn’t safe to zip line when it’s too wet as the brakes don’t work. Yikes! Despite the rain, we were still incredibly lucky and saw a family of Gibbon monkeys playing in the distant trees. It is amazing how they can just leap from branch to branch high up in the air with such grace. Eventually the rain slowed so we donned our rain jackets and headed out. 4-5 hours of walking – mainly uphill – through thick mud with incessant leech’s sucking onto our shoes and clouds of mosquitos hovering. Despite the temperature lowering due to the rain, we were still sweating buckets. But it was still amazing, the first line we did we were enclosed in cloud and it was very surreal.

 

We became pro’s on the zip lines and flew over the jungle on up to 20 different lines. Some were stepping off an incredibly high platform into thin air – no matter how many times I did it, it didn’t become second nature, and I still had a moment of panic! What if the wheels come off the line, what if my harness isn’t tight enough, what if something breaks?! Argh! But it was so much fun and I loved it. Some lines we weren’t going fast enough and you have to pull yourself back to the platform – that left me a bit shaky and exhausted.

 

We went back to our tree house for a late lunch. The food was very basic – mainly just rice, egg and vegies, even for breakfast, and I was never really hungry. That didn’t help my energy levels. After lunch we were left to go and explore and zip line by ourselves and I almost didn’t go because I was so shattered, but it would be a shame not to make the most out of the opportunity. Went out for another hour or so and then Prianto and I headed back to the tree house an hour before the others were ready. It was so lucky that he came with me because I had a lot of trouble getting off the line by myself on one platform. Because I'm so short, I couldn’t lift up high enough to get off the line and the cable got caught in the metal part to the side of the wheels. Prianto had to hold onto me so I didn’t swing back off the platform as I climbed out of my harness and then we could yank it off the cable. If I had been alone, I would’ve had to hang there for an hour and wait to be rescued!

 

Had dinner delivered and once again on our own, we decided to not use the light. We sat in darkness for hours listening to the jungle come alive and played a fun verbal game which sparked loads of interesting conversations. No bugs bothered us but rats came out to scavenge left over food! Wasps seem to love Andrew though and he got attacked a second time. 9pm and bed time again! This time we slept so much better as we were more comfortable with our surroundings (despite the wet bed), it was cooler and we were exhausted. Around 2am it started pouring with rain again and I wanted to get up to move our clothes and shoes under cover so I touched Andrew as he had the torch next to him. He sat up in a panic saying something’s moving in our tent which freaked me out. We couldn’t see each other and kept repeating “Where are you?” “What’s in here” and “Where’s the torch?!” and then we realized it was only me touching him and nothing was in there. I was in stiches of laughter after that. Poor Andrew who was fast asleep almost had a heart attack!

 

After breakfast the next morning we headed out for more walking and zip lining with our bags and were rewarded with the opportunity to zip line over a tree where the monkeys were sitting! Then we headed back to the village. The mud was much worse and quite treacherous walking downhill. We were tired and incredibly dirty – we had basically worn the same sweaty muddy clothes for 3 days straight and I’m pretty sure we all smelled. However it didn’t stop the village kids from climbing all of Leike as she made them paper crane origami. We were unsure whether the Ute was going to make it to the village after all that rain so we were warned that we may had to walk back. Luckily after an hour of waiting, the Ute arrived. Hurrah! In we piled, this time Andrew and I were on the back, and off we went on our intense 4WD experience. As many locals as possible who could fit wanted to hitch a ride to we were all sitting on top of each other and were getting thrown off our seats with each hole that we hit. At one point we bottomed out so bad that the locals hanging off the back jumped off in panic and the ones lucky enough to get a seat with us had to jump out and dig us out! This time I found it incredibly entertaining. The river was too high and fast to drive through this time so we had to walk another 20 minutes over some farmland and a footbridge. We stopped at the café / house / shop once we reached the tar sealed road and had a late lunch. On the way back from there it began to rain and the drops pelted at our skin and we sped down the road. Comical!

 

Back in Huay Xai we checked into a hostel once again and the basic room suddenly felt so luxurious! No bugs! An actual bed! A bathroom without wasps and a toilet that could flush! Air con!  Walls! My clothes and shoes went into the bin (I had purposely taken old things that I want to get rid of) and I had a delicious shower. We all met up again for dinner and it felt so odd seeing each other so clean and different! We tried a Laos dish where we were given 2 round concrete pots filled with burning coal and a metal plate / bowl thing to put on top to chuck on all the supplied ingredients and cook ourselves. Very yummy but I wasn’t entirely sure what I was eating half the time!

 

Sadly we said goodbye to Prianto as he was heading in the opposite direction to Thailand. The 5 of us remaining decided to stick together for the rest of our stay in Laos.

 

The Gibbon Experience was a completely unique experience that definitely got me out of my comfort zone but it was incredibly worth it. It is so special to have the opportunity to get out into the wild and to live with only the basics like millions of villagers do and to see the monkeys play in their natural habitat. And the zip lining was the icing on the cake – what a rush! It’s not cheap by Asia standards but it is also supporting a good cause so I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone. September is still the rainy season but its when the jungle is at is best so I wouldn’t let that deter you!

 

Comments

1

So Nice to read kat! We are sitting in the lounge area of Vientiane airport, missing you all already. Gibbon was à special experience. Kisses And Thanks for your Beautiful blog!

  Lieke Oct 3, 2013 2:04 PM

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