Ron and I had signed up for The Gibbon Experience in northern Laos and had spent the last few days hanging around Huay Xai waiting for the next group to be taken to the zip-lines deep in the jungle.
If you plan to go on The Gibbon Experience, be sure to check out The Complete Guide To the Gibbon Experience for more information.
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Dreaming of Tree Houses
The Gibbon Experience is like a childhood dream for most people. Days spent deep in the jungle zipping in and out of tree houses more than a hundred feet in the air, all connected by some of the longest zip-lines in the world!
It sounds like the most amazing experience, until you realize you’re terrified of heights and vertigo is not your friend.
I pulled Ron off to the side after the safety video and begged to get our money back and not go. Ron smiled and told me to take a deep breath and that I would be fine. He reminded me that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and to not let my anxieties get in the way.
After talking myself down and telling my anxiety: “Look how many people have done this and they haven’t died!” We hoisted ourselves into a truck bed with wooden seats and we were off, swaying back and forth as it meandered through the Laotian mountains.
Tip #1 ***If you suffer from motion sickness like me, take motion sickness medicine in advance for this ride***
Visiting Villages Deep in the Jungle
One of the most unforgettable memories of this experience for me was the village we visited before starting the trek into the jungle. This village is where your guides are from and some of the money you pay is given back to the people living in the area.
For me there has always been something really captivating about people who still live off of the land, I truly love the lack of “westernized”. No phones, no TVs. These places feel rich in culture and heritage to me. They are a place where you can take a step back from the day to day madness and just…breathe.
After arriving at the village we began our trek into the jungle. We wandered through some rice paddies and tall crops of corn before becoming engulfed by the tall trees and thick jungle.
Tip #2***Wear adequate footwear: there are leeches, a lot of mud, and trekking through the jungle in your near future***
We were idiots and bought mud boots to trek in. Who treks in mud boots? Sure we were protected from the leeches and mud, but the trekking part was almost impossible. Not to mention that on every zip-line I felt like my boots were about slip off and be carried away by a gibbon into the jungle abyss. I recommend wearing hiking boots or even tennis shoes with tall hiking socks to keep the leeches off your ankles.
Where to next?
Four hours, a little mud and only a few run-ins with leeches later we arrived at “base camp”. There was about 20-25 of us at the time, and so the guides asked us to split ourselves into groups. After a few minuets of “Hey how are ya? What’s your name?” a couple of the guides came over to show us a map of the entire area. They said we should pick which treehouse we wanted to stay in. Being that we had never seen any of them before we simply said “Surprise us!”.
I guess our group must have chosen the closest tree houses (Yes!) because we only hiked another hour or so before zip-lining into our home for the next two nights.
The treehouse really was like something out of a fairytale. I had no idea how it was suspended from the tippy top of that tree and for my vertigo’s sake, I didn’t want to know. No looking down for me!
The tree house had three levels and came complete with a bathroom, running water, kitchen, bathroom sink, and shower. The whole thing was open air (no walls, only railings) and had a superb view overlooking the Bokeo Nature Reserve.
Don't look down!
After exploring our treetop abode we were given the option to trek the hour or so back to the first zip-line and fly around until sunset or stay in the treehouse to relax and enjoy the view. The guides said that dinner would be brought to us in a few hours and to feel free to do whatever until then.
I was exhausted and still pretty shaky from conquering so much fear at one day so I decided to take a shower and relax a bit until dinner. Ron really wanted to continue zip lining so I hugged him goodbye and begged him to be careful.
I thought taking a shower under the jungle canopy would be relaxing.. Think again!
The bathroom is skillfully divided from the rest of the treehouse, as well as separated by a curtain to keep some sort of privacy. But as soon as I pulled the curtain shut my vertigo really kicked in. It’s safe to say that the cracks between the floor boards letting me peer 100 feet straight down didn’t help.
I took my shower with one hand death gripping the railing, while trying to take deep breathes and stare at the horizon instead of looking down. This might sound a little dramatic, but trust me if you ever find yourself over a hundred feet in the air standing on little strips of bamboo with the worst vertigo you have ever experienced then you will understand.
Don't Look Down
Shortly after trying to enjoy my, in tune with nature shower, the rest of our group got back from zip-lining and we were soon enjoying dinner and some beers.
The sleeping arrangements provided in the treehouse was a tarp like sheet suspended by some ropes (which is supposed to be your mosquito net) and some dirty sleeping mats with blankets to match.
Honestly, I have read some really bad reviews about the Gibbon Experiences because of things like the sleeping conditions, but I really think it’s important to keep it in perspective. Laos is a very rural country and hauling the mats and blankets all the way back to the closest village between each guest to be washed in the river is not really feasible.
***TIP #3: Bring your own travel sheet which you can find here***
A great travel sheet is one of the things we recommend every traveler should have in their backpack.
Tree house company..
I had also read about giant spiders and tree rats on other blogs before deciding to partake in the Gibbon Experience. To help me sleep and curb my anxieties I brought some whiskey for us to drink before bed. It helped a lot, and unless you’re a bit more comfortable with the night-time jungle noises than I was I would highly recommend you bring some as well. The local Laotian whiskey is actually not that bad, and you can find it anywhere. Just try not to buy a bottle with a snake or a scorpion in it..
The next morning I woke up early to try and catch a glimpse of/listen for the gibbons (you’ve probably figured out by now the gibbon experience isn’t really about the gibbons.)
With no gibbons in site, we packed our things, ate breakfast, and headed out for the day to explore the other zip-lines and tree houses.
***TIP #4: Hope you like hiking because there is a lot more hiking than zip-lining.***
We really weren’t prepared for there to be so much hiking in between the zip-lines. Some zip-lines were more than an hour hike away from each other. To be fair this was cool in a sense that we were really getting deep in the Bokeo Nature Reserve putting us up close and personal with all it had to offer. But on the other hand when you aren’t expecting it, it’s not as much fun.
During this hike I was the only one of our group that saw the gibbons! It was a bit annoying that everyone in our group was talking so much. How were we supposed to see the gibbons? I decided to hike a bit further back when all of a sudden our guide grabbed my shoulders and pointed into the trees.
You can hear them before you saw them, calling to each other in a low whooping sound. I smiled as I caught a glimpse of a long black arm reaching for the next branch. I could hardly contain my excitement. But then…gone. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared. For a moment I questioned myself, perhaps it was just wishful thinking..
I knew the moment I turned around that I wasn’t dreaming, our guide was smiling from ear to ear. “Gibbon” he said. I had just witnessed something most do not.
We went on to visit all three of the other tree houses that The Classic route had to offer. My favorite and most memorable (because I was terrified the whole time) was the last tree house.
Saving the best for last
The tree this house is built in towers above all the rest, giving you a view like no other. The tree is in the middle of a valley, with two different zip-lines leading to it, one for in and one for out. To zip in, you land on a five foot by five foot (just under two meters squared) platform that is actually below the house, unhook yourself and climb up a ladder to get inside.
Getting out on the other hand is a bit different; you more or less have to jump out of a window hoping the zip-line will hold your weight.
Jumping out of that window was one of the scariest but most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.
After a full day’s worth of hiking, zip-lining, and tree houses we made it back to our own treehouse. We had dinner and stayed up late playing cards and chatting amongst our new Gibbon Experience friends.
The next day we were given free rein to zip-line to our hearts were content on the intersection tree. This seemed to be everyone’s favorite part of the whole weekend but I HATED it. (I still wasn’t over my fear of heights quite yet.)
This intersection tree is a scaredy-cat’s worst nightmare. It has four different zip-lines connected to it with two lines each. One for in and one for out on each level. Once you zip-line to the tree you have to maneuver your way up/down on rickety uneven platforms connected by ladders.
Our guides were letting everyone use these lines all at once. The tree looked as though it had human ants crawling all over it. You also have to unclip from the safety line on the tree to get around people going the other way.
Now I'm Getting Scared!
To make matters worse when I got to the intersection tree I started getting swarmed by a huge jungle bee! I looked down to find that the bee had landed on my glove (thankfully) and was forcefully trying to sting me through it.
Solid ground at last, and I wouldn’t be testing my fear any longer. I was perfectly fine sitting there and relaxing while everyone else finished whizzing back and forth. By this time I had actually grown to think the zip-lining part was fun. The intersection tree on the other hand was just a bit too much. The tree has pieces of wood hammered haphazardly into it for makeshift platforms. I was not about to get stuck on that tree again.
Once everyone got their Tarzan and Jane fill we started the trek back to the village where we would then be transported back to Huay Xia.
Back At Last
It was time to carry on with our adventure through South East Asia. We had no use for mud boots any longer, so we gifted them to our guides. I will never forget the way their faces lit up when they realized we were giving them the boots. It was something I'll always remember.
Overall the Gibbon Experience is one amazing adventure that I would highly recommend! Just be warned that this experience is not one for the faint of heart.
Want to know more about the nitty gritty details behind the Gibbon Experience? Be sure to check out my other post The Complete Guide To The Gibbon Experience.
Have you or do you want to fulfill your childhood dream swinging through the jungle like Tarzan and Jane? Tell us about it below!