I had wanted to do the Gibbon Experience since I first read about it on travelfish. Zip-lining with gibbons through Laos? Sign me up! (In full disclosure I had no idea what a gibbon was at the time, but the ones on their website looked pretty cute!) While the name is misleading (your chances of seeing a gibbon are very slim) we still had a great time. I’ve read some negative reviews online about people’s experiences but here are some helpful tips to ensure you make the most of the trip. First, unless you’re a zip-lining fanatic I would only sign up for the 2 day/1 night trip. The 3 day/2 night trip is too long and you’ll most likely get sick of hiking and zip-lining by the third day, plus it’s more expensive. Second, make sure you pack properly. Only bring a small pack with you because you will have to hike for a few hours to get into the forest, and you don’t want a heavy load. Also, make sure you buy a pair of gloves at one of the stores in Huay Xai before you leave – your hands will get very chafed without them. Third, the food they serve is really bad, so make sure you have some snacks of your own with you. We packed a few granola bars and brought 2 big water bottles each. Fourth, bring your own medical supplies. Make sure somebody in your group has band-aids, neosporin, advil, immodium etc. I heard a story about a guy who had a bamboo shoot go through his leg and he had no choice but to do a very painful hike out of the forest because there was no other way out. So stock up on some pain killers before if you have to! Sixth, if you can manage it, try to go with a good group of people. You’re going to be spending the next 48 hours with these people so that can either make or break your experience. We were lucky and had 4 other great girls in our group, which made things a lot more fun. And lastly, just relax and enjoy yourself! I felt really safe zip-lining on my own, especially once you get the hang of it. The cables are very secure and it’s easy to hook the carabiners onto the line.
The cost for the 2 day/1 night trip was $180 each. That’s a lot of money for travelers on a budget, but we figured how often are we going to have the opportunity to do something like this? I know they offer zip-lining day trips in Chiang Mai and elsewhere in SEA, but the best part of the GE was spending the night in a treehouse in the middle of nowhere.
We met at the office early in the morning, around 7 or 8am. We met the other people in our group, signed a piece of paper saying that if we die it’s not their fault, and then watched a short safety video, which was quite entertaining. When describing how to put on a harness the girl in the video said, “step into the harness the same way as you put on a diaper.” Our guides showed up in a songthaew and we all jumped in and started on our journey. We had 2 male guides who could barely speak english. Normally it wouldn’t really matter, but in this instance it would have been nice if they could give us some more instructions instead of just pointing and saying a couple of words. In any case we arrived at a little house where we were given harnesses and then we started on our hike into the forest. The hike was more strenuous than what I was expecting, especially in the heat of the day, and there was a lot of uphill for the first hour or so. We finally reached the first zip-line and the guide showed us how to make sure our knots were tight and then hook up our harnesses to the cable. After that we were left to our own devices to hook ourselves up every time. It was actually very easy and we all got the hang of it pretty quickly. The zip-lines were really long so you got a great view over all the tree-tops. One tip when zip-lining, try to remain straight, lean back and keep your legs up, otherwise you might fall short of the end and then you have to reel yourself in, which is quite an upper-body workout.
After about 10 zip-lines we reached our treehouse where we would spend the night. It was so cool! There were 2 stories with a little “bathroom” on the bottom and a sink with running water on the main level. There was also a bunch of mats for sleeping and mosquito nets, which was imperative to keep the bats, rats and other critters out. (I never saw a rat, but I heard things scuttling about). The mosquito nets are actually just sheets that they hang from the ceiling, so it was pretty hot underneath them. I had to dump water over my head while I was laying down because I thought I might pass out under there. In any case, before the guide left us for the night he told us – in very broken english – that they were expecting a storm that night and we might have to make a quick escape if it got bad. I thought to myself that zip-lining while being attached to a metal cable during a thunderstorm probably wasn’t the best place to be either, but let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. Sure enough in the middle of the night we heard the sound of somebody zip-lining into the treehouse shouting, “Storm! storm!”. We all got up and put our harnesses on quickly, but then the guide told us to sit and wait. We could see lightning in the distance, but we weren’t sure which way the storm was headed. After about an hour of waiting, it finally looked like it was heading away from us, so we all went back to sleep for a few more hours. So fortunately we didn’t have to evacuate the treehouse, but I guess the contingency plan was to zip-line and hike to the guides’ tents and spend the night there in case the storm got really bad.
The next morning we were all pretty tired. We went on a short hike in the morning with the guide and then we packed up our stuff and headed back. We did a different series of zip-lines on the way back, most of which were a little longer. We arrived at a house where a woman served as lunch and we could go swimming in the river (most of us just dipped our feet in). Then we took an hour songthaew ride back to the office in Huay Xai. I was sitting in the front part of the cab with the driver, and I was so tired that I passed out immediately. The girls in the back said the ride was super bumpy though, and they were flying out of their seats for most of the way. So be prepared if you get car sick!
We got back to Huay Xai in the early afternoon and spent a couple of hours in an internet cafe until our bus left for Luang Prabang at 5pm.