My love/hate relationship with travel planning finally came to a head about a week and a half ago when it became clear that perhaps a little forethought might be necessary in order to ensure that A) I didn't miss out anything that I really wanted to do and B) I didn't find myself halfway across the continent the night before I was due to fly home.
Atop the to-do list was a jungle trek which I had thus far been stymied by crappy weather (Myanmar) or washed out roads (Cambodia). Why I let inclement weather stop me, I'll never know. I'm from Vancouver after all. Along the way I'd heard glowing reviews regarding the Gibbons Experience, a blend of ecotourism and adrenaline. Sounds like it should be right up my alley. Furthermore, it is based out of a crappy little town strategically placed on the Thai border. One problem... It costs ~10x more than most other treks in the region. I figured I'd cheaped out on enough buses and roach guest houses that I'd splurge a 14 hour, valium infused bus ride later and I found myself on the doorstep of perhaps one of the greatest of all my travels
Despite the fact that the weather had been getting increasingly wet rainy, the trekking Gods relented and though it rained each night of my 2 night, 3 day trip we had sun and dry weather on all three of our trekking/zipping days. Hallelujah!
So, what exactly is the Gibbons Experience? It really was perhaps the most scenic adventure which paradoxically was one of the most relaxing trips I could have taken. We trekked on the first day for 4 hours or so into the Jungle not including a wild 45 minute 4x4 ride through muddy roads up to a foot deep in grime. Several times we had to pop out to push as our driver skillfully swerved through any rut that would allow us any traction at all. As per usual, the truck was overfull and 2-4 of us would have to sit atop of the truck, clinging for dear life as the vehicle dangerously tipped and navigated sharp turns. The real danger was the low lying branches which have left some impressive bruises and a few cuts on my arms as I tried to dodge or duck the trees with only limited success. Naturally, I
enthusiastically volunteered to ride atop. Too much fun. Bruises and all.
Out of the truck we passed through rivers, immediately soaking our shoes before hiking through ridiculously muddy and slippery trails through the dense foliage. The trails here are notorious for being infested with leeches which proved to be apt, though I was relieved to find that the little bugger were much smaller than I imagined. Unless of course they were snacking on you for a while after slipping into your shoe. My luck with the leeches was much better than that with the monkeys and I somehow avoided getting any which is more than a few others on my trip could claim.
There were 11 others on my trek though we split into a smaller group of 8. Our group was composed of mostly Aussies and Dutch with a sprinkling of Kiwi and Irish. It made for great banter and lots of laughs. Really, I was lucky to have a great group who all had great attitudes and refused to complain about anything which makes all the difference in the world.
After a fair bit of trekking, we approached a hut where we were issued a
harness with a roller and a safety carabeaner. Shortly after we arrived at our first zip line and discovered that the national park here was criss crossed with dozens of zip lines that sent us soaring over valleys and whizzing a hundred meters over top of the jungle canopy. The views were phenomenal and although I had probably zipped over 30 times over the 3 days, the adrenaline wasn't quite the same but the view of the untouched forest and mountains as far as the eye could see never got old.
The last zip line of the day was one of the fastest. Breaking out of the trees and overtop of the valley our zip line took us directly into a single tall tree that would be our home for the next 3 days. Our treehouse sat 50 metres atop of the jungle floor and offered a remarkable perspective of the distant mountains of dense jungle and rolling fog that lingered overtop every morning. In the morning and evenings, coffee would appear at our treehouse as our guides gracefully zipped in a kettle in hand or our hot dinners of sticky rice, morning glory (not what you think) and
savoury dishes which allowed us to gorge 3 times a day. Zip lines were the only access in or out of the treehouse so any venture for any reason out of the treehouse was greeted by a literal leap of faith before flying through the air and disappearing into the jungle. Funny, how quickly jumping off of our balcony became as matter a fact as entering or leaving room.
Though the zip lines get most of the press, the real gem was just being in the middle of a jungle that refuses to be silent and in the presence of other curious, personable and adventurous travellers while being toured by an eager guide desperate to improve his handle on english and learn the lyrics to his favorite songs. Time spent in silence in our treehouse in awe of our surroundings will be the stamp that stays in my mental map of Laos. Nothing beats the moment in the morning when you're awoken by the sound of the guides swooping into the tree and peeking out of the mosquito net to see nothing but a sea of trees beneath.
It's called the Gibbons Experience due to the local population
of endangered gibbons in the park but whenever I had met anyone and asked whether they had actually seen gibbons, the answer was always "no". Gibbons too are beside the point. They are rarely actually seen and it still shocks me to hear that our friendly guides are often berated by groups enraged that they didn't see any as if they were in a zoo or were entitled to be entertained.
In spite of my monkey issues, I did see gibbons. A colony in the distance swung through the trees against the odds of actually finding them. Our guides actually didn't believe us when we told them until we showed them our pictures. Even the monkey gods smile on me here.
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