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Published: January 31st 2012
I’m writing this blog post from an airplane enroute between Luang Nam Tha and Vietenne. We’re heading south to visit the Plain of Jars, then back up to Luang Prabang where we’ll meet up with April and Kyle again.
So the Gibbon Experience. . . What to even say besides it was incredible and most definitely a once in a lifetime experience. We didn’t see any Gibbons, we heard some, but it was still likely the best thing we’ll do all trip.
We left Huoy Xai in a pickup truck with 4 other people, all Americans. Us girls (4 of us) got to sit in the cab of the truck and the boys got the back which was quite cold and apparently scary as part of the road was nothing more than a track through the forest and it was very bumpy. We started our trek into the jungle from a small village. The forest was quite beautiful, so much plant life and so much more variety than back home.
Our first stop was a small waterfall with a large, very cold, pool at its base. There was a mini zip line across it
that you could swing into the water from. We all did it a couple times but it was too cold to really swim. Afterwards we climbed a massive hill, which had me complaining of course, and set off to our first treehouse.
Enroute we had our first zip. These zip-lines are long and high, quite a lot better than the ones Matt and I did on Big Mountain last summer. You also have to brake for yourself which was scary the first couple of times as your brake is an old tire attached to your harness that you push down on the cable. We all managed though and soon discovered that the bigger problem was making it all the way to the end, if you came in too slow you had to pull yourself in and that got exhausting fast.
Our first treehouse astounded us all, it was a real honest-to-goodness treehouse, perched in a tree about 150 feet off the ground. We no sooner arrived (around 3:30) than our two guides left! We were all really surprised, that would never happen back in Canada. We all went out to do some more zipping around the treehouse which
consisted of two long zips across a wide valley and two short ones into the treehouse. Our supper (and all our meals) was cold sticky rice with four slightly warm stir fry like dishes. We slept under hanging sheets that made forts, 2 people/fort, on really hard mats.
Our guides joined us again the next day and we set off to our second treehouse. There was a fair bit of walking and zipping to get there but was it ever worth it! We thought our first treehouse was great but this one blew away all of our expectations. It was a two-story affair housed in a humongous tree that stood all by itself at the head of a valley. We had 360 views because there were no other trees around us. We got there early, checked out the zips, and had a team nap. We spent the afternoon zipping around the treehouse (3 long zips). The zip that left the treehouse was quite daunting as you had to sit on a little wooden seat on the outside of the treehouse, with about a 200 foot drop beneath you, when you finally worked up the courage to jump off you
dropped a few inches before you started to zip horizontally. A few inches may not sound like much but we all screamed the first couple of times and everyone agreed you never really got used to the feeling.
We had decided that we wanted to get up early the next morning to try and see the Gibbons. Our guides told us to be up and ready to go at 4:30am so we were. We left the treehouse at around 5am to start our hike to a different treehouse that was in the Gibbon’s territory. This meant that we got to zip and hike around for close to 2 hours in pitch blackness. What an insane experience! Another thing that would NEVER happen in Canada. The first zip of the treehouse, with the drop, was quite exhilarating and woke us all up. Landing was also interesting as all you had to go by for braking was the light from a few headlamps from the people who went ahead of you.
The long zips across valleys were incredible because you could lean back and look up the stars and I’ve never seen so many in my life! The new zips
were also quite exhilarating as you had no idea what awaited you! Such a crazy experience.
We arrived at the other treehouse which had a group of 10 people staying in it. They were just waking up as it was only 7am. That was kind of weird. We heard the Gibbons – they make a sort of whistling noise – but alas didn’t see them. We all agreed that the opportunity to go night zipping was well worth the effort though and it sounds like not every group gets to do that. We also saw 2 other treehouses that day and agreed that the two we were in were the best as far as access to zips and views were concerned.
We got back to the village at about 10:30am and all had a few Beerlaos to toast the experience. We knew it was early but we’d been up long enough to deserve them! When we got back to Huoy Xai we immediately bordered a mini-bus to head further north to Luang Nam Tha – a sleepy little town that has numerous hilltribe villages nearby.
Matt and I toured around on pedal bikes on the 28th
on the 29th
we all did a one-day trek to go see some villages and the National Protected Area outside of town. The day was pretty amazing. We went to the market before leaving town to buy ingredients for lunch. There was quite a large meat section and it was full of pigs heads, cow legs, intestines, congealed blood (we figure this is what we ate in our mystery soup, yummy), and many other things you’d never find in Safeway. The first village we stopped at was the Khmo (sp?) people and we were swarmed by children who wanted their picture taken – it was a gongshow. They were initially a bit timid around Matt but soon warmed up. They were incredibly friendly and happy, there was one fat toddler we all wanted to take home. We all agreed that no matter what the rest of the day brought, it had already been worthwhile.
We visited another village with less children then went into the jungle. We climbed a massive hill and stopped for lunch. Our guide cooked us beef soup in a piece of bamboo over a fire, we ate the soup with spoons he made from leaves
and chopsticks he made from twigs – probably the most unique meal I’ll ever eat! We hiked back down and saw terraced rice fields, they clear cut the forest to make them but it is incredible that they did it all by hand. Our guide made us hats out of leaves and ferns and balls out of different leaves – quite the talented guy.
Whew, that was a long one but the Gibbon Experience deserved it. Hope you all stuck with me till now. I will update you again before we leave Laos for Vietnam. Plain of Jars – Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng – Vietenne – Hanoi. That’s our schedule for the next little bit, I think we’ll be leaving Laos around the 8th
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