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Published: March 22nd 2007
Alright, now that the suspense has built I will tell you what we were doing in Huay Xai. This small, extremely boring town is the departure point for the Gibbons Experience. This eco-tourism forest conservation project was started by a guy from France in response to the widespread poaching, logging and slash and burn practices that were destroying Laos primary forests. Basically, the money made has allowed them to create and protect a nature reserve, complete with patrolling guards. They work very closely with local villages and virtually every employee is from a village. It is their hope that one day they can hand the project over to the villages.
Our journey began with 11 tourists and 3 employees piling into an old 4x4 van for a long, dusty and often bumpy trip. Our bags were piled on top and because of lack of room inside, one of the workers sat up there with all our bags. Considering the terrain, I really have no idea how he managed to stay on. After 3 hours we arrived at a remote village and began our seemingly endless 1.5hr uphill trek into the jungle. As we neared the top we were met
by a mischievous monkey and bear duo. I managed to walk away with a bear bite on my arm and a sore cheek from being slapped across the face by the monkey. They were of course orphaned due to poaching and pets of the villagers who lived in the mountains to cook our meals.
When we were sufficiently fed up by the monkey stealing our belongings, we continued up the hill to the first zip line. The Gibbons Experience allows everyone to realize their dream of living in tree houses and zipping through the jungle on zip lines. We were fitted with harnesses and after a few instructions we zipped into tree house number 1, the home to 6 of us for the next two nights. The others were spread out into two more tree houses many zip lines away. The feeling of being on these zip lines is both scary and exhilarating. At first everyone is a little hesitant, but by the end we were all getting in as much zip time as possible. There are around 10 lines running through the jungle that allowing you to eventually explore it on your own. Some are short (maybe 50m),
others are very long (the longest 350m) and as high as 150m. The feeling of being on these zips lines, flying through the jungle and high above the canopy is thrillingly amazing. Definitely better than bungy jumping! We saw some great views at that height; however visibility was diminished by all the smoke throughout Laos from the slash and burn.
Our tree house was well equipped with 3 levels, comfortable beds (from which we awoke to the crazy sounds of the jungle), a common area and a bathroom that even included a shower! We also had our very own pig that lived at the base of our tree consuming everything organic thrown over the edge. Guess where the toilet waste drops?! Despite the comfortable bathroom facilities, we were challenged by the massive wasps (we do NOT have these in Canada) and red ants that invaded our bathroom. Unfortunately the wasps loved to congregate all over and around the squat toilet, not exactly making it comfortable for us to expose ourselves. We also had plenty of running water which was spring fed. What a luxury to be able to drink from the tap! Our food was delivered by village people
who zipped into our tree house at meal times, and we also had a wonderful snack box to tide us over between meals. They really have thought of everything to make people quite comfortable.
Our group was also the lucky one chosen by French filmmakers (friends of the man who started the Gibbons Experience) making a documentary on the project. This is a very special film since the entire project is not advertised in any way. People can only find out about it via word of mouth on the backpackers trail. We were filmed throughout most of our time there and also had a few personal interviews. They expect it to be viewed in France first and then other countries...maybe even the Discovery Channel?!!! That could be quite embarrassing.
So overall, the Gibbons Experience was definitely a highlight of our trip and a great way to end our time in Laos.
After the Gibbons we traveled back into Thailand and made our last stop in Chiang Mai. A few days later I tearfully left April and Celia, my amazing travel buddies, and made the long journey to London. I am spending the next month with a special
guy I met in Australia, who I have been in contact with ever since. Rich has been absolutely amazing and so good to me. He has taken the next three weeks off work and planned trips to Paris, Ireland and Wales to visit his parent (he is Welsh). I can't believe I am so lucky to have the opportunity to experience 10 wonderful countries in only 6 months! I am really looking forward to the next month and chapter in my travels. However, I expect that we will be on the run quite a bit so I'm not sure how much time I will have to update the blog. It will probably have to be done when we return.
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