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Published: January 2nd 2009
Wow, what an amazing experience that was! The name 'gibbon experience' may be a bit misleading though......our guide hadn't seen one for 10 months.......perhaps they should call it the 'zipwiring experience' instead. It was fab though..... despite the lack of monkeys.... and I'd definitely recommend it, but book ahead because there's rarely a space last minute.
I wasn't exactly sure what I'd signed up to as things weren't too clear when I called. The website had said there were two different experiences....classic and waterfall, the latter having more walking involved. Turned out it was the waterfall I was down for. There were 8 of us in the group. Two groups of 8 set off every other day. It's a 2 day, 3 night thing, so you spend one night in one treehouse and then on the second night you swop treehouses with the other group. The first and last day is mainly travelling to and from the reserve so you only really get one full day zipping around. The monkeys, as I'd said, were well and truly absent from the 3 days. I have to say though, the noise you make zipping along the wires, I'm really not suprised! I imagine they're as far away from us possible! The zipping more than makes up for it though. It's really scary at first, especially the first time you hook onto the wire and get ready to jump off the platform into oblivion! The views are spectacular though. Sometimes, you're well above the canopy and can just see jungle for miles. It was truly amazing.
The waterall on the other hand, wasn't quite so amazing! Very small and flipping cold....painfully cold in fact! I've used the term painfully cold before, but now I really know what it means!! Luckily, there was a tiny spot of sunlight on the other side of the water pool where we could all sit in the sun and recover after our ice plunge!
The treehouses you stay in were really cool - every kid ......and big kid's..... dream! They're about 50 metres up and the only way in and out is zipping! Hence no-one can sneak up on you......apart from monkeys I guess but they weren't a problem when we were there! When you get to the treehouse, the guides show you where the kettle is and then leave you to it.....which was a bit of a shock on day one! I guess we all kind of expected them to stay around, so when they said 'ok see you later', we were all like 'oh are you going then?' An hour or two later one of them zipped back with dinner! There was plenty of food......basic, but plenty of it. They only do main courses though so the snacks were a good idea! A bottle of something or other would have been another good idea, but one not thought of til after :O)
The second night they leave you to zip round by yourselves......again, a bit freaky at first! It felt a bit like when you first pass your driving test and you get in a car by yourself for the first time! We were all pretty confident by then though......cameras out and everything!
The treehouse on the second night wasn't half as good as the one on the first. It also had a rat problem! We'd been warned by the other group when we ran into them in the jungle that day, so we diligently put everything vaguely food like away in the box. Unfortunately, we still had visitors though! It was horrible. You're basically on the floor of the treehouse on a mattress, under a mossy net, so there was literally only a few foot between them and you as well. They seemed to stay for ages too and made a really horrible noise so you knew they were there, even when you rolled over and tried to go back to sleep! Thank god for i-pods!
Soon enough, it was over and we were walking back to the pickup point where the truck was meeting us. We'd had a fab few days, but were all looking forward to a hot shower! There were showers in the tree houses, but it was so cold in the evenings and the morning! Hence, when we got back to Huay Xai, we all headed straight off to find a guest house with a hot shower. It was Sinead's birthday that evening, so we all met up and celebrated with dinner and a few beers later that evening. We even splashed out on a couple of bottles of wine! A rarity over this part of the world! One of the guides came for a beer too which was nice.
The next day all of us other than Linda were catching the slow boat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. It takes 2 days, and I'd heard was a really nice way to see river life in Laos. We met up early for brekky, and having sorted out some packed lunches headed down to the boat. I'd read in the guide book, that they sometimes try and pack far too many people on the boat, but that protesting normally results in them getting a second boat. True enough, we waited and waited, until we were well over an hour late to set off and a huge load of people turned up to get on an already full boat! Well, protest we did! It took a good half hour of chanting 'get another boat', but eventually they got the idea and put on another boat for the others! A good job too.....we were protesting and we had seats! The poor guys getting on would have had to stand or sit on the floor for 2 days!
So, all well and good, we finally set off. The boat trip was amazing. I loved it and would happily have stayed another couple of days. Apparently a lot of life here in Laos still takes place on the river. It was fab to see the local people on the banks, fishing and farming, kids waving, the little villages, the locals getting on and off the boat at various points down the river with tons of bags, their families coming down to the boat to meet them. It was all so lovely, and so relaxing. Nothing to do but listen to some music and watch Laos life float on by. It wasn't luxury in terms of seating.....just wooden benches, but we'd bought a cushion each before we left huay xai and it was fine.
Unfortunately, setting off late meant we didn't get to the first night's stop off point......Pak Beng..... before dark. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the boat had no headlight and the river was full of bloody great rocks! Yep, it was probably scarier than the first time on the high wire! When we finally got there, getting the bags off was another nightmare.....or rather trying to get to your bag before they took it off without you! We'd heard tales of bags going missing there, so were prewarned not to let it out of your site. When we'd finally got all our bags and got off the boat, getting up the steep, sandy slope laden with back packs was the next challenge!
There's not much at Pak Beng...just hotels and restaurants. We found a really nice hotel for the night.....shame about the owner who was a bit of a tosser!....but the rooms were exceptional for the price. Some of the others took great umbridge to the owner though, so we split up and four of us went somewhere else! I could see where they were coming from. I've done the same before, but it was only one night, the other hotels in town really weren't that nice and I've cut off my nose to spite myself, so to speak, too many times before!
Anyhow, a curry and a good night's sleep later, we headed back down to the boat for day 2. More of the same really, again another lovely day. Unbelievably, there were already two boats waiting for us when we got down to the shore, so there was no need for another round of protesting! Different boats to the day before though. It was much smaller and kind of cosy, and the sides of the boat were shaped perfectly for back rests, so the day was nice and comfortable!
We got to Luang Prabang around 6, just in time for a beautiful sunset. Finding a room proved to be a challenge though. Guess a lot of people were there for Christmas. We split up in the end which meant finding rooms much easier. I was amazed at the price of everything.....I'd heard Laos was cheaper than Thailand, but I'd not seen it so far. Also, the currency is in huge denominations so you hand over 10s of thousands for anything, which was pretty disconcerting at first! The room I eventually found was 100,000 kip a night....about 8 pounds 50. It was nice enough though and had a fab shower.
We all met up again later that evening by which time we were starving! Lao Lao garden were advertising a turkey barbecue which sounded fab, so we headed over there. I should know by now never to expect something to be like home! The barby was a DIY afair, which didn't turn up for a good hour or two after we'd ordered. Then they bought over what was supposed to be enough raw meat for two people, which was just about enough for me! Hence we were still pretty starving having paid a fortune for our 'turkey barby'! :O) That was our intro to Luang Prabang.....where nothing is cheap!
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