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Published: June 26th 2006
After a few relaxing days in Pai I hoped on a bus and headed towards Laos. First I had to go four hours back south to Chaing Mai, then I transferred over to a bus packed with 60 people and headed north for 7 hours to Chaing Khong. Chaing Khong is a small boarder crossing town which consists of one small main strip with a few restaurants and a couple guests houses to sleep. The next day I took the boat across the boarder into Laos.
When I was back in Chaing Mai a Israeli girl who had just finished travelling through Laos was telling me about something called the Gibbons experience. She said that people had back tracked from southern Laos all the way to the north just to go on the three day gibbons experience. So when i crossed the boarder into Laos I found the gibbons experience main office and signed up for the trip.
Around 20-30 years ago 70 % of Laos was covered by jungle, now only 40 % of Laos is covered. The the whole idea of the gibbons experience is to give people an opportunity to experience the jungle and all it
has to offer. The money raised from the trip is used to pay the forest guards who patrol the reserve to ensure poachers are no longer killing the precious wild life. The agency now has a large amount of land and have gotten all the chiefs of all the villages within the reserve to sign a no poaching agreement. The agency employs many Laotian people who work both as tour guides, and as the forest guards. The idea is to have the entire experience run by the Laotian people in the next few years.
The trip started at 7:00 on the first day with our group of 13 people piling into the back of a pick up truck. We drove for about three and a half hours on a dirt road bumping up and down like crazy. We then turned off the main road, the driver put on the four wheel drive and we spent another hour driving on this crazy off road trail, we crossed a big river and had to go up and down some pretty steep hills.. We finally arrived at a small hill tribe village and then had to walk another hour mostly up hill
to the outdoor Kitchen. Now the fun was about to start.
Once we arrived at the Kitchen we were all fitted with a harness and walked to the first launch point. In the distance from the first launch point you could see tree house number one, which was about 100 feet above the ground in a strangling fern tree. So one by one we locked on our pulleys to the cable and zipped across to tree house one. The first tree house was four stories high it had a little common room, three separate sleeping areas and a pretty interesting bathroom which just let everything fly down to the ground. So after a quick safely talk five of us were on our way to tree house number three where we were staying. The tree house had a Zip line to get out to the tree house, then another zip line to get back to the kitchen, and each zip line was about 50 meters long. I hadn't noticed when I first got to the tree house but there was a third Zip line that went over top of the common room and went far into the distance. Since tree house number one had only enough room for eight the remaining five of us had to sleep in tree house number three. So after a quick lunch we hooked on to that third cable and off we went. The first Zip line from tree house one was about 150 meters long and you travel for about 30 seconds 100 feet off the ground across the valley. It's such a free feeling, you feel like you are flying. There were about 10 different zip lines throughout the whole system with the longest one being 350 meters long and at the center you are about 150 meters above the ground. Words and pictures really can't describe what it's like, the view is absolutely amazing you can see for miles and miles in all directions. I have taken a couple of videos and lots of pictures and will post them on the picture side after I am done writing.
Anyways after about 5 zip lines and a 20 minute hike we finally made it to tree house 3. Our tree house was two floors with a common area, a small sleeping area and a bathroom. After a quick dinner me and another guy headed back out to do some zipping. Honestly it doesn't get boring every time you hook on to the cable and starting flying over the jungle is just as exciting as the time before that. After 2 hours of zipping through the jungle canopy we headed back to the tree house to sleep. The first night I was woken up at around 3:30 AM by a crazy thunder storm. The sound of the rain pounding onto the forest canopy was so loud that I honestly jumped out of bed when I woke up. The storm was pretty neat to see from so high up, as you can see from the pictures our tree house over looked a vast valley which was lit up every time lighting went off.
The next morning we were woken up by the singing of the gibbons. For about an hour every morning while they travel through the jungle they put out these really strange sounding calls. It's sounded kind of computer generated it's crazy to think that an animal came make such a unique sound.
At around 9:00 AM a guide showed up with breakfast and offered to take us on a hike to see if we can see any wild life. Our guide took us to the newest expansion area close to where the next tree house is being built. We had found a zip line which our guide had never even been on before. He quickly told us to keep it a secret as we aren't suppose to be using the line yet . This new line was the longest one I had been on, it cross over a huge valley with a stream running through the middle of it. The thing that our guide forget to tell us was that the return line had yet to be put up. So once we got to the other side we had to hike back to where we had started. This hike was the hardest one I have been on yet, there was no path and we pretty much were climbing up and down dense jungle make sure that the zip line was above us as we went.
That night I went out to the middle of the zip line at our tree house and just hung there watching the stars. The sounds of the jungle were quite remarkable I really had no idea what animal was making what sound but together they made a bit of a song. We had noticed that the roof of our tree house was full of wild life, and probably spent a good hour just watching things. There were lots and lots of big spiders with crazy colourful designs on them, there was some kind of mouse looking thing that would come out and eat the cockroaches when they landed on the floor of the tree house, and lots and lots of different bugs. I was reading in the common area before bed and accidental rolled over onto a hornet and the stupid thing stung me on the leg. This wasn't your typical wasp from Canada this was a 3-4 inch long jungle hornet. My leg immediately started to swell up and a started to really hurt. Within 30 minutes my leg was swollen from my knee to pretty much the top of my thigh. It was then that I realised really how remote i was. Just to get to a telephone that worked it would have been a 2 hour hike up and down a hill and a 4 hour drive. The closest hospital is actually over the boarder in Thailand. We ended up getting a guide to come look at my leg and he told me that a hornet sting can kill a baby but because I was a grown man I will be fine. The swelling was mostly gone by the morning and now three days later all that is left is a big scab.
The last day we woke up again to the Gibbons singing packed up are stuff, Zipped back to the kitchen, hiked back to the village and drove the four hours back to town. One of the coolest things about the gibbons experience is that it has only been open for about a year and a half. So I am one of around 1000 people in the world that has taken part in this experience.
The day after the gibbons experience I decided to move on to the town. Since the roads are so bad in Laos the typical way to get to the next town is to take a boat down the Mekong river. There are two options you can take the slow boat, which is a two day trip stopping off to sleep at a run down town, or you can take the fast boat which gets ya there is 6 hours. There are tons of rumours about the fast boat being unsafe, when I asked the travel agent how safe it was she told me that only 7 people have lived, which I am sure was just a translation problem. Most people are scared of the fact that when you hop in the boat they give you a life jacket and a big helmet to wear. I just think that anything that you have to wear a helmet for must be a lot more fun then sitting on a slow boat for two days straight.
I arrived at the slow boat dock early in the morning and was thinking I was getting into some kind of cigarette boat or some kind of western style speed boat, was I ever wrong. The Laotian speed boat was a long boat about 5 meters long one meter wide at it's widest point, with a Toyota 4 cylinder engine on the back. There are 4 hole in the haul where you are suppose to sit each hole is for two people and is about three feet wide and a foot and a half long. Remember that squatting position I was talking about when using the Asia toilets. Well you more or less are sitting like that four 6 hours while flying down the Mekong at around 50 km/h. The engine is so loud you can't talk and the boat is so low to the ground that everytime you hit a small wave you end up being thrown around pretty good. It was quite painful for the first half but some how I lucked out and got my own row for the second half of the trip. So I survived the fast boat and am now hanging out in a city called Luang Prabang in central Laos. Today I went to a museum and a couple temples, I just got back from a massage and am about to head to the market to pick up some new clothes. This city has a really cool vibe to it, it's of french decent and has a bit of a European feel to it. I will probably hang out here for a few more days, then I am off to Vang Vein the town known for it's river tubing.
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