In a tiny one dirt road town near the border of Laos and Thailand called Huay Xai, you can find the headquarters for one of the greatest experiences in SEA. The Gibbon Experience combines jungle trekking, zip lining, amazing views and sleeping in a treehouse to provide an amazing two (or three) day adventure. This was definitely one of our splurges at $186 US for the Express Experience, but it was worth every penny. Not only did we enjoy every minute, but we made friends on the tour that we stuck with on and off until Si Phan Don (2 weeks later!).
We arrived in Huay Xai the day before the start of our Gibbon Experience, and went straight to the Gibbon Office to check in and pay. The office had wifi and a locker to store large bags while we were on the tour. You really only need a set of clothes for hiking, and a set of clothes for chilling in the treehouse. Make sure to wear light athletic gear for the hikes; the jungle gets really hot and humid fast. Good hiking shoes are also recommended (even though the guides do it in flip flops without breaking a sweat). All meals are provided, and you get one beer for dinner, if you want more you’ll have to carry it with you. After check in we proceeded to get drunk off of 10,000 kip (1.50 CAD) lao whiskey shots at Bar How?. This is not recommended as we had to wake up very early the next day for the experience, but it was fun!
We woke up very hungover and managed to drag ourselves out of bed to get to the Gibbon Office for 8:15am. We also grabbed some sandwiches for breakfast and some water from a lady across from Phonethip Hostel for 25,000 kip. We watched a very humorous safety video then jumped into tuk-tuks which took us on a very bumpy one hour drive to the starting point of our hike. We were dropped at a building that looked like someones house and kind of stood around for a while trying to figure out what was happening. None of the employees really acknowledged us for a bit, then they started to hand out harnesses and a beer to each person and we met our guides, Pad and Si Tong. This is the most awkward/worst part of the trip, if you can get over this the rest is well run and super fun.
We walked down the road a bit then cut in towards a river to the first zip line! Just a short one across the river, but still fun and good practice for the real thing. Then we started up the very steep hike into the Laos jungle. We were pretty much drenched in sweat within 2 mins, and the uphill trek took about 2 hours (including a few breaks) before we got to the first zip line. It was exhausting but it’s the worst hike of the whole trip, we just gritted our teeth and got through it. We demolished our lunch of chicken sandwiches and got ready for the first zip line. All grudges were forgotten once we were flying through the air staring down at a dense Laos jungle valley! Such a cool way to get a panoramic view of the spectacular environment.
After 5 or 6 more zip lines and some short hikes in between, we arrived at our treehouse around 3pm. And by arrived we mean we zip lined into it, as that was the only way in/out. So cool. This was also no boring crumby tree house. This was our dream treehouse. Three stories, 100 feet in the air, with enough room to easily sleep 20 people. The bottom floor had an open air bathroom with a shower. It literally had one wall with a door, then the rest of the room was 100% open space. Pretty cool to shower au naturel being able to see the horizon through Laos trees, but knowing only the gibbons can see you. The second floor was the main floor, with a stunning balcony facing west to provide spectacular views of a large jungle valley from tree canopy level, as well as an amazing sunset. The third level had space for more beds. The tree house had running (drinkable) water (though only cold), working lights, and many double matts for sleeping as well as heavy duty mosquito nets that cover them. We couldn’t have dreamed up a cooler place to spend a night.
Our dinner was zip lined over to us by the kitchen ladies, and it consisted of lots of rice and tasty Laos dishes. They also made our beds and set up our mosquito nets. Then they left and we were alone to take in a beautiful sunset. We all decided to take it in silently, letting the noises of the jungle add to the majesty of the sunset over the Laos jungle. At 6pm some crazy noises started in the jungle, a chorus of bugs that was so loud it sounded like a train rolling through the jungle. We played some cards and hung out but called it a pretty early night as we were all wiped.
The same eerie chorus of bugs graciously woke us up at 6am, and we got up for a fun jaunt of zip lines from 6:30-9:30am, including a visit to the biggest tree in Laos! We were back in the treehouse for breakfast but then we had to pack up and say goodbye to our dream treehouse. The way back out of the jungle was more zip lining than trekking, and most of the trekking was downhill. We even did some double zip lining, as in two people at a time to get some extra speed. The whole day consisted of 9-10 zip lines, and the last one dropped us about a 5 min walk from a farm where we got lunch. After filling up we hopped into a truck for a crazy off road experience back to Huay Xai.
The experience was spectacular, and though we didn’t see any gibbons (extremely rare/impossible on the express option) just experiencing the Laos jungle that intimately through aerial zip line views and sleeping open air in the tree house was fantastic. Not to mention the lasting friendships we made. We highly recommend the tour to anyone who plans on travelling near Huay Xai, or even if you’re not it’s worth altering your schedule!