The Gibbon Experience is located about 3 hours north of Houay Xai in the remote Bokeo Nature Reserve in Laos. Our guide told us that the reserve has essentially been created by the money that the Gibbon Experience has brought into the area, saving about 300,000 acres of land from logging and poaching. Despite all this, only about 30 gibbons (5 families) still remain in the reserve, having been hunted by locals prior to the reserve being established.
Our journey started in the back of a pick-up truck, crossing streams and heavy jungle on a dirt track road. At the end of the road was a simple village where we unloaded and hiked about an hour and a half into the jungle. The Gibbon Experience consists of 7 treehouses strung together by thousands of meters of zipline. To reach our treehouse, we stepped into our harness and jumped out over the jungle – flying at about 20-30mph over the canopy below. The sweeping views of the surrounding mountains were enough to take your breath away – that is if the 300 meters of ziplining hadn’t done that already!
Check out the first video Jeff took while zipping - http://flic.kr/p/bxsJAQ. The jungle is so beautiful and almost hard to gather all of it in the horizon!
Dett and Toun at treehouse 5
The evening found us sharing a circular tree house with 6 other travelers (from Canada, New Zealand, England, and Denmark). The treehouse loomed out over a valley about a hundred feet above the jungle floor. It was complete with running water (including a shower with a spectacular view), solar electricity, and a cool box stocked with beers. Our guides Toun and Dett would bring dinner over from the ground based kitchen and our evenings consisted of watching the sunset, playing cards, and sharing traveling stories. Toun and Dett normally work building the treehouses, but due to some guides being away, we were incredibly lucky to have them lead our group. They are auto-didactic, having taught themselves English just by being at the Gibbon Experience – the only guides in the whole program that do speak English!
After a stormy night that left us wondering how stable the treehouse was, dawn started to crack above the mountains and the magic happened. Echoing calls floated over the tree tops as the Gibbons began their morning singing ritual. We rose from our beds and gazed out at the tallest tree on the horizon and there they were! Their song to the newly awakened day was almost like a police siren as they swung dexterously from limb to limb. Eventually, they made their way to other trees and we caught sight of the female Gibbon – with a beautiful gold hue to her fur (the males are all black). Watching these wild creatures as we shared the tree tops with them gave us an immense feeling of spaciousness and connection. If you want to hear the gibbons’ calls, check out this video we recorded - http://flic.kr/p/bxsJB5.
For the Gibbons the jungle is their playground and they need that open space to be wild and authentic. For us, the jungle was a practice in “reducing our filter” – living closer to the moment as it unfolds rather than being stuck in our heads with the past and present. Ziplining, with its beauty and adrenaline, brought us into the moment as did observing the Gibbons. The jungle itself with its endless assortment of sights, sounds, and smells is always inviting us to tune into what’s happening now. In those moments of connection, where we do find the space to really fly free, it was apparent to me how essential that experience is to staying sane.
After 2 days of zipping around the jungle, we hiked back out and expected to continue to Luang Namtha in Northern Laos. But as we were walking Dett said, “you know if you have time, Toun’s girlfriend and her family are having a big house warming party in my village tomorrow and we’d love you to come stay with us.” Neda and I looked at each other, smiled, and prepared for the next crazy turn in this journey…to be continued in our next post! For pictures and all the fun videos we took ziplining, check out our flickr page - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjzrPyvv.