The Gibbon Experience – Man on Wire.

Getting to Laos Pieter and I headed to the central bus station in Chiang Rai in the morning to get transport up to Chiang Khong on the Laos border. Rather than an air-conditioned coach or minibus, we opted to use one of the local buses - and at 65 baht (around $2) for the 150km journey, it was really good value. The ride was interesting due to the bus being both for passengers and also goods, as it appeared to double up as a local delivery service. Most of the deliveries were simple parcels, but we did spend two hours with a large bag full of water and live catfish at our feet - fortunately this didn't break open, as the idea of lots of fish scattered across the floor (and our bags) wasn't particularly enticing. We took a songthaew up to the Chiang Khong harbour, had some fresh passport photos taken (I looked like a tramp), exchanged some US dollars at a terrible rate, and then walked down to the Thai border control. This comprised of two tiny offices on either side of the road, one for immigration and one for emigration - easy to miss if you weren't being observant. I later heard of a few people who had missed the offices completely, crossed to Laos, and were sent back on the far side! The bored staff stamped us out of Thailand, and we continued down to the Mekong river, now in no-mans-land. The Mekong River was wide and slow here, and our narrow boat quickly shuttled us across to the Laos shore, where we went through immigration with a minimum of fuss, but an excess of time. The officials didn't seem that bothered about us at all, and one went for a cigarette and drink halfway through processing our passports! We collected another backpacker heading towards town, and the three of us checked in at the closest hotel - BAP Backpackers - for a mere $1 a night each. Bargain! A quick wander around town then some local food and beer (my first Beer Lao - it's ace!) was followed by a successful booking on the Gibbon Experience, which started the following day. We had anticipated having to wait, as it is a very popular tour, but they managed to add us into the last two available spaces - whoo! Gibbon Experience - Day 1 We started the day by picking up some baguettes we'd ordered from a shop across the road (Money Sandwich - chosen because of the incredibly enthusiastic owner, and their funny signs), then spending about three hours getting to the start of our first day's trek. The last part of the journey was an hour along a rutted dirt track, and I frequently hit my head on the roof of the songthaew as it went over bumps - fun though 🙂 Once we arrived at the hill-tribe village, Pieter (the Dutch guy I'd met in Chiang Rai) went over to a group which had just finished their trek to get some advice - we were on the 'Waterfall' version of the tour, and he was advised that we should choose to visit the waterfall area on the second day. Hastily, the 'cool' kids (which shockingly included me) formed up for be the group going to the waterfall on the second day, while three Danish guys were grouped with a French family of six - poor them 😉
The staff of the sandwich shop, Money Sandwich, and their signs

The staff of the sandwich shop, Money Sandwich, and their signs

One of our guides, hurtling in to land

One of our guides, hurtling in to land

One of the treehouses where we spent the night

One of the treehouses where we spent the night

Dinner in the treehouse

Dinner in the treehouse

The first part of the trek was relatively easy, but generally uphill, and it became quickly apparent that we didn't have any slowcoaches in the group (unlike the Chiang Mai trek, where the faster people constantly had to wait for the slower people to catch up). The walks through rice paddies, and then the increasingly dense jungle were great - and then came the ziplining. I'd never done this before and was a little apprehensive about launching myself into space, attached to a 3/4" wire, and hurtling across huge drops. Needless to say, after a few nerves on the first line, I just had immense fun every time I slid off the launch platform into the void. Flying over jungle valleys at high speed, watching the trees fall away below you (up to 100m down), and then trying to avoid slamming into a tree at the far end - fun. Pure, adrenaline rush fun. I managed to video one of my runs - you can see it here. The treehouses that we passed through, and subsequently stayed the night in were very impressive. Perched amongst the branches of huge trees, at around 60m above ground, they gave fantastic views of the surrounding forests - and nerve-wracking launches on the ziplines, as there was no easy launchpad to run down. The toilets in particular were of the squat variety, and located just a couple of feet from the edge. A modesty curtain hid you from the people in the treehouse, but they were totally open to the forest - it was a very strange place to 'go', but oddly exhilarating at the same time. Our evening consisted of card games, and the dinner which was ziplined in by our guides. With fairly dim lighting, we were all tucked into our mosquito nets (well, mosquito curtains is posibly a more accurate description) very early, tired after a long days trek. Day 2 On the morning of the second day, our guides arrived early with some food, and we were sat eating when the first strange noises came echoing across the valley to the treehouse. Hurrying to the railings, we (or at least the people with good zoom lenses) soon spotted a gibbon in a tree across the valley - a surprise to the guides who had never know gibbons to be seen from this particular treehouse. We all sat/crouched, entranced, as we listening to the hooting from the gibbon we could see, and from others hidden in the trees. This continued for nearly half an hour before fading away - it was fantastic to listen to. We then packed up, and continued our trek to the waterfall, more walking, more ziplines, and more sweat. Dropping our packs off at our next treehouse (which handily had the loo/shower on a different floor to the sleeping area), we took a few more ziplines (including the longest at over 500m) to the waterfall. The waterfall area is more of a swimming hole next to some small unnavigable rapids, but fun nonetheless. There was a rope slide which would unceremoniously dump you in the middle of the pond at its end, and climbing the rapids to explore the upper areas was an interesting exercise in rock climbing. We also found an area further upstream where you could jump off high rocks into a pool - though only a few of the more adventurous/foolhardy/daft people had a go at that. Back at the treehouse, Erika (who had recently attended a yoga retreat) offered an impromptu yoga session - this was initially just for four of us but eventually everyone joined in. Nine people doing yoga in a treehouse, 60m above ground? Yes. That happened. Another visit to the waterfall (for exercise, and to cool down after the exertions of the yoga session) rounded off the outdoor activities, then another evening of cards, food, and bonding back at the treehouse finished off a fantastic day.
Exploring the Waterfall area

Exploring the Waterfall area

A loo with a stunning view

A loo with a stunning view

Spot the gibbon

Spot the gibbon

Yoga in the treehouse

Yoga in the treehouse

Day 3 The final day of the trek started with some very early morning ziplining, before most people had even woken up. Heading off into the mist shrouded valley, unable to see more than 50m ahead was quite unnerving, as was the stream of condensation from the zipline which sprayed in my face for each run was fun, but the best part I think was the isolation - only Pieter was also doing an early morning circuit, and I let him get well ahead of me. Walking through the cool jungle alone was so peaceful, I sat for a few minutes at one of the platforms and had a 'moment' - thinking how lucky I was to be where I was, and being really happy. We checked out of our treehouse and started the trek back to the village, a walk which would take around three and a half hours. After the early start (and possibly because I'd only had one beer in the last two days) I was feeling particularly energetic, and so led the party at a fairly rapid pace - quick enough to spread the group out a bit, and I (and the others in the leading group) had to pause every now and again to let people catch up. The walk back had some good highlights: hearing a group of gibbons singing in the distance; crossing a river several times, where white butterflies carpeted the shores and took off in a cloud when we approached; and seeing a group of village children fishing in the river. Thanks to my ridiculous pace, we soon arrived back at the village, in plenty of time to have a luke-warm beer before our return journey to civilisation.
Zipline in the early morning mist

Zipline in the early morning mist

Uncle Travelling Matt tells a particularly rude joke

Uncle Travelling Matt tells a particularly rude joke

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