Our Gibbon Experience

Situated a short drive from Huay Xai, Laos, there lies Nam Kan National Park. Designated a National Park in 2008, the area where the Gibbon Experience operates, helps protect against illegal logging, poaching, destructive land use and more. The company employees are all Laos people (with the exception of a few foreigners), most of which come from the Nam Kan area. With sustainable tourism in mind it was an easy decision for us to join the Gibbon Experience on their Classic 3 day 2 night trip into the maze of tracks, trails and most importantly: ziplines.

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There are over 15 KM of wire for you to zip around on, the longest single run being 414m (if we remember correctly), exploiting the amazing views and breathtaking heights above the forest canopy. You have plenty of opportunity to experience it all, don’t worry.

Day One starts at 8am from the Gibbon Experience office in Huay Xai. They recommend only taking what you need for the three days as everything you bring you must carry in on your back (they supply a safe place to leave your belongings). After all the boring stuff, paperwork, safety instructions etc. we were packed into the back of a 4×4 and sent off with a group of (soon to be) new friends, all wondering what our fate will be over the next few days.

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After a short 1½ – 2 hour drive out of town, the truck turned down a dirt track. From here it was a very rough and bumpy half hour drive to the village where the actual trekking starts and where we met one of our guides. During monsoon season it’s not always possible to reach the end of the track and you may have to walk the last bit into the village.

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NOTE: BE PREPARED TO DO A LOT OF WALKING. We definitely were not mentally prepared enough for the amount of trekking that was actually involved. We knew it would be about an hours trek before reaching our tree house but we were not prepared for just how physically tiring it really was. The majority of it was up hill with 3 zip lines (4 including the short one into the tree house). Needless to say our legs were jelly by the end of it.

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Before booking our experience we read the website looking for a bit of an insight into what to expect and our advice; don’t bother. It didn’t say anything about how much walking would be actually involved, and I don’t just mean a leisurely stroll to the shops. For better insight check out reviews on Trip Advisor.

Trekking through the jungle, carrying only what you’ll need for the trip, for roughly 1 ½ hours depending on the speed your group walks, brings you to ‘The Village’, the first stage of the GE camp (which is spread throughout the jungle).

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Here you receive another safety briefing, are split up into smaller groups, assigned your tree house number and given your harness, your best friend for the next few days.

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Depending on which tree house you are in depends on how far you have to go from here. Personally TH7 is the best, that’s where we stayed. Each TH has their own perks: ours was definitely the view, and the view from the bathroom, especially the shower. There’s something mind-boggling and intensely strange, yet invigorating about showering naked outside whilst your group members are within ear and possibly eye shot if they look through the gaps in the floorboards. It was like showering on your balcony, bare ass to the world only here your only audience are the birds. Through the bathroom floor boards you can see the jungle floor; the slots are rather large so careful not to drop the soap! From the west side of the tree house you can see jungle for miles into the distance until it fades into the sky. And the noise… its hard to pinpoint any of it, however together its like a perfectly orchestrated symphony.

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Sleeping arrangements were two person double mattresses on the floor with mossy nets provided (they were more like tents), we ate, hung out and slept all in the same area. It was great being able to fall asleep to the uninterrupted sounds of nature.

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Day two was supposed to have us up at 6:00am to look for Gibbons, but due to the lack of sleep from our previous night on a sleeper bus, we didn’t get out of bed until 7:00am. Luckily no Gibbons were spotted that morning, although we were still able to hear them singing in the distance. Check out the video below to listen.

We were up and out of the tree house by about 8:30am. Again the trek was tough but this time we were prepared so it wasn’t as bad; luckily for Will. He had already put up with my moaning about the previous days trek. We spent most of the morning at tree house 5 where we were able to zip back and forth in three different directions.

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We played around like monkeys well past the allotted time but the guides we’re great and let us have our fun. We didn’t want to leave but eventually hunger caught up with us and we started back to our own tree house.

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The day was rather itinerated which is also not specified on the website. It says, and I quote, “You will choose how you want to spend your time, there is no strict schedule”, which I suppose is partly true but if you don’t go with your guide and their schedule you don’t really get to zip line much. It then goes on to say things like ‘food will come when you get hungry’ when in reality your food arrives at your tree house when it’s ready, whether you’re there or not. This happened to us for dinner and tea on the second day, however the food remained hot so it wasn’t really a problem. I just think the website could be a bit clearer.

We did manage to spot some gibbons on our final day, so that gave us a boost of energy and a spring in our step, (or leap off a platform). That morning we were woken up to Boun (our guide) whispering, “Gibbon, Gibbon”, it was 5:30 in the morning but we climbed down from our sleeping pad and sat with the rest of the group while Gibbons swung in the distance (unfortunately we were all too sleepy to get out the cameras so non of the group got photos). It was the perfect start to our last day in the Nam Kan National Park.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our group and we really enjoyed the experience as a whole. The tree houses are a spectacular feat of engineering, you sleep on mats on the floor which are more than adequate for a good nights sleep. The food was delicious; everyone just livens when they hear the sound of someone zipping over to bring us food, and the guides were awesome, both of which grew up in the area. Boun is from a small village about an hour from Huay Xai and our second guide (his name escapes me) actually grew up in the village where we started our trek. They helped us out when we got stuck or didn’t quite make it to the platform, were really knowledgeable about the jungle, and always friendly. Both nights Boun stayed and played cards with us, he was a great mix of guide and friend.

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{ Boun showing how flammable the sap is from the trees that the tree houses are built on. }

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{ Boun }

The hiking up and down the steep valleys on the sometimes hazardously narrow tracks whilst sweating absolute buckets makes everybody bond in a certain way. And whilst it was tough to endure, it’s definitely one of those feelings where you appreciate it that much more afterwards. It’s all quite surreal and a definite must do for everyone.

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