Helen and Randall on the road

A bit about our adventures 2011-2012

Monday 28th – Wednesday 30th November: The Gibbon Experience

with 3 comments

After a 5 hour bus trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Kong on the banks of the Mekong, we exited Thailand,

Thai customs house from the river

crossed the mighty Mekong on a long-tail boat,

Luggage piled on the boat

and entered Houay Xai, Laos;

The dock, with road leading to main street via customs house

30-day visa on arrival @ $36. Houay Xai (Sai/Say/ assorted other spellings) is a bit of a one-horse border town but the base for The Gibbon Experience and the starting point for the Fast and Slow boats down the Mekong to Luang Prabang.

This is the view from our hostel window – that’s Thailand on the other side of the river!

We dropped into the offices of The Gibbon Experience to confirm our start time in the morning then pre-ordered our sandwiches (we’d been warned the food on TGE was not up to much, which turned out not to be the case) from The Mad Sandwich People –  a couple of Lao in a small shop with comedy signs pre-written on big, hand-shaped bits of card that they waved frantically at all new arrivals off the boat: “We have sandwiches”, “We have everything for Slow Boat”, “We have everything for Gibbon Experience” etc. Very enterprising and entertaining.

Sandwiches ordered, we had an unsuccessful dinner attempt at The River City Restaurant (avoid)

and a better one at The River View, a ramshackle, cat-and-kitten-infested family business with a swish-looking new hostel/hotel being built out the back between the street and their river-facing terrace and a nice line in thin-crust pizza, pasta and burgers as well as the usual staples. This will definitely be the place to stay as well as eat when the building work is finished.

River View

Up early the next morning to drop our bags at the hostel luggage room (actually the owners’ house), collect our sandwiches and gloves – we’d been warned that we needed gloves, and the same gardening gloves seemed to be on sale in every shop in town – grab some breakfast and turn up at The Gibbon Experience by 8.30 for a safety briefing. The safety briefing lasted all of about 20 minutes, most of which was a promotional video, then 8 of us bundled into the back of a double-cabin HiLux which had been converted to a SongThaew by having a rather Heath Robinson contraption welded to it that also served as a roof-rack and very possibly a roll-cage.

After a couple of hours of fairly hairy road-driving we had a tea-and-wee break in a small cafe/shop next to a river:

after which to all of our surprise we then drove down to the river, crossed it (which was a surprise to the big fat ducks) and drove for another hour on 4-wheel drive territory to get to the village at the entrance to the Bokeo nature reserve.

From here we started our hike into the forest:

Randall inspects the buttress roots of a tree.

Loo with a View – on the way to the waterfall.

After a reasonably challenging 2 hour hike we arrived at the waterfall/swimming hole and all changed into swimming stuff; Randall found a leech stuck to him – ick. It had obviously gone down the gaiters, up the tracksuit bottoms and down the sock – tenacious little bugger. He wasn’t the only person to have one and of course we all got paranoid about them after that. Didn’t stop us from all jumping off a rock into the cold water though:

Swimming at the waterfall:  ‘pedicure fish’ nibbling you, cold water hydrotherapy under the waterfall, and mini-zip rope swing. VERY cold water!

Rope zip/swing – long bamboo pole and plenty of upper body strength needed to retrieve it from the middle of the pool each time!

Then, after a steep climb up from the waterfall it was time for our first zipline experience:


Delicate arrival (clonk/ouch!)

We soon discovered what the gloves were for: if you didn’t make it all the way to the end of the zip you had to pull yourself in to the end by quickly grabbing the cable in front of you once you had come to a stop (but before you started to roll backwards), turning to face backwards, and pulling ‘hand-over-hand’ into the end platform. One of our party didn’t grab the cable in time and rolled halfway back down the cable before she stopped! We were all willing her in as she ‘hand-over-hand’-ed but our lovely guide Lu helped her out by zipping out to her and pulling her back. Phew!

Randall zipping!

After 3 zips with short walks in between we arrived at the final short zip into the tree house. That’s right…the tree house was 50 metres up a tree, and the only way in and out was by zipping:

The way out!

Exit #2.

Home sweet tree.

It really *is* in a tree…

Sink and shower in the ‘downstairs’ (trapdoor in the main platform floor) bathroom. Plumbed and with water piped from a spring.

View from the shower in the morning…mist from the valley floor.

The lovely (but cold) shower.

3 impossible things before breakfast.

As well as zipping out of the tree we had to zip three wires to get to the kitchen area back at the waterfall where they served us breakfast. Luckily we were fortified with fruit and coffee in the treehouse first, as the guides came zipping across bearing hot kettles (no cooking/fires allowed in the tree house for obvious reasons)!

Breakfast is served.

The long and winding (and steep) road from the  kitchen.

Bamboo thicket

Amazing tree roots

Another stream to tramp through…thank goodness for gaiters! Leeches be damned.

Loo stop at the kitchen near the way in to the next tree house.

Water supply to the kitchen for this tree house, pumped from a mountain spring.

Next tree house…quite high up (50m or so again) from the valley floor!

REALLY high up!!

Zipping into the treehouse.

The ‘kitchen’ of our second treehouse.

Second wire *in* to the tree house, so you could do the ‘long loop’ out and back in again that took in two long zips.

Anna gracefully landing on the..errrrr…landing.

View from my bed!

Randall on the scariest launch platform of the 3 days…out of the second tree house. You have to climb down to this wooden step suspended 50 metres above the ground and then just leap into space! (Attached to the wire first of course, but still…).

Randall zipping back in to the bottom platform on the tree house.

Bathroom in second treehouse – quite a gap between the floorboards!

Shower in second treehouse

Reverse angle

The loo – rather close to the edge…

…with a view 50 metres straight down!

Morning mist

Helen coming in for landing!

Treehouse for lightweights – not high up and with a tin roof – pah! (for the ‘classic’ tour not the ‘waterfall’ tour that we did).

Way out to the village – a terrifying ‘double zip’, the first stretch of which was 600m long, up to 200 metres off the valley floor…

…and ended up at a rickety tree platform over 100m off the ground, with the second zip launching off the same platform down a wooden ladder from the landing platform. On landing I hugged the tree and refused to let go until someone came up and unclipped my safety line off the zipline  and on to the tree platform safety line! Eeeek Was very glad to zip my way off that one!

Finally it was time to hang up our harnesses and hike our way out of the forest reserve via the village’s fields where people were harvesting and threshing:

to the village where one enterprising family had set up a shop selling cold Beerlao and soft drinks to hot, sweaty, stinky and exhausted by happy Gibbon Experience veterans:

Purveyor of well-deserved cold ones to sweaty foreigners, with associated small child.

Yay! We did it!


Written by helenbcn

December 1, 2011 at 9:58 am

3 Responses

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  1. One experience I do not think I could share – Mxx

    Ann Lewis

    December 6, 2011 at 1:39 am

  2. WOWww – it all looks so amazing. Dan and I are in awe of the gibbon experience. And the elephants. And the whole thing really. Travelling seems to be slightly different from when we were impoverished 18 year olds. You are doing it in style – and in all the right ways!! And still managing to write Christmas cards. WTF?! anyway glad to get to catch up long distance and hope it is all still going well.


    December 9, 2011 at 5:35 am

  3. It *was* amazing – thanks for the comments both 🙂


    December 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

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