Have you ever longed for that feeling of being a kid again? Where nothing else matters and it’s just you and the world around you?
That’s how we felt as we zip-lined our way in and out of the world’s tallest tree houses, over 15km of cables, through 1000’s of acres of jungle, in Laos. We were officially Tarzan and Jane for 3 days! The coolest part was getting our food delivered via zip line, right into our own treehouse!
What is the Gibbon Experience?
The Gibbon Experience is a ‘tourism-based conservation project’ that takes you through the Nam Kan National Park in Laos, by zip-lining your way between tree-houses. This project began 12 years ago by a French man who had a mission to protect the forest from poachers, logging and the destruction of agriculture.
To protect the forest alone, funding was hard to come by so he came up with the idea of using tourism to generate the needed funds. The Gibbon Experience turned poachers into guides by using their tracking and forest skills to educate visitors rather than kill animals. Villagers became support teams for the project and helped maintain and build the tree houses and soon, the animals and forest was becoming more and more protected.
Since this project began, it has given permanent jobs to over 120 locals, all of which are Laos citizens.
An Introduction to the Jungle & Zip-Lining
Arriving into the small town of Huay Xai, we checked into the office and had a briefing of what was to come by viewing a safety video. Right after we’re taught how to attach and detach yourself to the cables (wait, I do this on my own?! ), we were sent off to the jungle in the back of a tuk-tuk. I’m not usually freighted of things like this but as we drove the 2.5 hours to the beginning of this adventure, the nerves began to surface and my mind began to wonder…
We have 3 days in the jungle, zip lining between tree houses (at times without a guide) trusting myself to correctly attach the harness, surrounded by every imaginable bug, sleeping in an open-air tree house as a number one target for anything that can bite… what the hell am doing? By the time I’d reconsidered, we’d arrived and there was no going back. Thankfully, because the whole experience was awesome fun!
Home in the Tree Houses
There are 7 tree houses (1 more is currently being built) located in the jungle and you’ll be split up based on which tour you’re doing and how many are in your group. By recommendation, we took tree house #1 (shown below) which is the largest.
The tree-houses are well equipped with drinking water, a small kitchen, an open-air bathroom and a dinner table. It was bloody impressive to inspect all of the nuts and bolts keeping this house together and you couldn’t help but wonder how on earth they managed to build this, so high in the trees.
With 3 floors to explore, we had 360 views of the jungle surrounding us. They provided mattresses, blankets, pillows, towels and ‘mosquito nets’ which are really just big sheets hanging over your bed, but it was at least something to keep the bastards away.
The bathrooms of the tree houses were pretty special & I have to admit, I’ve never felt so free in a shower before! Standing on a wooden ledge, staring right through the wooden slats and having the open jungle right in front of you, well I’ve never taken a shower like that before. It’s just you, the shower and the monkeys. Don’t expect hot water but it’s not needed after a long hot sweaty day.
Our Gibbon Sightings
Just like safari drives in Africa, the jungle is filled with all sorts of animals but what you see and when you see them, can not be planned or arranged. Please don’t give the guides or company a hard time if you don’t see the gibbons!
There are only a small amount of gibbons left in South East Asia and unfortunately, these animals are critically endangered of extinction.
We were fortunate enough to see 2 of them in one day, 100 m from our tree house. As we sat there in dead silence to avoid frightening them, we watched them in their natural habitat. It was incredible to see them jumping from tree to tree, occasionally sitting still to eat. At times they stared straight at us.
In the morning, Gibbons loudly announce their presence in the forest, using a territorial hooting call and menacing gestures. By doing so, they warn other gibbons to stay out of their territory and away from the local fruit trees. This noise could easily be used as an alarm!
Note: The classic 3-day experience gives you more chance to view the Gibbons, but it is not guaranteed.
The Zip Lining
Obviously, the best part of this trip was the zip lines. On our first day, they let us out on our own to explore. With no map, no guide and just the groups’ bearings we zip lined our way around the forest navigating from tree house to tree house. The moment you clip your harness onto the cable, the adrenaline begins. Am I really trusting myself right now? Who’s going to check I’ve done this correctly? Check out that drop! Without any more hesitation, you’re off and the speed is legit.
The platforms all begin surrounded by a tunnel of green and within 2 seconds of leaving the wooden ledge, the forest opens up and you’re flying. Above you is nothing but sky, surrounding you is nothing but pure peace, mountains, trees and below you, well there you have a sheer 200 ft drop which I preferred not to look at. The lines ranged in length and the longest one was over 500m.
Ah, glorious food. Each morning we awoke to the sound of the cables which only meant one thing… our food has been delivered! 3 meals a day, our food is not only prepared & cooked in the jungle but it’s then delivered hot and fresh in a thermal via zipline right into our “living room”. The food was plenty for our group and consisted of rice, vegetables, meats and eggs for breakfast. No matter what it was, it was damn exciting that it came in on a zip line! But if you like to eat like us, then it’s worth packing your own snacks for the day.
Trekking in the Jungle
We weren’t fully aware of how much trekking would be involved in this, but let us tell you, it definitely requires a moderate level of fitness and strength, especially if you get stuck mid cable (don’t break too soon!). It’s quite the pull to get yourself into the platform if you didn’t reach it with your momentum.
Overall, we trekked around 3 hours a day, broken up with the zip lines in between each trek. The grounds were at times very slippery, the mud was sticky, the hills were steep but it was fun, sweaty & rewarding when you arrived at the platform ledge.
Note: watch out for leeches! We had plenty on our shoes, especially after rain.
The Pests of the Jungle
Rats, spiders and moths are constant visitors in the tree houses, after all, you are in their territory!
If there is one piece of advice we have… DO NOT leave anything in your backpack during the day/night. Jungle rats are god awful and will eat through everything and anything. A hard plastic box (esky/cooler) is provided to put all of your food in there. We strongly suggest also putting cigarettes, paper money, toilet paper, tissues, your toothbrush & toothpaste in there too.
We had removed all our food from our backpack already (well I thought we had) and we tucked it into our tent under the sheet. In the morning, we awoke to a hole in the mosquito net and a hole in Jacob’s backpack. What could the rat possibly be after? A metal tin of mints, an eye mask and money. Yes, this little bastard ate some of our money, right through Jacob’s eye mask AND left his dirty droppings right next to our mattresses. Omg. Ew!
We also had a resident spider that came out every evening and sat right above us at the dinner table. Although not harmful to your body, it was definitely harmful to the eye. And then there were the moths. Bringing a light to the bathroom at night is a necessity but be prepared to have every moth and the rest of their moth family join you. It was like swatting flies!
The Practical Information
There’s no denying the Gibbon Experience is heavy on the wallet but sometimes, experiences are worth everything. We’d never done anything like this before, nor is there anything else like it in the world so we dug deep into the pockets and made it happen. Experiences are priceless.
There are 3 options :
- 3D/2N Classic – The most relaxed of them all with the “least” amount of walking. You also have the highest possibility of spotting the Gibbons. Remember, it’s still the jungle so it is not guaranteed to see them at all. Cost $310 USD & runs on every even date.
- 3D/2N Waterfall – This tour takes you deeper into the park with 2-3 hours of walking a day + the chance to swim in a freshwater swimming pool. Please note, this option requires you to be moderately fit. Cost $310 USD & runs on every odd date.
- 2D/1N Express – Steep trekking involved and the least chance to see the Gibbons. Cost $190 USD & runs every day
Note: You can pay via PayPal/Cash or Credit Card (with a 3% fee).
When to go
The Gibbon Experience is open year round but that doesn’t mean it will be pleasant year round. We went at the start of the dry season (end of October) and thankfully we had no problems with the rain. The dry/high season starts in November and goes until April. We recommend booking in advance before you arrive if you’re coming in peak season. The rainy season is definitely for the more adventurous & patient. The paths can become very muddy/slippery and wet! Remember: you’re outdoors for 3 days.
What to Pack (based on a 3D/2N trip)
Pack lightly! You don’t need a lot in the Jungle. They provide both towels, sheets and soap.
- Comfortable clothes to sleep in, preferably long sleeved to prevent those nasty bug bites.
- Shorts/Pants for the day
- 3x Shirts (it’s sweaty in the jungle!)
- Bug Spray – Alllll the bug spray!
- Head Lamp
- Water bottle (water is included in the cost)
- Toilet Paper
- Camera + an extra battery. There is nowhere to charge your belongings.
Conclusion…Is it worth the cost?
The Gibbon Experience isn’t for everyone. If you’re afraid of heights, animals or bugs then you may want to reconsider. However, if you can put these factors aside and come into this experience with an open mind and let go of those fears whilst you live like Tarzan for 3 days then yes, it is worth every cent.
Married days survived: 596