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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

There is a company in northwestern Laos that has a mission of preserving and expanding the habitat of gibbons as well as creating jobs and positive development in the community. Rather than just ask for donations, The Gibbon Experience provides an amazing opportunity to have some serious fun for a great cause.
I don’t mind paying extra money when it’s going to the right place, but at $90 per day the Experience is pricy for this part of the world. The 3 day was a little bit out of my budget for this trip, but, fortunately, they offer a 2 day/1 night trip that was less unaffordable. My previous “splurge” excursions were half the price of the gibbons, but I had to do it. I’m glad I did!
I arrived in Hoay Xai the evening before the trip began and went to the GE office to confirm my reservation. As I was checking in a group arrived back from the 3 day/2 night trip talking, looking, and acting as if they had been through a war. They told horror stories of giant leaches and 8 hour days of hiking through mud with only 2 of the 8 people seeing gibbons. The trip I was going on would be at a different location with a shorter hiking portion, fewer leaches, but less gibbon activity.
The first day of the Experience began with an 8am meeting at the office to watch safety and informative videos for 30 minutes. The only gibbons I would actually see on the trip were in the videos. After the films, the 7 of us participating in the adventure took a 1 hour truck ride to the start of the trail. The hike to the treehouse was not very muddy and took about 4 hours. The trail included 4 zip lines and it was my first experience zipping. I had my reservations considering my fear of heights, but it was not an issue. Zip lining was AMAZING! The lines were 300-700 meters long and most were over 100 meters high. The views and the feeling while zipping were indescribable.

The treehouse, which would be our home for the trip, was really, really high up and only accessible by zip line. The bathroom had a porcelain squat toilet and shower with no outside walls, totally exposing you to the jungle. The floor had cracks that, when looking down, showed you just how high up you were. It was the coolest bathroom I have ever been in. The treehouse looked very new and the sleeping accommodations were adequate.
The first afternoon we had a few hours to go zipping on our own and it was like having an amusement park to ourselves. From the treehouse, there was a loop of about 5 cables that we went around several times. It was incredible. We returned to the treehouse for dinner at 6pm. None of the food on the trip was bad, but it was far from great. For dinner we had a nice fried beef dish, pretty good sauteed mushrooms, very oily veggie stir fry, and a boiled cucumber dish that I didn’t care for. The 7 of us spent the evening drinking lao lao and playing cards. Uncharacteristically, I dominated the card playing.
It was like a dream sleeping in a treehouse and hearing the jungle noises in the background. Sometime in the middle of the night that dream briefly turned into a nightmare when a very loud noise from some sort of animal woke everyone up. The official wakeup came at 6 am with our guides zipping back to the treehouse. It had rained all night and was not showing any signs of letting up. This put a damper on the plans for an hour of zipping before breakfast, but this is what happens during the rainy season. Breakfast was similar to dinner and we left the treehouse at 9.
Miraculously, the rain let up just as we left the treehouse. Due to the rain, the hiking on the second day was a lot more interesting. We went up and down some very steep slopes that were rather moist and a lot of slipping and sliding was going on. There were 4 more very long and very fun cables to zip across. We had lunch at a small hut by a river that in two weeks will become a starting point for tubing. There was only another 30 minutes or so of hiking before we reached the truck to take us back. The road was not paved and extremely rugged. We had to dismount several times for stream crossings as well as going up steep slopes. There were a couple points where we had to help push the truck up hills. The ride was nearly as fun as the zipping.
We returned to the office at 2pm a little muddy, a little tired, and very happy. The Gibbon Experience was incredible and I highly recommend it.

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