Based out of Huay Xi, Laos, just over the border over Northern Thailand, the Gibbon Experience is a must if in Southeast Asia. Much like the native gibbons, monkeys that swing from tree to tree, the program features intense zip-lining and overnight stays in tree houses. Some programs offer trekking and waterfall visits and range from 2-day to 3-day trips. It is a bit expensive, ranging from $190-$290, but is worth every penny. Or Lao kip.
I did the 2-Day Express trip, the least expensive and shortest of them all at $190. I realize I am over budget by a lot, but as a Christmas present to myself and an incredible experience, it was a justified splurge.
We departed around 9 am from Huay Xi and traveled about an hour into the Nam Tha Park before beginning our 3 hour trek to the first zip line. On our ascent into the mountainous jungle, we began to meet each other: two young guys from New Zealand, two girls from Belgium, a hysterical couple from Ireland, and a guy from Sweden to name a few. Conversation on our travels and homes flowed easily when not winded and struggling to climb steep terrain.
On the first day, we did 9 zip lines, all soaring high over the canopy with stellar views. We got to the tree house around 4 pm and settled into our new home.
Our zip line entry was the “basement” of our home 60 meters in the air. It housed our bathroom: a squat toilet and an overhead shower with open 270 degree views of the jungle. The second level was our common space: a small kitchenette (just a counter and sink), a table and stools, and a few mattresses. Again, sweeping views of the beautiful wilderness all around us. The third level had two different platforms, with three beds total, one of which was mine for the night.
As the sun began to set opposite our treehouse, over layers of mountains and trees, we showered, then enjoyed a few beerlaos with dinner. Between the open-air shower overlooking the jungle and one of the best sunsets I’d ever seen, it was a night to remember. We played cards and shared many laughs as the night went on; one by one, we exited to our mattresses and mosquito nets. We fell asleep to the magical sounds of the forest.
We awoke at 6:30 as the sun began to illuminate our side of the mountain. This morning was different from most though. Getting ready required an extra step: get dressed, brush my teeth, and then harness up. It was 7 o’clock in the morning and what better way to start our day than a few zip lines before breakfast. Adrenaline surged as we rubbed our eyes awake; Surely, we had to be able to see everything possible while flying over the forest.
After our warm-up, we returned to the treehouse for coffee and breakfast. Leaving was bittersweet: we had to say goodbye one of the coolest places we’d ever fall asleep in, but had 7 more zip lines to go, one of which the longest of our trip at 570 km.
Flying through the forest yields a feeling I can’t quite explain; it goes beyond adrenaline or awe. It felt as though I were a bird, soaring above magic, nature’s secrets, and undiscovered lives. Just a little taste of magic before being interrupted by the voices of friends at the next platform or the guide yelling at me to brake.
If you are in Northern Laos, you must do the Gibbon Experience. I can’t recommend it enough. The prices are a bit steep for Southeast Asia but it’s an experience I couldn’t get elsewhere and will never forget. It was an action-packed, yet peaceful two days in the Laos jungle.