Relaxing among Lao’s elusive gibbons

|     Patithin Phetmeuangphuan     |


BOKEO, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) – To be in a tree house, on a hill, 20 metres above the ground caused me to be simultaneously scared and excited. I could barely look down but at the same time I was thrilled to see the lovely green view on the doorstep of my lodgings.

The Gibbon Experience is a good example of when tourism combines with forest conservation. Located in Laos’ Nam Kan National Park, it’s a must-see on a tourist’s itinerary when making a trip to Huayxai district in Bokeo province.

There are three programmes you can choose from: the classic tour, three-day waterfall tour and the two-day express tour.

I took the classic tour but stayed just one night because I didn’t have much time.

We were told to prepare ourselves because it involved a lot of trekking, so we brought good walking shoes and mosquito spray.

Visitors take a break on their trek. – VIENTIANE TIMES/ANN

At 8am we arrived at the office to listen to staff giving the Gibbon Experience briefing on safety, especially on how to safely use the zip-line. After that we set out with a bottle of water in hand.

The car drove us for more than an hour on good road and 45 minutes along a dusty road before we arrived at Ban Toub, the starting point of our trek.

Ban Toub is a small village made up of the Hmong ethnic group where you can get some free sweets or snacks from the staff. We took a few minutes break there. You can see friendly children and local people always ready with a smile even if they can’t understand your language.

Our trek started after a 10-minute break, and even though it was noon it wasn’t hot because the foliage of the forest provided enough shade.

After around 20 minutes trekking we arrived at a small river, which had some benches. There, you can wash your face and hands with cold water from the river and then sit on the bench to have your lunch.

After lunch, we continued walking. It took around 30 minutes before we arrived at the camp where were shown the house we would stay in.

House number one and seven are the top choices because you have more chance to see the wildlife. But if you don’t end up with those, it’s not such a big problem as the setting is serene.

I took house number four where I shared with four other people; two from Laos and a couple from France.

After settling in, we decided to take a 10-minute walk to the zip-line.

I was very excited because someone in our group claimed that the Gibbon Experience had the highest zip-line in the world and it was my first time trying a zip-line.

Before we began, our tour guide explained how to use the zip-line.

During my first attempt I yelled out but knew that I should be quiet so as not to scare the wildlife. But after my first zip-line experience, I was no longer afraid.

The zip-lines are not close by, so we needed to walk around five to ten minutes to reach each starting point.

We took around four or five zip-lines to get to our tree house.

Our tree house was amazing. It’s a new one with a beautiful design made of wood and a grass roof.

It was very big and strong so we felt safe at all times.

We had some snacks and fruit along with hot tea, which was served by our tour guide but we didn’t have much time to relax because the car would pick us up the next day at noon.

Our tour guide took us to visit other tree houses but we could only go to one because it was getting dark and we wanted to come back to see the sunset from our tree house.

As the sun began to set, a variety of birds began flying around filling the sky as they flew back home to roost.

Sunset at the house was amazing. The sun was big and sky lit up like it was on fire. A chorus of insects then chimed in.

We were served dinner on bamboo plates and enjoyed a leisurely meal while getting to know each other.

We played cards, I tried my first French game and then tried to show them the Lao style but it was similar to the other games.

It was around 9pm when we went to bed but we felt like it was already midnight because it was so quiet.

You should not wait too long before taking a shower after trekking, because the water gets very cold.

Our tour guide told us before he left for the evening not to store any sweets or food in our backpacks, because we might have animal visitors trying to break into our bags looking for any sweet treasures inside.

The guide gave sound advice while staying in the forest. We were barely asleep and heard the scurrying noise of rodents and squirrels. It sounded like they were fighting for food.

It’s hard to sleep in this forest conservation park because you’re awoken by a symphony of song birds. For me, it was a pleasant alarm clock. It signalled that it was time for us to get out of bed, get some fresh air and witness the fog cover creeping over the forest.

Our next journey started after breakfast and we visited the other houses by walking and zipping.

The zip-lines no longer scared us and this encouraged us not to walk as we constantly asked the tour guide when our next zip-line was.

However, the zip-lines never failed to provide excitement, and many times we stopped in the middle forcing us to manoeuvre ourselves along the cable.

This also gave us an impression of how the gibbons must feel making their way around the tree canopy, and our tour guide was on hand to assist anyone who found it too challenging.

When zipping to house number one you should stop in the middle of the zip-line to experience how beautiful the tree house is from a distance.

All the other houses we visited were great and we stopped at each one for five to ten minutes to observe the views and search for wildlife but on the occasion of our visit they were hard to spot, especially the gibbons.

But this didn’t really come as a surprise because I know free ranging wildlife can be shy and many animals are wary of humans. I was just happy to see the outstanding level of conservation in the forest.