Gibbon Experience, Houay Xai, Laos

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I took a taxi for 100 baht to Bus Station 2, and paid 220 baht for the bus to Borneo, Laos. For the border you need $35 USD and 1 passport photos; the form you fill out there.

I shared a tuk tuk from the Bodeo bus station with a Swiss German family to the town of Houay Xai where the Gibbon Experience is located. Houay Xai is one street long with a few restaurants, run down guesthouses, delis, and one bar. The whole place is under developed.

I walked up and down the main road a few times looking for a decent guest house but they all looked horrible. There were a few written in lonely planet- one of them had no guests staying there, the other had a gang working and hanging out, and the third had this aggressive old lady who told me I wouldn’t die if I stayed there. There is one really nice hotel but that one is not in my budget at all. I quickly realized I couldn’t stay there for three nights before my tree house adventure so I went straight to the Gibbon office and asked to move my trip to the next day. Luckily a group had just gotten back so I followed them to where they were staying, Sabaydee Guesthouse. I’m paying 90,000 kip, approx. $11. Much steeper than I wanted but I know there were at least other expats near me now. The only expats in the town were there for the Gibbon Experience.

It’s my first non-dorm room. I had my own bedroom with a queen size bed and shower. My window and one of the shared common areas right outside my door faces the Mekong River- amazing view. Also, Bar How?, the only bar in town, was right across the street.

I ate amazing rice and vegetable soup at Muang Ner Cafe, then headed across the street to Bar How? Met a group of guys who just got back from the Gibbon Experience and ended up chatting and playing cards with them until about 10:30pm. I ordered sandwiches from the woman who “has everything,” and eventually made my way back to the guest house. Hoped into my big bed and watched Laos cartoons before passing out.

I got to the Gibbon office at 8:30am. After a short safety video we took off on a 2 hour car ride. An hour through the countryside and an hour off-roading through the jungle. We were dropped off at a small village and split into two groups. My group had an older weird German guy, a guy from Holland, a guy from England, and a couple who just lived in Australia (she’s Irish and he’s Canadian.) Our guide’s name was Boon. His English was great considering he taught himself. He was 21 and had been working there for a year, and came from a village nearby.

We trekked for about 2 hours all three days. The trekking is definitely harder than they make it sound online. I was able to do it but I struggled at some points, mostly because I was exhausted the whole time. But the zip lining was incredible. The zip lines are designed to help get your farther into the jungle; a method of transportation. When we arrived at the first zip line our guide quickly showed us how to attach our harnesses to the line and then we were flying. No helmets or jackets attached. Just a harness around our waist and legs which we adjusted ourselves. We zip lined the first day to our tree house which was 55 meters high (180 feet.) The house was round, had a thatched roof and two floors- a top floor to sleep two people and a main floor with a bathroom (shower and toilet facing out), a kitchen (a sink), a low round table, low stools, and mattresses for six people. You could enter the house through a door downstairs or through a window on the main floor. To leave the house we had to open a hatch door and just jump out.

When we got there Boon gave us snacks (watermelon, black sticky rice candies and toffee) and then he just left us saying he’d be back in a few house with our dinner. We had about 3 hours to zip line around by ourselves. To exit that tree house the first time was absolutely terrifying. We could have easily just fallen out of the door. But the lack of safety actually made it all seem less scary. There was no one warning us how dangerous it was, and the guides were constantly flying around freely on the lines like monkeys.

You can’t zip line in the dark, so when the sun started to set we headed back. The sun sets around 6:30 and then there’s literally nothing to do. The tree house has one small light but other than that no electricity or outlets. We sleep on mattresses with a huge mosquito net, like a tent. The first night Boon stayed for a few hours and we chatted with him and drank two local whiskeys. The English guy bought one that tasted like medicine, and the German guy brought one that tasted like bubblegum. The bubblegum one tasted better. I also couldn’t stop eating this sugary cream sauce for the coffee. We went to bed around 9:30.

The next morning we woke up to zip before breakfast, ate breakfast (fried rice) then headed off towards the waterfall. The waterfall was small but pretty. The water was freezing but it was really fun. There was a zip line/ rope swing, and we all climbed a little bit up the fall to take photos. From there we ate lunch and trekked to our second tree house which was 40 meters high. The longest zip line was near this house, 500 meters (1640 feet.) This house only had one floor but the bathroom was downstairs, which was more private and better for the smell. Before dinner we zipped again, this time the Dutch guy and I zipped together which was not allowed but we did it anyway. You go much faster as two people which was fun but also we didn’t have to wait as long at the other end. That night we played Asshole and when I left to use the bathroom I heard a loud scream from the English guy. There was a massive spider on the ceiling upstairs, the size of a hand. Eventually it ran onto the roof but it kept us worried the whole night. We ended up going to bed earlier that night (we didn’t have any booze left to keep us occupied.)

The next morning we got up early to trek back to the village. After breakfast Boon heard Gibbon noises and we almost managed to see a Gibbon or monkey in the far distance. Although we didn’t actually see any Gibbon’s on the Gibbon Experience it was still worth it for the zip lining. The scenery was incredible- it was definitely the real jungle. I am surprised though that there weren’t many animals or flowers throughout the area. We saw a few random cows, and of course a lot of bugs, but that’s it.

That night my group went to Bar How again. We also walked farther down the village a tried some street food. We had pork on a stick that was delicious. That night I stayed at Friendship guesthouse because it was much cheaper, 50,000 kip. It was the worst bed I’ve ever slept on, I could actually feel the springs as if there was nothing on top of them. I laid all the blankets and towels on top and kept the fan off and attempted to sleep but at 6am construction next door started and all chances were lost.

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The next morning was the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang. We picked up more sandwiches from the woman who sells everything and a bottle of real whiskey. The boat was scheduled to leave at 11am (I was picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30) but it didn’t actually leave until noon. Laos time. The boats are long and thin with rows of seats and a snack bar in the back. The first day was about 6 hours. Most people brought liquor and everyone was drinking and chatting most of the time. The scenery in beautiful but all the same- greenery. The boat stops occasionally to deliver goods to local towns, and randomly picks up locals as well. That night we arrived in a small village that’s not even on the map. We had met a guy from England the night before who had been on the boat before so we followed him to the guest house he recommended. The place was nice with private bathrooms. We all ate dinner at the restaurant there then headed to the only bar in town. The bar had Christmas lights lining the entrance and was colorfully painted inside with some colored lights and two flashing lights which might have been emergency lights. A friend played house music and for the first time in 5 weeks I felt like I was at a real bar. I drank Laos Whiskey which was almost the same price as beer. It smelled like apple juice and tasted a bit like apple whiskey- not strong but not bad either.

Day two of the slow boat 9am- 4pm. I met a group of American guys and two British girls. The girls ended up being in the same hostel as me in Luang Prabang so that worked out great.

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