After spending a week in Bangkok and Northern Thailand, I made my way to Huay Xai, a small Lao town right after the border to Thailand. I took the direct bus from Chiang Rai that drops you off at both the Thai and Lao immigration offices and picks you up again after you’re done with the immigration process. You could save a few Baht if you take a bus to the Thai border, then a tuk tuk to the Lao border, followed by a bus to the bus station close to Huay Xai and last but not least, another tuk tuk to Huay Xai “city center”. I was happy to pay a few more Baht in order to get over the border without any troubles. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about the immigration process, but my worries were totally unjustified as it all went pretty smoothly and so within three hours, I found myself in Laos. The ride was actually pretty convenient as another backpacker, a German-Vietnamese called Hai, and I had the whole bus for ourselves.
From the bus station, Hai and I shared a tuk tuk to our destination in Huay Xai. It turned out that our accommodations were only a few meters apart. After arriving in Huay Xai, I first went to the office of The Gibbon Experience to register for the start of the three-day tour the next day. I was very excited about The Gibbon Experience and really curious how it would be, especially as it was rain season and they had already warned me about the difficult conditions by email.
After registration, I checked into my accommodation, the Daauw Home. I found out about the Daauw Home in one of my Lonely Planet editions. What I really liked about the Daauw Home is that all of their profits go into the Empowerment Activities for the Women in the Mountains of Laos. The Daauw Home is completely owned, run and managed by mountain people and also offers shelter to the mountain people just below the restaurant. By staying at the Daauw Home, guests help these people become self-sustainable. I really enjoyed staying at their bungalow, which had everything I needed for as little as 100’000 KIP. They actually offered me a discount of 20’000 KIP, which I happily donated to their organisation. These women are doing amazing work and deserve so much more than I was able to give. If you’ve got the chance to stay there, you should not miss it.
Even though I was officially staying at the Daauw Home, I spent most of that day in the Little Hostel, where Hai and a lot of other backpackers were staying. The Little Hostel is a meeting point for most backpackers, especially the ones who take part in The Gibbon Experience. I really liked the atmosphere there and so I just hung out with the rest of the backpackers. The majority of the people that hung out in the Little Hostel didn’t actually stay there though as the Little Hostel has only eight beds.
The amount of backpackers that I met in Huay Xai, especially female solo travelers, was mind-blowing. I’ve come across other female solo travelers before, but not to that extent. So far, I’ve always been admired for my travels and for being on my own, but I felt so “small” when I met all these amazing women, most of them much younger than I am. One of them, for instance, was only 19 years old and had been travelling through South America on her own. I was really impressed! And then, there was Adam, a guy from Israel who’s already been travelling for over a year. Believe me or not, but he will continue travelling for yet another year. His stories were priceless. He’s seen and done so much and I was absolutely speechless. He was also on the three-day Gibbon Experience tour and I was excited to hear more of his stories.
The next morning, all participants of The Gibbon Experience met up at the office for a short video about the safety instructions. Normally, you can book three different tours. The Waterfall Tour, the Classic Tour and the Express Tour. Both the Waterfall and the Classic Tour cover three days whereas the Express Tour covers only two days. I’d have liked to book the waterfall tour as it is a bit more demanding, but since they do not offer it during rain season, I opted for the Classic Tour instead. We were split up according to the tour we’d booked and then driven to the starting point of our trek, which is situated in the Nam Kan National Park. During our transfer, we introduced ourselves and got to know each other a bit better. We were eleven people in our group: Four Americans, one Israeli, three English and three Swiss (including me). Ollie, Kate and Freya were the three English representatives of our group. The family lived in New Zealand for almost ten years but was travelling their way back to England. I was so impressed how they’d just sold everything in New Zealand and decided to start anew in the UK.
As aforementioned, we’d been warned about the conditions of the trails during rain season. Let’s just say I was happy that I’d brought my hiking boots. People wearing Crocs or trainers definitely had a harder time in the mud and slipped or tripped more easily than people in hiking boots. The hike to our tree houses took us about two hours and already gave us an idea of what to expect of the following two days. The hike incorporated several zip lines, which was a lot of fun. I’ve been zip lining before (see my blog post about the Philippines), but these zip lines were not only higher up but also much longer.
The tree houses that we lived in were simple but amazing. The best thing about all the tree houses was the view over the jungle. I shared a tree house with Adam, the Americans and the Swiss couple. Ollie, Kate and Freya had their own tree house, which was bit further away from ours. After arriving at our tree house, we were done for the day and relaxed for the rest of it. Our guides served us some snacks, tea and coffee and later on, one of the kitchen staff zip lined over to our tree house and brought us dinner. For the rest of the evening, we played a card game that Adam had taught us. The other girls as well as Adam were quite competitive, so at some point I decided to watch the others play rather than playing myself. Just to give you an idea of how competitive the other players were: The night ended with one of the girls throwing the cards on the table and walking away from the table angrily.
The next morning, one of the American girls woke me up because they’d spotted gibbons in one of the trees close-by. And there they were! Jumping from one branch to another and making super loud noises, which almost sounded like a car alarm. They were absolutely beautiful to watch. We were off to a great start into another eventful day.
After breakfast, we left the tree house for a longer trek and some zip lines. It was raining, but we didn’t notice it that much as we were covered by the trees. On our hike, we visited a few of the other tree houses, including one that was still under construction. Each of them is unique, but we couldn’t help ourselves and rated them by factors such as size, construction, etc. Our conclusion after visiting all of them was that ours had the best bathroom views. Don’t laugh, that’s quite essential when you live in the jungle!
We met up for lunch with Ollie, Kate and Freya, who’d been exploring with their own guide, before we visited the biggest tree house and went for some more zip lines. I really enjoyed every bit of it and was actually grateful for the rain as it decreased the number of mosquito bites drastically. The mosquitoes were definitely the most annoying part about being in the jungle. I got bitten so many times despite putting on anti-bug spray multiple times a day. If you decide on doing The Gibbon Experience, definitely bring a good mosquito repellent spray along. Even though leeches were also annoying and quite disgusting, they are not actually harmful.
After a delicious dinner, Adam gave us a few riddles to solve, which was fun and led to a lot of animated discussions. Afterwards, some played another round of cards before we finally turned off the lights and went to bed.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the gibbons anymore on our last day, but no complaint. At least we’d seen them once. On the last day, it was mainly about getting back to the village from where we’d started our hike two days earlier and then driving back to Huay Xai. Since we started the hike pretty early, we still had some time do some extra zip lines.
Overall, it was an amazing experience that I can highly recommend even though there are a few bits and pieces that could be improved. Everyone who works in the jungle for The Gibbon Experience (guides, kitchen maids, etc) deserves a huge shout out as they are doing an amazing job. The food was delicious, especially if one considers that it was cooked in a hut in the jungle and delivered to our tree house by zip line. The guides did an amazing job and made sure that we were comfortable and safe at all times. So if you like flying over the jungle, trekking and sleeping outdoors, The Gibbon Experience is the right thing for you! I will definitely never forget that experience.
Accommodation: Daauw Home, Little Hostel
Activities: The Gibbon Experience