After leaving the beauties of Pai behind me, I departed for ‘the land of a million elephants’- Laos. To get there, I took a bus from Chang Mai straight to Chang Kong, situated right on the famous Mekong River. The mighty Mekong, flowing from the mountains of Tibet, through Burma into Thailand, Laos, Cambodia before finally entering the South China Sea through it’s Delta in Vietnam. Abit of education there for you. I did say I took the bus- I would have if I had woken on my first alarm, but as fate should have it, I missed my first (and only) bus, and was put out of pocket £60 as I grabbed a private taxi to chauffeur me the 2 hours to the river crossing.
Stepping onto the rivers bank with my boat ticket in hand, the man points to my captain ahead- a small and wrinkly old man, with a boat to match his age. Five minutes is all it takes to cross the short distance to Laos, leaving Thailand behind me for now. After sorting all the paperwork and visa on arrival, and another stamp in the passport later, I walked up to the main street of Huay Xai. A very quiet, and what I discovered, very boring town, with nothing much about except a couple of small guesthouses and even fewer shops. Apart from being used as a gateway into Laos, there is one other activity in town which draws a large crowd- The Gibbons Experience. With it’s office based a stones throw from the river crossing, groups of people visit to get booked up for the adventure trail, or check-in if they previously booked online. I had booked up a month previous, as I was told it can get busy and to drop in on the day to book can often lead to a few days hanging around to go.
What research I had done prior to arriving had me very very excited about this one. I was booked on to the 3 day waterfall experience, which entailed alot of trekking, alot of zip lining, and alot of tree houses (any child’s dream, surely). The trucks were coming to pick my group up the day after check-in, at a ridiculous time of the morning. I checked into a guesthouse to catch up on sleep and rest my bones for the coming days of climbing and hiking.
It took an hour and a half in the back of the truck to get to Bokeo, giving you time to get acquainted with the company you’ll be sharing with over the coming days. We stopped at a shop to pick up any essentials before we were told the ride would be taken a little more off-road and bumpy going forward- they weren’t wrong. We were clinging on for dear life in the back of that pick-up truck for a further half hour, whilst the driver manouvered around huge holes, up and over the rugged road to the camps base quite literally in the middle of nowhere. As the trucks pulled into the little village, we were greeted by locals and young children, all of which were wearing rags on their backs, and got by on the bare essentials. They seemed somehow content.
From here on, the rest was all on foot. And so it began; 5 hours trekking on day one, with one stop for a rest with a sandwich they supplied, lugging our packs deeper and deeper into the jungle. It was exciting. I wanted to see the tree house we would be spending the first night in. I had seen photos- they looked amazing. We had 2 guides take us in to the jungle, both who were very friendly. Although their English language wasn’t great, they gave it a good go and quite often made us laugh in the process. We arrived at a small camp where we were told a few rules and safety tips about the zip lines (just give me the harness already), and we began a descent; the sound of flowing water getting louder on our approach. A stunning pool of water with a waterfall as a back drop- perfect to cool the blood after the morning hike. All refreshed and dried off, we were given our harness which we were to sport for the next 2 days. Another 5 minute walk and we were faced with our first zip line- half a kilometer long across a gaping valley- deep breath; lets do this.
From now on, the trekking was split between the zip lining and hilly climbs- I had already established my favourite mode of transport. There were long ones, short ones, fast and faster ones. Incase you’re wondering how you brake on the zip lines, you have a bicycle tyre in hand which you squeeze around the metal cable above you- make sure you bring gloves won’t you. I can’t tell you how exhilarating it is flying 200 metres above the ground, with panoramic views all around you. Incredible doesn’t quite sum it up. We reached one zip line in the early afternoon, and saw in the distance our house in the tree. As we flew towards it, you could see that it was set across 3 different levels as you got closer; we had different floors in our house!? Up the tallest tree, set in the middle of this huge valley, somewhere deep in the jungle…it really took my breath away.
On day 2, we were woken early to the sound of someone zipping into the treehouse. The guides brought in breakfast and made fresh Lao coffee, before hitting the trails and cables once again- we were moving house. Another 2 hours climbing and flying around, we reached treehouse 7. Again, an impressive structure set in a beautiful valley, surrounded by more zip lines we were free to play on all day. That night, we were talking of the morning to follow, and how the next treehouse we’ll be visiting is where we can hope to see the mystical black gibbons. They are most active very early in the morning, and said if we were to stand a chance in seeing them, we would have to get up early. We agreed on a 5am start, and were whizzing across the zip lines in the blackness of the morning by 5:15. Another 2 hours trekking, we were drawing closer, and you could hear in the distance the gibbons singing; a very surreal and strange noise, which was growing in volume. We began to run. It sounded like they were practically swinging through the tree’s beside us. It had started to get light by now, and we reached a zip line with another treehouse in the distance. That was our view point. Treehouse 5- overlooking the panoramic valley, with a perfect view to see the gibbons in the distance. Lots of groups gathered here now, in the hope to glance a look at the rare monkey’s. Large camera’s were pointing into the tree’s, and the black gibbons eerie song whaled across the valley. They owned this valley. We were in their territory. We were out of luck on this occasion, we never glimpsed the black gibbon- but how exciting was it anyway!
One last meal, and we began our return trip to the village. Legs aching and the sun beating down on us; my body was screaming out for a cold shower. We arrived back at the village, after 3 of the largest zip lines I had seen teared us through the jungle at record speed. They must have covered off 2 miles between them. The little kids came running up to us at the village again, as we threw our packs down and had a cold Beer Lao. We had a few photos with them, and they were amazed to see the pictures when I played them back to them. The camera obviously a piece of technology they had seen very few times in the past.
And that was it. One last truck ride back to the office, straight back to the guesthouse, and straight into the shower. I then continued to sleep for 13 hours 🙂
My advice- BOOK THIS UP. Do not skip past this. If you’ve gone past it, go back again. Memories like this will be with you your whole life
- Living in a tree house in Northern Laos (mundanetraveller.com)