The Gibbon Experince

Alex and I woke up in the morning, walked to the sandwich shop that we liked and it started to dawn on us that for the next 3 days we would be living in the forest. As I tucked into my peanut butter and banana sandwich I wasn’t sure what the next few days would bring.

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We walked to the tempory office of The Gibbon Experience (as the main building had been lost in a fire a few weeks prior to our arrival) and found a seat awaiting the video presentation. The room filled as we noted the variety of people that sat, normally small groups of people at various age groups and one American family who had two children (ages 10-12 I believe). The room fell silent as one of the people in charge spoke up, explaining the order of events. We were to watch two videos and any questions would be answered shortly after the video. He took his time to apologise for the inconvenience of the tempory building (something which would affect the day to day running of the business far more than our 20 minute morning seminar) many times.

We watched two videos, one which we had seen on the website explaining the idea behind the Gibbon experience as a whole and the second video (which I will note has some terribly cheesy music) was more of an instructional video on safety tips and general Q&A points people might have. As the video finished we were asked if we had any further questions, and a silence fell over the room (something akin to a silent classroom at school). We stepped outside to receive a bottle of water and a packet of cookies and asked to get into the right pickup truck for what experience we had signed up for.

The Gibbon Experience  ( for those who don’t know)is an adventure and conservation project, designed to allow people to stay in treehouse’s deep in the Nam Kan National Park in Laos. The idea is to promote both the protection of the animals in the park (ranging from gibbons to barking deer to even a tiger!)  as well as the forest itself. The main reason you do this really mind you is to spend all day zip wiring (the only way that the treehouses are accessible) and sleep in said treehouses to feel more connected with nature. Plus if you are lucky you might even get to see some gibbons.

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One of the treehouses at the park

The tours are split into styles, the express, the classic and the waterfall. The classic was the first and the most sold out as it allows for two nights in the forest and is at more relaxed pace in order to feel more in touch with the nature that you are engulfed by. The express is shorter and more based on the zip wire experience itself, with the waterfall (as the name implies) you visit another area and zip wire around waterfalls. We booked months in advance (which is good due to how much it had sold out) and had chosen to do the classic experience.

We found a pickup truck that said CLASSIC on the side (a piece of A4 paper blue tacked on)  and climbed into the bed of the truck, saying hello to the two girls who are already in the back.

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Us with Ida and Sarah before we were too windswept and cold

After the pleasantries we held on to the sides as the pickup truck roared into life, we knew that this was going to be an interesting drive. The drive itself wasn’t too bad, however, all four of us who sat in the back all wound up freezing due to the wind and speed that we were travelling. It took about 2 and a half hours in total, with the first hour and a half being on roads and the last hour being more of a bumpy dirt path rather than a road.

We arrived a little bounced around and a little cold but overall in good spirits, all excited for what the next step was. We arrived in a small village and were told that we had to walk to the first part of the experience, “the kitchen” which was to take 40 mins.  The walk was a great slow introduction to the feeling of being in the wildness, the trees and plants slowly surrounding you making you feel less and less significant.

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Starting our walk through the park to the kitchen

Around half way into the walk, as we all started to sweat more than you really want to, we stopped and we were given a sandwich(khao jji paa-te) and told to have lunch. After eating the sandwich (which was really good I should mention, we continued our walk deeper into the national park. Each step was getting steeper and every single person in the group we walked with (around 35 people) all mentioned how glad we were to do this walk in the dry season (after being told that leeches and slipping are major issues in the wet).

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Some of the scenary in the park

As we finished the climb (which was very steep and hot) we finally arrived at the kitchen, which was no more than a large shack where the guides all waited for us. We were shown the general map (giving us an idea of the scale and scope of what we are to walk to get to the treehouses) and were asked to choose which one we wanted to go into. I had read that the best two treehouses for seeing gibbons are treehouse 1 and 8, with better views at 8 but a cooler treehouse in 1. The American family whom we meet earlier stated they would prefer to stay in treehouse 8 and I followed by saying that I would want to stay in treehouse 1 and thus the groups started to form. Along with myself and Alex, we were joined by 6 more people-

Christoph who was German, Evelien and Marije who were from the Netherlands, Sarah and Ida who are Swedish and finally Tessa from Belgium, we were a variable ‘whos who’ of Europe. After introductions, we were shown how to put on our harness and introduced to our two guides Nu and Phia who would be showing us around for the next few days.

We were the last group to leave the kitchen as technically we had the shortest walk, however as we set off we still all had our bags (even with reducing the size and only bring the essentials) and now with the extra weight and clumsiness of the harness the walk was a little more work than we expected. We walked further uphill and slowly realised that we arrived at the first step into the adventure, the first zip line was ahead of us.

We arrived as the final member of the previous group was about to zip away, and I think it hit home for all of us how ridiculous what we were about to do was. As we saw the person zip into the thick trees we all looked at each other a little nervously as Nu stepped up to the platform. What followed was a follow up from the previous safety video regarding how to attach yourself to the safety line and how to have your zipping equipment. Nu then lifted his feet and slide down the line, disappearing with the sound of the metal zipping and twanging (a noise that we all became very accustomed to).  One by one we stepped up to a platform as Phia checked our harnesses and sent us on our way.

It was finally my turn, going ahead of Alex I stepped under the wire and attached myself. I wasn’t sure how I would handle the zipping as whilst I am not scared of heights, I treat them with some mild trepidation. I took a deep breath and jumped off the platform.

The first zip was short and wasn’t the highest that we were going to do over the next few days but it provided a reassurance that I would enjoy myself, as the world zipped along my sense of nerves replaced with joy and excitement. I knew this was going to be a great few days. A few short seconds (all told likely be about 10 seconds or so) I arrived at the first landing point, slowing myself using my brake (cut up bike tire) and stopped myself. What a rush.

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Alex ziplining from one of the trees

Alex followed and finally, all our of the group arrived. What followed was more walking with one more zip, each zip experience seemed to be better and more impressive than the last. After another hour or so of zipping and walking, we arrived at the treehouse. Our guide Nu had got us there safely (phew). We zipped into the treehouse (the coolest way to enter our house) and were allowed to explore, it dawned on us that we all stood in our home for the next two nights. We all ran up and down the three levels taking photos and just being in awe of the situation that we found ourselves in. We had some snacks with the guides: Laos sweets, potato cake ( like a soggy rice cake) and some pear-apples, as well as tea/coffee.The guides asked if we had any questions where one of the girls asked what we do if there is an emergency where they simply answered: “nothing happens in the treehouses” before they zipped away and left us for the first evening.

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The dinning/kitchen area of the treehouse
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The view from our treehouse
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Phia one of our guides

What followed was some great food, that was zipped in by catering staff. Dinner was at around 5 and was greens, a chicken dish, two further veg dish’s  and finally (something which was included with every meal) sticky rice. We were all full and impressed with the food, opened our beer that was handed to use earlier in the day (which we had chosen not to drink earlier) and what followed was an evening of cards as we relaxed and enjoyed the sounds of the surrounds and the occasional hot chocolate. Whilst relaxing we had some jungle guests visit us; a praying mantis that took a liking to Evelin even though she did not like insects at all and a furry caterpillar we named Harry.

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Praying mantis
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Keeping an eye out for animals in the dark.

Our first night Alex and I slept pretty well, aided by exhaustion, however, the jungle came alive with noises as we went to bed and we stayed up for a while just enjoying listening to all the life outside our mosquito net. We all woke up between half 6 and 7 am and we had breakfast delivered by 8 am. We knew that today was the longest day, as we were going to visit all the other treehouses.

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the views!!
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The size and scope of the park is amazing
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Alex ready to explore

We started by leaving our treehouse and walking up the incredibly steep incline back to the crossing tree which was our main way to go out to different treehouses and to explore. Not to repeat myself but the day followed a similar pattern, zip line to treehouse, visit and marvel at the views as we hurtle amongst the trees and from the treehouse’s themselves. We all had a blast experiencing both the amazing views and the sensation as traveling along the longest zip wire which was over 500m and was over 100m+ from the wire to the ground. this was amongst the most terrifying and exhilarating things I have done in a long time.

We arrived back to the treehouse for 2pm for lunch, and got told that after lunch we could explore on our own until around 5pm (limited by the natural light as there was no way that zipping in the dark was a good idea). We had a great time going back and forth on our favorite routes,  just taking in the views and exploring our surroundings.

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The routes to the treehouses are marked so you can find your way through the jungle
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Ziplining through the jungle

Once we arrived back at the treehouse (which after looking at all the different ones) we all concluded that our treehouse was the best. We waited for dinner which we had at around half 6 and we were joined by our guides whom also had brought their camera in order to film animals in the jungle at night.

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Lots of empty bowls after a delicious needed meal

As up to this point we hadn’t seen an Gibbons (a few members of the groups managed to catch a glimpse of an arm as it swung around) we arranged with our guide to wake up and leave the treehouse on our final day before we ate breakfast, so by 7am we were all are ready and left.

We took a short, quiet walk to see if it was possible to find them. We finally arrived at the first zip line we had taken on the first day, however arrived at the back half. Nu clipped himself on and slide down backwards onto the zip wire. He slightly slid slowly down the line and in the end stopped and motioned for one of our group to join him as he sat in the middle of the zip line over the tree canopy. Two people went down before I had my turn. Nu then guided me down the wire, slowly as to not much too much noise, we arrived in the middle and stopped.

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Nu showing us how to see Gibbons
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Me out with Nu watching the gibbons
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Nu

In the distance I could see black arms and bodies of gibbons in the wild and whilst fumbling trying to take out my camera, I took a second to realise the craziness of this moment. Suspended in the air, above trees, watching wild gibbons. Needless to say a wonderful experience.

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A picture of one of the gibbons I saw taken by one of our group

Unfortunately, after I climbed back the next person was no longer able to see the gibbons, as they are started to move. Despite the best efforts of Nu, we had lost our chance to see them any further. We then returned to the treehouse for breakfast and left the jungle along the trek we had taken two days before.

Overall the whole experience was a wonderful few days, and something I would recommend if you can do. DO IT.

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Some of the members of Treehouse 1
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Treehouse 1!

Dave

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