The Gibbon Experience
Many people enter Laos from Thailand at the Chiang Khong/Huay Xai border, but most don’t bother staying in town but instead hop on the two day slow boat to Luang Prabang. That’s a shame as they are missing out on one of the highlights of Laos and one of our favourite travel experiences.
Huay Xai is a sleepy river town (Laos has a lot of these!) and we enjoyed relaxing there for a few days. It’s also the headquarters of the Gibbon Experience, a conservation project that gives visitors the opportunity to get a monkey’s eye view of the rainforest via a network of ziplines and treehouses. This is no ordinary touristy ziplining tour though – you spend two nights sleeping in treehouses in the middle of the rainforest, far away from civilisation.
We were taken deep into the jungle by bumpy pickup truck and onwards on foot. When we reached the ziplining network we were given our harnesses, shown how to use the ziplines and dropped off at our treehouses. Then we were left alone to explore the forest. At first we were terrified – the ziplines are long and incredibly high up, and we’d been left without supervision. We had no choice though as the only way to get to your treehouse is to swoop in. Soon we were zipping around like pros, flying through the air and enjoying the exhilarating feeling of freedom as we soared far above the trees.
The project is run in collaboration with local villagers so they can create an income from tourism rather than logging and poaching, in order to protect the forest, and its inhabitants the endangered black gibbon. This isn’t a wildlife watching trip though. The joy is in being in the jungle, sleeping in a treehouse and listening to the incredible night sounds. Gibbon sightings are rare and you won’t see one while zipping around, but we did get lucky with a glimpse when sitting peacefully in our treehouse. In the morning you’ll be woken by the gibbon’s strange cries.
The Gibbon Experience is a unique place and one of our most memorable travel experiences.
How to get there: From Chiang Rai in Thailand it’s a two hour bus trip to Chiang Khong where you can take a brief boat trip over to Huay Xai. The Gibbon Experience only take limited numbers so you’ll need to book in advance.
Luang Nam Tha
Our main reason for visiting Luang Nam Tha was to trek to one of the hilltribe villages in the area. We’d heard the treks were far less touristy and better run than the ones you find around Chiang Mai in Thailand. Well, I don’t know how bad those are but we were very uncomfortable with our experience.
By choosing one of the best respected tour of Luxury Travel (www.luxuryprivatetravel.com ), our guide knew very well about the Akha village we visited and we had good interaction with the villagers. they certainly were friendly. It was fascinating to see the village. we loved Luang Nam Tha. It’s a small, quiet, dusty town by a river and surrounded by mountains. There isn’t much to do besides trekking and kayaking, but we loved hiring bikes and cycling around the local villages. It has a decent tourist infrastructure but is not at all overdeveloped and not on the beaten track. It’s a great place to relax for a while.
How to get there: After the Gibbon Experience rather than going back to Huay Xai we were dropped at a small village Ban Don Chai where we waited for quite a while for the bus to Luang Nam Tha. The road was new though and a very smooth journey. From Huay Xai the bus takes four hours.