Crossing the Mekong River: Nic, Henrietta, Niv
What does it take to get from northern Thailand to Laos? Answer: three Chiangs. Unfortunately Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong are all uneventful and same-same. Much more interesting are the three other backpackers with me on the bus: Henrietta from Englan and mates Zohar and Niv from Israel (Niv? An omen?? See the Yangshuo blog). On hearing I'm from Amsterdam Niv veers up and claims to be the biggest Ajax fan in Israel, if not the biggest outside of Holland. An omen indeed! This is going to be a sweet busride.
Having discussed the current state of Dutch football, the Dutch league and national squad, Ajax, 1995, Henk ten Cate and Avram Grant, Macavi Tel Aviv, Wesley Sneijder, the influence of money on the game, Marco van Basten, the European Championships, the World Cup, Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Switzerland and Austria, Italy, Romania and France, Jari Litmanen and Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Ruud van Nistelrooy, we know each other quite well.
Ape in the shower with the best view in the world
Chiang after Chiang our party gets bigger; Jacob and Alex from Germany, Sarah from Englan
and two other girls join by the time we reach the border. Nine of us cross the Mekong River and with it the border between Thailand and Laos, change our Bath for Kip, admire the fancy new stamps in our passports and take over the first available hostel. After a lonely stay in Chiang Mai it's great to have a whole bunch of travel companions again. A quick walk through the border town of Houay Xai
later we settle for a Beer Lao on the Mekong shore.
Where the group is planning a quick departure from Houay Xai in favour of Luang Prabang, I have some business up here; the Gibbon Experience.
Bob at the ziplines
I first read about the Gibbon Experience when I was doing a modest check up on Laos a year ago, preparing for my trip. Scanning their site
I got really excited; deep jungle treks, sleeping in treehouses forty meters up, wow! Being my usual self I didn't take any notes and consequently forgot about it. Until Vietnam travel mate Leigh mentioned it, that is. I immediately went online, forked out my creditcard and secured myself the next available spot. Sweet as!
In the morning I walk over to the Gibbon office where I meet the rest of what will become known as the legendary Team Gibbon: Bob and Katrien from Belgium, Christie from Amsterdam and Tom from Melbourne. On the minibus to Baan Toup, the starting point of of our trek, we talk loads, cracking jokes and having a heap of fun.
Ape in treehouse five
Everybody seems really comfortable in our group, it couldn't have been better. A two hour drive through a green, hilly landscape and a bumpy ride over a dirtroad later we arrive at Baan Toup. We gear up and walk to the main camp where we're instructed on the ziplines: click click go
. The ziplines are the main means of transport between ridges and over valley's, and definitely why the Gibbon Experience is so much fun. It's a great way of transport, feels amazing, is efficient and seeing the jungle flash past underneath you while you're flying through the air 150 meters up; incredible. By the time we get to treehouse five I'm pretty done for though, and I enjoy a shower while gazing out over the jungle canopy. It must be the shower with the most beautiful view in the world.
Dinner and fruit gets zipped in, and we enjoy a nice night playing cardgames and telling travelstories.
The next day we make our way to the waterfall and and our next treehouse. Bob and I walk in front of the group, discussing everything from China, life, commitment and settling down to future and past travels, government control and natural disasters and facing the homefront. Caught up in our conversation we miss several turns and end up getting lost, badly. After some twenty minutes we're found by one of the guides who apparently had been looking for us for quite a while. Shit happens, I guess. We reach the waterfall for some much needed refreshments and chill out for a while. The place is absolutely stunning, it's too bad I don't have any photo's. Another meal later we proceed to treehouse six for the night. More stories, cardgames and goodtimes follow, as does a gigantic thunderstorm that gets everyone's adrenaline flowing.
The next morning we're supposed to be picked up be our guide to go gibbon spotting, but he fails to show up. Ape is the only animal we spot during our treks. We leave a couple of hours later to make our way back to Baan Toup and Houay Xai. Leeches, muddy paths and streams block our way, but we make it back to the village safe and sound, wet and dirty, sweaty and muddy, content and happy and with a story to tell!
I had an amazing time doing the Gibbon Experience, and it's definitely the best tour/trek I've done on my travels so far. Couple of things that are important to appreciate the Experience though: One, you're paying a lot of money, absolutely. Where this money would buy you a bed in the nicest hotel available anywhere else in Laos, don't expect five star accomodation and service.
Finally, we spotted an Ape!
You're going camping mate. Yes, leaks in the roof are possible. Yes, inconveniences like bad waterpressure can occur. A lot of the money is used to protect the forest and to employ local villagers in the projects. Second, take snacks with you as the food variety is poor at best. Also, make sure you're cool with your group, make the effort! The group you're in is even more important during the Gibbon Experience then during any other tour. Other than that, have an awesome time zipping you're way over the jungle! Make sure you don't miss out on this one, it's worth every single penny.
Read an excellent blog on the experience here.