The Gibbon Experience was incredible! It started with a two hour ride from Houay Xai to the Bokeo Reserve. The road quickly disintegrating from a good paved road to a muddy trail surrounded by nothing, but lush greenness. Rory and I decided to ride on the outside back of the truck instead of the inside cabin hoping to get more fresh air, but we soon realized that was a bad idea when we started getting hit with dust from the road, black smoke from passing trucks and branches from the thickening jungle. After a short stop followed by a river crossing (in the truck) and then a bouncy climb into the jungle we finally got to the village where the treks start and finish. We take a seat and watch as chickens, dogs and naked children go about their merry little way while our guides get our supplies together. A few minutes later we were off on a two and a half hour hike with 6 strangers and two guides named Bounpeng and Eye. We stop for lunch under a shady canopy and introduce ourselves, one couple is from Belgium, another from Amsterdam, one Canadian girl and one Englishman. We continue our trek and don't talk much, we just take in the our surroundings of everything jungle. A couple of hours later we are a waterfall for a well deserved swimming break. The waterfall was small and had a nice, cool pool with a zip line crossing it from above which was fun. After we cool off we start heading for our home for the night, Tree House #6. It took 3 cables, one being 350 meters long and something like 300 meters above the ground to get there, but we zipped right into our new home. Sweaty, muddy, leech bitten and pretty exhausted we explore Tree house #6. It's got one floor, 8 mats to sleep on in each corner, a sink with clean dishes in the middle and one bathroom with a shower and a sink. To our surprise the water that came out of the faucet was even safe to drink! We each pick a corner to put our bags down and after a light snack of fresh lychee, apples and pears we go out for one last zipline lap before the sun goes down.
That night we sit around our round table and get to know each other. Wessel is a photographer in Amsterdam, Jayme has been traveling for a few months and just came from China, James has been teaching English in China and met Jayme on the train from Taiwan. They were both traveling alone and since they were headed in the same direction decided to join together until their paths seperated. Martine and Jochin have been traveling for about 6 months and don't wanna go back to Belgium.
Dinner gets zipped in by Bunpeng (him and Eye sleep in a hut not too far away with the cooks) and explains to us that they next day we have a 2 hour hike and 7 cables to zip on to the next tree house, and in the morning before breakfast we have the option to go on an early jungle walk to try to find some animals. He then says goodnight and zips away effortlessly and disappears in the trees. We eat our delicious, freshly cooked veggies and beef with rice and watch the sunset from our tree. We spend the night talking to each other about our travels and eventually go to bed. The night was pretty restless for me, partly from excitement and partly from all the animals that seem to enjoy singing in the night, but the biggest reason was that I could not believe where I was. I was in the middle of a Jungle in Laos sleeping in a tree house 200 meters up in the air with no other safe way out (option #2 would be to jump/fall out) other than attaching myself to a cable where I couldn't see the other end, stepping of the platform and falling into air only to get caught by my harness hoping that it'll hold my weight as I glide through the trees and above a valley that dips down to about 300 meters with my ears hearing nothing except ZEEEEEEEE from the cable and the pounding from my heart.... pretty awesome.
The next day we get a wake up call at 6am by Bunpengs zipping into the house which shakes the whole tree a good amount and after a few minutes of getting ourselves together we were off to find some animals. Sadly our 1 and a half hour trek didn't include any animal sightings which is pretty hard to do when all you can see around you is nothing but green jungle. We get back to our tree, gather all our things and head out to have breakfast by the waterfall. As we were walking down to the picnic table my luck runs out and I take a wrong step and twist my ankle. Eye, Bunpeng and Jochin who was in the military in Belgium helped patch me up and with some tender steps I make it to the table. Breakfast was delicious with veggies and meat and rice again. We take our time to digest and after Bunpeng makes me a walking stick we head to our next home. My ankle begins to feel better with every step so we lose little time and make it to Tree House #5 in just a couple of hours. We drop our bags and explore, #5 has two levels, the second level having enough space to sleep 2 and the first having 3 sleeping areas, one area to eat and hang out, in the middle there was a sink with dishes and a bathroom similar to the last house... except that the toilet, looking normal at first glance, but when you looked down into it you looked down 200 meters and saw the tops of the trees of the jungle below. We had the rest of the day to explore our new set of cables so we put our things down and head out. That's when we notice that in order to leave the house you had to open a gate, step out onto a platform which you had to sit on in order to clip in and then shimmy yourself onto the two steps below that led to nothing and required you to take a leap of faith, faith that the bouncing caused by your leap would disappear before you reached the landing platform.
Bunpeng brings us dinner and explains that there are Gibbons that live near this tree house and that we have a chance of hearing them and possibly seeing them the next morning (if it doesn't rain because Gibbons only sings when it's not raining). We spend the night talking again, the conversations being more personal since our time together has made us get to know each other better...and maybe because we drank the bottle of Lao wine that was in the cooler. Either way we all enjoy it and don't go to bed until much later.
The next morning we hear the loud sirens of a Gibbon. Even from far away it sounded impressively loud and clear and could possibly compete with a firetruck or an ambulance. Bunpeng explains that they were too far away to see and I was pretty relieved because I can't imagine what it would have sounded like had it been 100 yards from our tree house. After breakfast we gather our things one last time to make our way back, on the way we stop at a couple of tree houses to explore their zip lines and after 9 last cables we give up our harnesses and make our way out of the jungle, back to the village we started from.
Sweaty, sticky and leech bitten we relax for a while and watch as a truck load of new zippers are dropped off looking fresh and ready to explore. We pile ourselves into the trucks and start heading back to town, Rory and I fall asleep while riding inside this time.
We get back into town with just enough time to book a night bus to Luang Prabang, take a quick shower and have a quick meal. All of us, except for James who opted for the slow boat, decided to take the faster night bus down to Luang Prabang so we say our good byes to James and head for the bus station. It was a nice change to be traveling with some people so we enjoyed the company and it made the 14 hours go by pretty fast...well that and the 8 hours of sleep that we all finally got.