25.01.2013 - 27.01.2013
The next day we woke up early to get to the gibbon experience office for orientation. Sarah and I with Kate and Sam went to take our places in the tiny office with the rest of group that were making the trip that day. After storing the big bags and sadly my guitar as well in the back office due to needing only essentials for the trip we sat down and were given the video intro and the rules and regulations video in one go.
The Gibbon Experience describes itself as an eco tourism forest conservation project. The project funds forest protection and community projects in Bokeo Nature Reserve, Northern Laos. The premise of visiting the area is to hopefully experience the gibbons in their natural habitat and also hear their unique sound. To sweeten the deal you are given access to the jungle via a network of zip-lines, some of which are 600 metres long!
Having watched the video the anticipation was building as we saw images of jungles and zip wires and even the possibility of monkeys hanging around, this was part of the rules and regulations video as a 'potential problem' that may occur. You don't want to crash into a monkey on the wire! Sarah had already started getting nervous watching the 'how to' video and I think wasn't made to feel more confident having also read the 'potential accidents' page in the handbook! I found it quite funny that the disclaimer we had to sign was essentially allowing the organisation to not take responsibility for anything even of it is the fault of their equipment, but also a little concerning. Knowing that our insurance would cover any 'potiential accidents' made it easier to sign but it reminded me of one of Eddie Izzards sketches where he recalls agreeing to the T's & C's that Apple have for itunes and asking "does anyone actually read these?", to which he answers for the audience "course you dont, you just want your £0.69 song!, for all you know you could be signing over to Apple your life to slavery". And I think this would probably be the case for most people when they sign off for the gibbon experience, you know you what to zip-line in the jungle so you sign it regardless.
It was it more than 20 mins of video watching and form signing before we jumped in different trucks to start the 2hour drive to the Bokeo Reserve out side of Huay Xie. Sarah and I jumped in the back of the van and were joined with some really friendly people from Thailand. During the trip they offered us a snack of seaweed and we were able to have some small talk with them as we braved the winds that buffeted us in the back making it cold. Every so often we could hear the sound system from the cab blaring out Ronan Keating, Westlife and Savage Garden which we didn't know at the time was chosen by our guide who loved it, singing at the top of his voice and according to Kate and Sam who were riding inside asking about the meaning of the lyrics.
We arrived at a small store by the side of road and were met with sunshine which was warmly received. The travel although cold was pretty comfortable as the roads were some of the best roads we had driven on in Laos. During our stop we chatted a little with the other people who were in the other car and then in no time we had to jump back on as we still had another journey to take in order to get to the 'base camp'. Before we left Sarah and I had joked about how the car trip which had been described as a 'difficult drive' had actually been a breeze and we didn't understand why it was made into a big deal... but then we veered off down a steep dirt track and had to cross a river......we had spoken too soon!
This was a dirt road that undulated and twisted further and further into the landscape and as we journeyed it really emphasised to just how far we were going into the jungle. On route the landscape opened up and it was an endless sea of green as far as you could see with the occasional pocket of logging damage that was indicative of the area. At times we had to duck and dive past overgrown plants that came into the back of the truck and it was a little bumpy to say the least. You just had to hold on and hope bamboo didn't swat you in the face!
About an hour later we made it to the 'base camp' village which had a small population of locals living there. After ridding ourselves of any sort of warm clothing with the sun beating down it was the turn of the Ronan Keating fan, who was to be our guide, to introduce himself and get the groups to divide so that one party would go to the waterfall first and the other would go the next day. The guide was a young guy who was so laid back he was almost horizontal it seemed and he vaguely asked us to spilt ourselves which left everyone in that awkward position of thinking 'someone needs to take lead here but I don't want to'. A few people discussed options and we decided being a hot day it would be good to go to the waterfall first, so with our free can of beer given to all of us by the horizontal guide, who we found out was called Ni-ah(phonetic spelling), we siad goodbye to Kate and Sam who were in the other group and made our way in our group to the waterfall.
We had to take on a couple of streams before we stopped for lunch and Niah started to talk to us about the day ahead. My original impression of him was that he was laid back but after hearing him crack a joke about his preferred name being 'Coolman' I started to see he was just a bit shy and was making the effort to break the ice. He told us he and the other guide Don had been guides for only a year so sometimes they get a bit lost (another joke). He also said the walk would take an hour and was going to be a little tough with some hills to tackle. Bring it on!
The walk was quite nice and sort of scenic, but the best thing I think was that at some point you found yourself next to another person and was able to have a chat and start to get to know one another. There was 9 in our group so there was plenty of stories to hear about which made the walk seem far shorter than it was, everyone was really open and friendly which was great.
As we went further into the jungle the trail was getting steeper and it was also getting more humid so by the time we made it to the stop off point to go down to the waterfall I was bursting at the seams to get down to the water to cool off! We all made our way down and Niah showed us the pool that was at the bottom of the waterfall which had a rope swing!! Cue a bunch of us getting all excited and playing around like school kids! Niah took the first plunge and was hesitant because he knew the water was going to be so cold, but he did it and so it was then my turn!
I had to get Sarah on the rope but being blind without her glasses it was going to pose a problem. It took sometime but she took the plunge but unfortunately without the gift of sight, she didn't know when to let go before the swing stopped itself and so was quickly shocked when hitting the freezing water!
The waterfall was a welcomed stop but we had to move on, there was still the first zip-line to contend with!!
It was only a short, but steep, walk back up to the first zipline. There was a simple wooden platform next to a huge tree that had a zip line tied round it and the line fed out into the trees a short distance away and then disappeared, you couldn't see what was out there beyond it but you had a good idea. After Niah and the others took there turns there was only Sarah and I left. Unfortunately Sarah really was struggling to get the confidence to even walk up the 4 ft high walkway due to fearing her first attempt, and in hindsight had allowed herself to get worked up watching the others to the point where she thought she couldn't do it. I have to thank Don the other guide because he was very patient and calm whilst I tried to convince a tearful Sarah that it was ok and that she can do it.....with small steps and some expletives! .........she walked off and the screams which turned to woops of excitement must of alarmed the whole forest! I was so pleased she taken on her fears, because once you did the first one it wasn't possible to go back so I knew that if she took it on she would have to do the rest but wouldn't fear it.
After that it was plain sailing for the rest to the day as we trekked then zip-linined and trekked and zip-lined, it was so much fun as you can see from some of this video.
Once we got to the first treehouse we were in awe of its surroudings and the prospect of fulfilling every kids dream of sleeping in a treehouse! It was basic but that didn't matter and we all relaxed after a long day of excitement. The other interesting part of the treehouse was the toilet/shower which bizarrely had the best view in the house but was totally open to the forest for any peeping tom or gibbon! Not soon after settling in to the surroundings Don zip-lined in with a big kettle that had just been boiled on the other side, how he got across without scalding himself I'll never know but it was nice to have a warm cup of coffee/tea.
Before he and Niah left, Niah gave us a few details but it was a little brief and essentially we were on our own for the night. Cue one of the funniest nights we've had involving 9 adults and a huge spider, watch the video below. I think everyone was thankful that Lois and Ching took it on but just listen out for the other comments. Hilarious!
After that ordeal we got the cards out and we introduced everyone to Yaniv. It was a good night although we were all a bit apprehensive about going to sleep after the spider incident and we also had a mouse/rat run up the roof. What else was out there?!
The next morning we woke with expectation to hear the gibbons but unfortunately was left waiting but even without them it was still a wonderful place to wake up. As each of us woke up it became apparent that we all had experienced some weird goings on during the night as both myself and Glenn had moments of madness thinking a Monkey had jumped into our treehouse and most of us, except Tyler I think who slept through it all, heard the scurrying of either mice or rats which didn't help with getting to sleep. Our bed was right next to the kitchen area and there was a lot of foraging going on and Sarah and I definitely jumped up a few times in the night switching on the torch and seeing who was brave enough to poke their head out of the mosquito net to take a look.
After coffee and breakfast which was zip-lined in by a local lady we packed our bags and for the rest of the day we were tackling zip-lines again and trekking to get to the second treehouse. With everyone knowing the ropes and the fact that we had all bonded the night before after dealing with the spider it was another fun day of chatting whilst trekking, this time decidedly more difficult due to steeper hills.
Niah pointed out some markings on a tree, can you guess the animal?
We made it to the second treehouse in an couple of hours and we had definitely saved the best till last. It was 65 metres from the ground and boasted a fantastic view which you got to see as you zip-lined into the front door.
I tried to zip-line all the way in but was denied by my bum.
This treehouse like the first had a superb view.......from the toilet!
This time lunch needed to be zip-lined in which Ni-ah pulled off in his ever so causal manner. During the trek we had a chat and he was asking me some translation questions like 'what does Snoop Dogg mean when he says D.O.G?'. Gangsta rap being the more impressionable kind of music to cross nations of course. I had no real answer for him other than 'it means dog?'. Also 'how much does it cost to buy a passport? He didn't know. And I didn't know either, except in our country. He wanted to see other countries but realistically he could never earn enough and I don't think there is Internet for him to access to find out how to. He was a good laugh and a good guide to have.
Lunch was a delicious treat after trekking and we had the rest of the afternoon to try out the circuit of zip-lines around the treehouse....the thing with this one though was that the only way to exit the treehouse was by climbing onto a small ledge before you had to drop off trusting just the zipline and your harness! We were going to spend the afternoon going round the zipwires before a night in the 65m treehouse and this one was the first one to tackle. This I think for all of us was a little nervy. I was definitely nervous but also eager to go to try it. My first exit was a little clumsy but it was great fun. Everyone made their way out and Sarah had waited till the end...I knew it as soon as I left that I needed to be there to help out....I could see through the zoom on our camera that she was reluctant to leave and although she had got herself to the ledge had changed her mind. So it was split decision time and I ran round to the entry zipline to join her back in the treehouse. We both chatted and at first I thought it wasn't going to happen, but it was the only exit so she had to. I got her out to ledge and the tears were flooding but again with closed eyes and extreme expletives.......she jumped and made it down to a rapturous applause...I was glad to get a second go! . It turns out later that the reason Sarah kept getting freaked out was due to the opening scene from Cliffhanger!
This was the view we had to contend with.
We then had a short walk around circling the treehouse with a couple of zip-lines before we got to the longer entrance zip-line which offered an amazing view.
The rest of the afternoon a few of us did the rounds three or four times before dinner to get in as much ziplining and Glenn even managed to pull off zip-lining all the way over the doorway....... but only just.
I perfected my exit out of the treehouse
We settled in for the night making sure no food rubbish was left after dinner to encourage the rodents and continue our game of Yaniv with everyone this time and the final 'scores on the doors' were:
Glenn - 25 (we don't know if there is a rule against sticking to 25 but it was a good tactic)
Tanny - 59
Lois - 60
Sabrina - 78
James - 94
Sarah - 140
And I lost being the first one to 150 (I never claimed to be good at the game despite suggesting it).
Waking after a good uninterrupted sleep to the sounds of Gibbons was real treat. We had discussed with the help of Niah what the actual sound was the night before and consequently realised what we had thought was gibbons the other day was actually monkeys. We definately heard them this morning as you can hear from this video (about 3 or 4 seconds in ) there is a long wooooooooOoop sound, a bit like a siren which is common to the black gibbon. Another goal ticked off the list!
Before we left the treehouse we had some photos and even got to see the local family who tend to the treehouses zip line in with their little child in tow. The girls made their awww sounds in unison. We set off early again, this time Sarah was the first the exit the treehouse, and trekked for what seemed a long time going up pretty steep hills and the heat was quite intense at times (at this point I had to take off the beanie).
And Sarah made it out of the 65m treehouse without a scream.
We trekked and zip lined and luckily got to try some of the classic experience zip lines, even seeing some other groups fly over us, and we got to see the classic's treehouse before following the signs to the village. I wish we had these in my home village of Angmering, W.Sussex.
On our way down we had to drop off our kit at the guides office where some of them were playing a game of rattan ball, a local game that came out of Thailand where you play volleyball but not with your hands. Tanny, Glenn, Sabina and I all had a go as well. It was fun to do a bit of sport and reminded me of keepy-ups back home.
We left soon after and took a pleasant walk over steams and paddie fields before making back to the 'base camp' village. It was back on the trucks again but we had some extra passengers, who fitted in no problem. A quick stop for lunch and we were back on the paved road onwards to Huay Xie.
Needless to say it was a thrilling experience and despite no sightings we achieved what we wanted by hearing the gibbons and as a bonus made some friends. We were fortunate to be able to hang out with James and Sabina as almost everyone else was carting off to Thailand the same day. After arranging a meet up time we chilled, washed and headed back out to a cafe to blog a little. It was not long before we stumbled upon Dennis, the Dutch guy we had met through Thomas in Saigon almost 2 months ago!, as he was strolling down Huay Xie high street. It was great to catch up with him again and hear of his motorcycling stories though Vietnam.
Relaxing by the river at a restaurant James directed us too was a perfect way to relax after all the excitement, and we watched the sunset over Thailand on the other side of the river whilst sharing stories.
Before signing off just want to say a BIG thank you to Tanny, Tyler, Lois, Ching, Glenn, James and Sabina for being great fun and I hope all of you have enjoyed your travels onwards and look forward to seeing the pictures we all have captured.
Stay tuned for more tales...