Lonely Planet review
Adrenalin meets conservation in this ecofriendly adventure in the 106,000 hectares of the Bokeo Nature Reserve wilderness. The Gibbon Experience is essentially a series of navigable 'ziplines' criss-crossing the canopy of some of Laos' most pristine forest, home to tigers, clouded leopards, black bears and the black-crested gibbon.
Seven years ago poaching was threatening the extinction of the black-crested gibbon, but thanks to Animo, a conservation-based tour group, the hunters of Bokeo were convinced to become the forest's guardians. As guides they now make more for their families than in their old predatory days.
The benchmark for sustainable monkey business, this three-day experience is one of Laos' most unforgettable adventures. Essentially this is an extended chance to play Tarzan; living two nights in soaring tree-houses within thickly forested hills and swinging high across valleys on incredible ziplines, some more than 500m long. It's a heart-stopping, superhero experience. Should it rain, remember you need more time to slow down with your humble brake. The guides are helpful, though make sure you're personally vigilant with the knots in your harness.
For those on the classic experience there's a good chance of hearing the gibbons' incredible calls. Actually seeing gibbons is much rarer but some lucky groups do catch a fleeting glimpse. Unless making a pre-dawn trek to tree-house 3, participants on the waterfall trek are far less likely to hear gibbons. More recently a faster two-day express trip has been added to the roster for those with less time to spare in the forest canopy. The days also involves a serious amount of trekking. Bring a pair of hiking boots and long socks to deter the ever-persistent leeches.
Accommodation is located in unique thatched tree-houses that are spaced sufficiently far from each other so that each feels entirely alone in the jungle. Often around 40m above the ground and set in natural amphitheatres with spectacular views, most of the tree-houses sleep eight people with bedding laid out beneath large cloth nets, although some tree-houses sleep just two people. Large spiders on the walls and rats rustling in the ceilings will be your companions too, but this is the jungle after all. Well-cooked meals consisting of rice and four accompaniments are ziplined in from one of three rustic kitchens while coffee, tea, hot chocolate and various additional snacks are available in each tree-house. Keeping anything edible in the provided strong box is essential to avoid the forest rats being attracted.
More recently added for sybarites who need a little more comfort, the gibbon spa incorporates the best of the classic with gourmet food, improved lodgings and massages. Whichever you choose – book weeks in advance – this is one funky gibbon you'll never forget.
Pre-payment online through Paypal works well but do be patient as communication isn't always immediate. One day before departure, check in at the Huay Xai Gibbon Experience office. Gloves (essential for using the ziplines) are sold next door. It's also advisable to bring a torch (flashlight), water bottle and earplugs to deflect the sound of a million crickets, but otherwise leave most of your baggage in the office storeroom. Everything you bring you must carry on your back over some steep hikes and on the ziplines. As there'll be no electricity, don't forget to pre-charge camera batteries.