***Apologies for taking so long to write this, I blame it on the video 🙂 ***
I arrived in Houay Xai Sunday March 27th at 1:30pm after getting the 6:30am green bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong and taking the long-boat across the Mekong. The ride was surprisingly comfortable and I even managed to get a few hours of sleep. Once I cleared the small customs booth at the side of the Mekong, I checked in at the Gibbons office and headed off to find a guesthouse. There are many choices along the one main road of Houay Xai.
I settled in and went walking around the village, up to the top of the local temple and peeking into the shops to enquire about the slow-boat prices. The next morning I was at the Gibbons office at 8am for the group orientation and to load the trucks to the jungle. There were 11 of us going, so we divided into 2 trucks. I rode up in luxury in the back seat with 2 others while the rest of the group huddled into the converted back of a pickup. We drove for about an hour before turning off the road, driving across a river and onto a road similar to what you would see in a farmer’s field back home (with the added bonus of the jungle surrounding it of course). We arrived to a very small village at the end of the path. The houses were all on stilts and chickens, pigs and small horses could be seen as we unloaded.
We immediately started up the path toward the Bokeo Reserve. The park was created to protect the habitat of the Gibbons, once thought to be completely extinct. The park is now home to 5 families ranging in size from 4 to 9 members. We stopped about half way through our hike and were each given a harness which would become our daily wear for getting around the ziplines. Off we went to find our treehouse! Once arriving, we got settled, unfolded a few hammocks and watched in amazement as the birds of the jungle in every colour came out to welcome us to Treehouse #7.
There were even a few monkeys out playing, but they were not Gibbons. It was incredible! Our dinner soon arrived and we gorged on some delicious delicacies. Our hammocks then came down in order to make room for our unfolded beds and mozzie nets. Once the darkness was upon us, we gratefully opened the bottle of local wine that was left for us and sat around chatting and listening to the sounds of the jungle. These sounds intensified as we realized that there was something crashing about in the tree next to ours, we all snuck over and turned on our lights at the same time, looking for eye-shine to identify what was visiting us. After a while, it was still there but we were no closer to identifying it, so we went back to our wine. Heading to bed was not uneventful either. It turns out that we each experienced very strange and vivid dreams. Whether this was due to the mozzie pills or just due to the new environment remains to be seen, but it happened each night. At 6am, our guides zipped into the house and got us going to seek out the Gibbons.
We were all a little groggy and therefore not overly quiet on the hike, but still were incredibly fortunate to not only hear the Gibbons but also to see them playing very close to us. As we all huddled around watching them, I was overcome with the feeling that something very special was happening. It turns out that it is actually quite rare to see them, and after our noisy start, it was pretty much a miracle. Once they were done playing in our area, we headed back to the treehouse for breakfast and a full morning of trekking and ziplining. What an amazing experience! We made it back to the house just after noon and were all pretty tuckered out so some naps had to happen. Before we knew it, it was dinner time and then dark. The next morning started again with our guides zipping in at 6am and taking us out looking for the Gibbons. None of us expected to see them 2 days in a row, but we had gotten into the habit of hiking quietly. Our guide stopped us for about 5 minutes and we suddenly heard the Gibbons crashing through the trees next to us (very close), but couldn’t see them. We hiked down the path a little further and stopped again. To our surprise and astonishment, we were again able to watch this family play in the trees for about 20 minutes before they spotted us and fled the area. We headed back to the treehouse to tell the others and to enjoy our breakfast. During breakfast, we hopped up to the railing and we blown away to see another family of Gibbons playing in the valley next to us. We watched them for about a half hour while eating our breakfast. It was completely surreal! We then headed out for some of the most incredible ziplining and hiking I have ever down, before packing up and heading out for the hike back to the village.
I have been looking at videos of the Gibbons Experience for months and have to admit that I had really high expectations and hopes for my time there. It has absolutely blown me away, far surpassing my ideas of what I would experience. Times like this reinforce how lucky I am and how glad I am that I have chosen to take this trip. Everyday is a brand new adventure and while I am definitely looking forward to whatever is up next, today is always amazing!