Laos and Living in Tree Houses

Date: 31/03/2007 | Author: Gabby

I have to admit, I wasn't really relishing the idea of The Gibbon Experience. I loved the 'back to nature' sound of it but had heard that the cables (your access around the jungle) were 150m above the ground and up to 1km long! With vertigo still being an issue for me (despite my skydive) I wasn't sure how I would cope.
I wasn't sure how the kids would fare either. Not just from the height perspective (they don't have any problem with heights), but from the biting insects, Laos food, heat, safety perspective. Before arriving in Laos, I must have sent about 10 emails to the Gibbon Experience office in Huay Xai, all answered promptly and trying to allay my fears: is there malaria in the region - no but there is a current outbreak of chicken pox; will the guides take the children on the cables - our policy is children under 8 always go tandem; is it safe for children - safety is very important to us etc etc etc.
Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos (Chiang Khong to Huay Xai) was an adventure in itself. A small boat crossing the mighty Mekong (well not so mighty really as it's the dry season so the river levels are very low). After a 10 minute formality on the Thai side, we had a longer experience on the Laos side - forms to fill in and photos to provide - but also due to the immigration officer's requests to take photos of Ella and Florence.
Huay Xai, our first Laos stop. Also the first time on our trip that we arrived somewhere with no pre-booked accommodation. It reminded me of my backpacking days in the 80's and 90's - I left Dave and the kids in a cafe while I ran up and down the main street looking at the available rooms. How the internet has changed the travel experience - even the most basic accommodation now has email or sometimes a website. I opted for the only room with a double bed and single bed, which happened to be the most expensive I looked at (of course!!). It was about 8. It was clean and air conditioned but the beds were rock hard and the pillows enormous (once again back packing memories came flooding back!).
Florence was still feeling a little under the weather although a lot better than she had been. Her cough had subsided but the air quality was as bad here as it was in Northern Thailand! She and Ella weren't eating much, they'd even gone off rice, which was also a bit of a worry............
An early start and a 2 hour drive along half constructed road, took us to the village of Baan Toup, which marked the start of the one and a half hour trek to the zip lines. There was a local festival taking place, the whole village was out and it was interesting watching the young girls checking out Ella and Florence - not many young blonde children pass through the village. It was here that we realised just what an amazing project the Gibbon Experience is. It provides employment for many of the villagers without exploiting them or their lifestyle. It's non-profit making, with all income being ploughed back in to the local area. It also encourages the locals to protect their habitat and prevent the logging and poaching which has been so endemic in this part of the world for such a long time.
After the walk (easy for the girls) we were kitted out with our caribinas and harnesses. Ella (of course) was the first to take to the zip line with one of the guides - my stomach in my throat as I watch her zip along 70 metres above the ground to the first tree house! No fear - she loved it. Florence was the same - a huge grin across her face as she landed in tree house 1 just after I did. This was where we were sleeping, 60 metres above the forest ground. Our house mates were 2 adventurous Canadians guys and a lovely Danish girl with a fear of heights far worse than my own. It was good staying with young(er) back packers - the girls learnt new card games and tricks during our time there and enjoyed the grown up company. The tree house was fully equipped with a kitchen with drinking water (from a 'safe' spring), 7 beds in 3 sleeping areas as well as a shower and a 'long drop' toilet - 60 metres to the ground where a large pig lived who consumed all the 'organic' material deposited there!
I loved the zipping - it was a great way to cover so much ground and to see so much of the forest - I even managed to take in the views, which were spectacular. Although we didn't encounter any mosquitos living in the tree tops there were plenty of other biting bugs. Not that they bothered the girls too much - they even coped with the legions of wasps who made the toilet their home, finding the best way to dispel them was to pee on them. In the end, we didn't encounter any Gibbons but their morning singing was the most pleasant way to wake up.
It was an amazing way to spend our first days in Laos. We felt tired and dirty by the time we arrived back in Huay Xai. Dave and I were gagging for a cold beer (strictly no alcohol or drugs in the tree houses - you're high enough!!). The girls were hungry, having lived on a diet of rice and fruit for our time there. But we all loved it! Definitely recommended - but, for me, 3 days and 2 nights was enough!

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