Firstly, I am ecstatic to report that I am writing this from Thailand. There’s real, actual fast internet. There is actual English Breakfast Tea. There are roads that are completely paved! As much as I’ve loved our journey, it’s really nice to get back to somewhere that’s really easy to travel through.
After our lovely time in Luang Prabang we made our way over to Huay Xai, the border town between Thailand and Laos. There almost nothing there. There’s about 2 bars, a bunch of guesthouses and nothing else. It’s also low season, which meant a bunch of stuff was shut or toned down; we were staying in a set of bungalows where the reviews espoused about the amazing restaurant (with wifi), and the lovely evening campfire and family atmosphere. We arrived to find the restaurant being used to dry laundry, no wifi, and no campfire in site.
There is however one good thing (and only one thing) to do: the Gibbon Experience. Set in deep jungle, participants spend 2 – 3 days hiking between 200-500 meter long zip lines over gorgeous forest scenery, including overnight stays in a real life treehouse. After googling “Gibbon Experience Death” came up with a blank, we decided to go for the express 2 day course. There’s less wildlife spotting in favour of more ziplining which suited me to a tee.
I admit I was a little nervous going in. The whole thing is very remote; a one hour drive followed by a 2 hour uphill hike, and then 9 zip lines to the tree house. If something goes wrong then it’s a long journey to the hospital! And although most of the trip advisor reviews are overwhelmingly positive, there were a few that had me worried- limited food options, guides who spoke no English, one guy whose brake failed and caused him to crash into a tree. Turns out I had nothing to worry about at all, as this place is really well run (and there’s no way the break could have failed; that guy clearly just didn’t follow the instructions.)
Zip lining is incredible. I really hope we get to do it again at some point soon. There’s basically a thick metal cable between two points, usually a couple of hundred meters up in the air. You’re in a harness that supports your legs and back, which has a safety line and your roller (which has a bit of tyre stuck to the top that you squeeze to brake). Clip both on and jump, simple! We had guides with us at all times, but on the three day version you’re allowed to go off zipping by yourself. Some lines are slow (which mean you need to lean back to get enough speed to get to the other end; we’re both suffering from sore abs today as a result) or fast (which meant you need to be handy with your brake, although there are crash pads on the other end so it’s not too bad if you don’t slow in time.) It’s a real adrenaline rush. You get up to some incredible speeds and have an unspoilt view of the forest.
On day one our group had 17 people in it, which was way too many and meant a lot of standing around for everyone to clear the lines. Fortunately we split into two groups on day 2 so we could move a lot faster. There’s a little bit of hiking in between each line, but overall it’s nicely spaced so you really appreciate each one.
As amazing as the ziplines are, the tree house has to be the main highlight. I’ve no idea how they managed to build it, but it’s awesome. To get into it you need to zipline (of course.) It’s built over 4 different levels, with unspoilt views of the forest; you really can’t see anyone or anything else, probably for the better as the shower and toilet are completely open to the elements. After a full day of zipping it’s one of the best showers I’ve ever had though.
Hot food is ziplined in for dinner and breakfast, and in the evening they came in to set up our beds and mosquito nets; again, everything is out and open to the elements. As a result I didn’t sleep very well, convinced a giant spider or rat was going to come into our little den, not helped when at 4AM the heavens opened. It was so loud we had to shout to talk, but it was an amazing experience.
I think for both of us this was one of the best highlights of the trip so far. It was worth all the bus journeys and a day in a dead town. We can’t recommend it enough!