In the mighty Jungle of Lao you can play Tarzan and Jane by going on the Gibbon Experience, zip-line through the dense bamboo forest, enjoy the most awesome views and sleep in treehouses up to 60 meters above the ground. They call the entire experience “The Gibbon Experience” and is not what we would consider a bargain. But, is it worth it? Read this article to find out what to expect and what is our conclusion.
Cost of the Tour
310 EUR per person for 3 days/2 nights (that was the price 2017)
- Transfer to the starting point of the trek from Huay Xai and back
- 2 Guideds per group (maximum 8 people)
- Meals: 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 dinners, tea & coffee
- Bottled Water (free refills)
- Zip-Line Equipment (harness and gloves)
- Linen and Towels in the tree houses
- Express: 2 days / 1 night – maximum ziplining, 1 night in a treehouse, less trekking less time in the jungle
- Classic: 3 days / 2 nights – more ziplining, less trekking than waterfall, 2 nights in the same tree house
- Waterfall: 3 days / 2 nights – a lot of ziplining but also more trekking, 2 nights in 2 different tree houses
How to book
You can easily book online. If you have any questions, you can either consult the team of the Gibbon Experience via e-mail – they answer very quickly and, most of the time, they also answer your questions. Sometimes, we got an answer that did not answer the question but ok. The second option is to refer to the FAQ on their website – most of the questions you may have are answered there. We clarified all open questions and then went ahead and booked online – the payment is made via paypal. Immediately after they processed the booking, we received our pdf-confirmation via e-mail.
DO NOT make the tour in rainy season – they still conduct it. However, the trek on the first day is about 6 hours longer as you need to trek the dirt road to the village (starting point of the trek) that they drive you during dry season but that the car cannot pass in rainy season.
What to bring
As many people were confused about what to bring, here is a checklist of important things you should make sure to have with you (apart from the ordinary things like a toothbrush and fresh underwear):
- 2 extra shirts (it gets really hot and you will be glad to have a fresh one every day)
- Mosquito Repellent (with 20-30 DEED) – you can purchase it in every pharmacy in Lao for about 4 EUR
- Sunglasses, Sunscreen and a Hat
- Some money for drinks (they tell you to bring 100,000 KIP pp but this is way too much)
- Toilet Paper
- Bathing Suit & Towel
Arriving in Huay Xai
Huay Xai is not really the biggest metropolis in Lao – it lies in the northwest of the country directly at the Mekong River, only 20 minutes from the Thai border. There are several ways to join the Gibbon experience – the easiest and most popular, however, being from Luang Prabang.
There are 3 options to arrive in Huay Xai from Luang Prabang: the night bus, the fast boat or the slow boat. The fast boat is not really an option as we heard it is dangerous – it looks like a tin bathtub and speeds over the Mekong like crazy. The Mekong is full of stones which makes it really a not-so-pleasant-and-pretty-dangerous experience. So the 2 real options are the night bus and the slow boat.
12 hours, Cost per person: approximately 17 EUR (22 USD)
Disadvantage: low comfort = sleeper night busses in Laos have double beds – the problem being that one double bed has the size of a single bed back home (so very tight). Plus, they are sooooooo hard that there is not even a word to describe how hard the beds are (well, maybe: cement). One further disadvantage about the night bus is that it arrives at 5:30 AM (so, either you go one day before the GE starts and spend one day in Huay Xai which is a waste of time or you arrive the morning when it starts – completely tired (that is what we did and it was ok but not really cool either)
Advantage: it is the cheapest option as the transfer price is low and you save one night at the hotel/hostel
2 days, Cost per person: approximately 25 EUR (30 USD)
Disadvantage: it takes 2 full days to reach Huay Xai from LP, it is way more expensive than the bus, You need to spend one night half way, which you also have to pay
Advantage: the boat ride is very nice as you get to see a lot of the landscape along the Mekong River, more comfortable than the night bus
From Vientiane you can fly to Huay Xai
You can cross the border directly in Huay Xai – from Chiang Rai it takes about 3 hours to arrive – you definitely have to arrive one day prior to the start of the tour.
The Gibbon Experience
Day 1 of the experience starts with the check-in at the Gibbon Experience Office in the center of Huay Xai at 8:00 AM. You store your luggage in the luggage room (because you only take a light backpack into the jungle), confirm with your autograph that you carry the responsibility for everything that could possibly happen in the jungle (encounters with dangerous animals, unstable tree houses and whatever) and you watch a movie about safe and correct ziplining. As the English of the guides is not their biggest strength and they walk through the jungle in flipflops, they have to have you sign that you are aware of all risks and carry all responsibility.
Transfer to the jungle entrance
The transfer to the starting point of the trek takes 2.5 hours (with a short 10 minutes toilet break) for the Classic and the Waterfall Tour (3 days/2 nights) and 1 hour for the Express Tour. Considering the high price they charge for the tour, the transfer is anything but comfortable and delightful. When we saw the tuk-tuk-style 4 WD vehicle that had a car in front but a tuk-tuk in the back, we were quite shocked. Sitting in the back of a tuk-tuk for 2.5 hours driving on the roads of Lao is pretty uncomfortable. Luckily, we had enough travel companions that preferred the fresh air, so we managed to grab 2 of the scarce but more comfortable seats in the back of the car-part of the vehicle. The coolest part of the transfer was when we, unexpectedly crossed a river – not over a bridge, through the river. If you don’t expect to get a luxury transfer for the “luxury” money you pay for the tour, the transfer might be reasonable for you though.
Nam Kan National Park
Nam Kan National Park is located in the Bokeo Province, half way between Huay Xai and Luang Namtha – a little closer to Luang Namtha; about 90 kilometers from there and close to Nam Ha National Park. The area was designated a National Park in 2008 and consequently, Nam Kan National Park was created – featuring over 130,000 ha of dense forest. The area accommodates not only Lao forest but also a diverse and rare fauna and the country’s biggest tree. The Gibbon Experience represents a valuable community project, providing tourists with the unique chance to indulge into jungle lifestyle for some days and locals with many jobs and secure income. The focus on sustainability plays a central role in the implementation of the project. Ecotourism is the keyword: have tourist visit without leaving traces and encouraging locals to care about nature that provides them with an income.
The Waterfall Trek
The Waterfall Tour, as opposed to the Classic Tour, includes more jungle trekking and is the more exhausting version of the Gibbon Experience. Some of our tour companions said they thought it was even more trekking and that they would have enjoyed that but we think it was just the right portion of trekking. For us, it was perfectly balanced between trekking, ziplining and chilling in the tree house.
We trekked about 3-4 hours a day – the majority of the paths were pretty much up and down with some flat parts that were good to relax a little bit. We mostly trekked through the dense jungle of Lao – so it was, at least, very shadowy from the high trees. Still, it was pretty exhausting as the steep parts were steep and the weather was very hot. On the 1st day, we trekked to the tree house for the night. We had a short but very nice break at a little waterfall, where we could also bath. The water was ice-cold but it was very good to refresh. On the 2nd day, we trekked from the tree house of the first night to the tree house for the second night in the morning – we arrived around noon – the right time for lunch. In the afternoon, we went ziplining for 3 hours. On the 3rd day, we trekked back to the village – 7 ziplines and some trekking brought us back to where we had started the tour 2 days earlier.
The Waterfall Zip-Lining
The Waterfall Tour also includes a nice amount of ziplining. The ziplines vary in length and altitude – the longest and highest was about 500 meters long and 120 meters high. On the days 2 & 3, the focus was on trekking and zip-lining – so, basically trekking from zip-line to zip-line to zip-line from tree to tree. On the second day, we zip-lined the entire afternoon – which was a lot of fun. And on the first day, we also trekked and zip-lined a little bit but as there was not so much time because of the rather long transfer, the focus was not on zip-lining. In total, we did around 20 zip-lines of different altitudes and lengths and we really enjoyed it – because the best views, you get from the tree houses and the zip-lines!
The Tree Houses
Doing the Waterfall Tour, we got to sleep in two different tree houses. In the course of our tour, we visited all tree houses that are used for the Classic and the Waterfall Tour. They are all very similar regarding design and alike regarding standard, comfort and facilities. The only thing that differentiates them is basically the altitude they are built at (between 20-60 meters) and the number of people it can accommodate.
Each tree house is completely open air. It features a bathroom – with toilet (not flush, of course), a shower (only cold water, of course) and a sink. They all have a little “kitchen” with a sink but no cooking possibility, a table and little stools – the dinner table. The double beds are 2 mattresses on the floor, pillows, blankets and towels are provided. Each “bed” also has a cloth to cover it up in order to protect from mosquitos, rats and whatever else that could potentially visit while you enjoy your well-deserved beauty sleep. You can only reach the tree houses via zip-lines, which is really cool and adds even more abandoned-ness to the entire experience.
Food & Beverages
You get plenty of food and it tastes very good. However, bear in mind that if you have some food allergies – despite telling them beforehand – you will have a hard time during the trip as they seem to ignore them and mix everything together.
Our Conclusion – is it worth it?
Our conclusion after 3 days (which is basically 48 hours) in the jungle with “The Gibbon Experience” is that it is definitely worth the experience – but not the money. It is definitely overpriced – they make you pay the uniqueness of the experience in the abandoned jungle in a very remote place.
Here you can find their website.