I arrived in Bangkok amongst the throes of travellers. Venturing out of Bangkok, lacking a guidebook and solely relying on second hand information I found myself slowly moving northwards. After a couple of weeks I ended up in Chiang Mai which everyone raved about. However, although nicer than Bangkok it was too filled to the brim with tourists and travellers.
I was told by someone at a market place that I should head over to Pai which is about 4hrs bus ride north west but which again was filled with tourists but a little quieter and more chilled. Buying my freedom with a small rented motorbike I explored the countryside, roads and mud roads for three days.
With my motorbike and my new found freedom I ventured as far off my road map as I could go (on one tank of petrol!) getting lost a couple of times in small villiages and sliding down muddy trails including falling off once - I was going too fast down a wet rutty dirt road. Another time I barely got back to town before running out of petrol, a case of switching of the engine on all the downhill parts of the journey.
One night I found myself sitting in a bar in Pai. I was talking to a Belgian couple who had just spent a month and a half playing around with Gibbons and living in tree house. The next morning I found a piece of paper with a name of a town in Laos on it and the words 'The Gibbon Experience - Amazing Fun'. With this information I left that morning for the day and a half journey to Laos to the little border town where this eco-tourism project began (I was told).
I arrived in this border town (after some hassle at the border as I didn't have enough cash!) and immediately set about locating the office to the Gibbon Experience. Finding it I soon found out that normally you had to book at least a week in advance to get onto the 3-day trip. A few hours later the manager arrived and informed me that there actually had been a coupla cancellations and that I could get onto the trip the next day!
The Tree House
The first night was spent at Tree House 1 which is the flagship tree house, consisting of 3 floors built 40 feet up on a large tree. A pump supplied fresh water from a well to the tree house to provide the 'kitchen' and bathroom with running water. As well as us guests who hang around tree house 1, a small semi-tame gibbon does too. Chui was rescued from a cage by the founder of this project and is currently readjusting to the wild.
5.30am is wake up time, as the mist is lifting over the canopy the sound of the gibbons song resonates through the forest. Gibbons have the most structured song out of the animal kingdom (excluding humans) and sing everyday from 5-7am. This is interspersed with the bark of a barking deer - a magical time of the day.
So the zipping begins. There are about eight zip wires set up so far through the forest, joining three tree houses and a couple of platforms in the trees. A fantastic way to experience the forest, it's sounds and sights from above. Night zipping is by far the best - zipping into total darkness with thousands of stars above you! although you have to be careful not to crash into the platforms at the end as you can't see them.
It takes about one and a half hours to get to tree house 3 from tree house 1 involving an hour of zipping and half an hour trek through the forest. At night time bats almost collided with us a number of times, swerving out of the way inches from our faces as they used their ultrasound to "see" the obstacles.
After I came off the Gibbon Experience I had a distinct lack of local currency! There was nowhere to change money until I either Luang Prabang in Laos or go back across the border in Thailand. Stefan and Leez, a belgian couple who were on our Gibbon Experience trip offered very kindly to pay for me to go down to Luang Prabang which is a two day boat journey
Luang Prabang is a world heritage sight due to the quality and sheer number of Buddhist temples it has that have not been ruined through the ages of time. Like most UNSECO sites, it was teeming in tourists and so I did not last long here.
From Luang Prabang, I made my way down to Vang Vienne which resembles everything a backpacker ghetto could be - bars playing Friends non-stop, pizza and beer. As soon as you leave the town however you are back in the Laon countryside. There was a cave system that seemed to stretch underneath a mountain face, the current from the cave is flowing against you pushing you out of the cave so it generally is quite safe. We ventured in but after 300m the cave soon splits into two, one tunnel sucking you into the mountain face the other still pushing you out we, caring about our lives, we carried down the one against the current for another half a kilometre fighting the current by swimming and pushing against the sides until our single torch no longer could see the sides of the caves and fearing some strange underwater current system that might suck us into the mountain we chose to let the current carry us out in a very pleasant ride.