The Gibbons Experience

Before I even got to Thailand, Annie told me about this thing called The Gibbons Experience.  What she told me was that: a) we would have to go to Lao and b) would be zip lining and living in tree houses for 3 days.  Zip lining in Lao!!!!  How safe could that be?  I told Annie I was in. We planned to do the Gibbon Experience on our mini break from school in October.  October 12th to the 14th was our scheduled dates to be in Lao for the Gibbons Experience.

Oct. 11

We crossed the border from Chiang Khong in Thailand to Huay Sai in Lao the day before we were to set out on the Gibbons Experience.  It was a simple boat cruise to get to Lao.  The one thing that stood out was how nice the people in Lao were and I was only in the country for about 3 minutes. They were teaching us phrases in Lao like “Cope Jai,” which means “Thank you,” and “Sa Ba Dee,” which means “Hello.”  We got to the office for our orientation.  We were greeted by a French man.  I could not understand him if my life counted on it.  My life did count on it, on the fact that I would be zip lining in the middle of the jungle in a third world country, Lao.  We signed our lives away, so if anything was to happen we could not sue the French.  After about 10 minutes we left and started to mentally prepare for what we were about to get ourselves into.

Oct. 12

8:00 AM was our departure time into the mountains.  There was 8 of us on this adventure together.  Everyone arrived and we headed out for our 3 hour drive.  The drive is split up into two parts.  The first part is the simple, easy part where we drive on a highway that is paved.  There are some parts of it where there is just rubble, but for the most part it is smooth sailing.  The second part of the drive is where we are doing some off roading.  We first had to cross a river where the water came above the tires.  It was then an up and down muddy path that we took.  The road was bumpy and I had no idea how our driver had any strategy to attack the terrain.  We arrived at the village where our hike started.  All 8 of us were fresh, clean and excited to start our trek.  We had no worries in the world.  As we arrived at the village another group was coming from the mountains.  They were dirty and looked beaten up.  The one and only thing that they kept on telling us about were the leeches.

A couple people in our group started to do some minor changes to their shoes and what now and then off we went.  The first hour of the hike was cake.  It was simply just walking into the jungle.  No steep inclines. No leeches.  The one part of this hike that changed our whole perception of hikes for the rest of the trip will be stuck in my mind for a while.  We crossed a little brook and were waiting for everyone to cross when one of the girls on our trip started to yell because she had a leach on her shoe.  All at once everyone looked down at their shoes and started to scramble because everyone had leaches on them.  Our guide Tcha Ya, just yelled “RUN, MANY LEECH!”  So we all bolted straight up the path to get away from our first encounter with the leeches.  We trekked for about another hour.  I was straight up dying on this hike.  My legs could barely move.  I was getting dizzy.  It started to rain on our hike, so the “so called” path was slippery.  I thought I was going to pass out.  We stopped in the middle of the path to put on our harnesses.  This meant that our first zip was coming up soon.

The first zip finally came and it was amazing.  You are literally in the middle of the jungle zip lining from one mountain to the next mountain.  This made the long trek worth it.  Our guides were hilarious on the zip.  They would run off of the platform and start screaming while on the zip line.  They also did that entire hike in flip flops.  I have no idea how they did not slip, not once.  We zipped a couple more times to finally get to our tree house.  At the tree house, we took off our harness and our shoes.  Lo and behold I had 5 leeches on my feet.  My socks were covered in blood.  I yanked off the leeches and burned them to kill them and then proceeded to bleed from my feet for the next hour.  The rest of the night we got to chill in our tree house and relax.  Our guides made us coffee and tea and we ate some delicious Lao food.  The shower was an open room in the downstairs room.  There was no door.  The room was just open to the whole jungle.  The rest of the night we relaxed because tomorrow we had another huge hike to a different tree house we would be staying at.

Oct. 13

I woke up to the sound of the zip line.  Our guides were coming to wake us up.  There was an optional hike that morning that we could do.  Tcha Ya, our guide, said they there would be many leech.  As soon as I heard there would be many leach, I said to hell with the hike.  Instead, Anna and I zip lined all morning.  Definitely way more fun than going on that hike.  They came back and we had to pack our stuff to go to the waterfall.  It was a quick hike to get to the waterfall.  The waterfall was refreshing.  The water was perfect to cool us down from the day’s hike.  We had a quick lunch and then off we went for another two hour hike to the new tree house.  The first part of the hike was relatively easy.  It was mostly down hill or flat.  The second part of this hike was way more difficult.  Very steep and long.  Our guides would usually say, “Up, Up, Up, Many Leach, Zip, Zip, Zip.”  I was a lot better on this trek than the first one.  I was not as winded and my legs were a lot stronger.  We finally got to our tree house and it was amazing.  This tree house had three floors.  The main floor with 3 beds and the sink and bathroom.  An upstairs floor with another bed room and the bottom floor where we would zip into.  It was quite amazing to think how they built this huge structure in the middle of the jungle high up in this tree.

Zip Line 2

Zip Line 1

These videos were taken around the second tree house we slept at.  One of them is myself filming and the other is Anna filming.  The one that I am filming is very shaky because I am awful keeping that camera still.  You can see our tree house towards the left of the video.  I tried to get all around me to show how it was up there.  The other video is a video of Anna zipping into our tree house.  That is a really good video.  Go check it out.  Here is a picture of our entire group eating dinner in the tree house.

Oct. 14

Our last day in the jungle of Lao.  We got up early to zip around our tree house.  The videos are from this morning.  We then had to hike a little ways to get out of the jungle, back to society.  We were going to the place where there were many zips.  We were on the “Waterfall Experience.”  There was more trekking in this experience, but we go to see the waterfall.  There is also the “Classic Experience,” where there is less trekking and more zip lining.  In retrospect, I would recommend the Classic.  We slept at tree house 6 and 5 the nights before.  We walked over to tree house 1, 2 and 3.  Here there is a circuit of zip lines that are amazing.  You start on one side and zip to this one tree in the middle of the jungle where there are many other zip lines.  You then zip from there to the other side to another mountain.  You walk up a little and then zip back to that same place in the middle of the jungle.  On this zip, you can pass people going the other way on another zip line.  Once you back to the area in the middle of the jungle, you then zip right back to the other side, to start the whole circuit again.  Overall, there are 4 zips connected to it; 2 coming in and 2 going out.  We all did this circuit a couple of times and off we went to go back to the village to head home.

It was a pretty easy hike back to the village.  All down hill, so nothing to worry about.  We got back to the village, hopped in the car and off we went our way back to Huay Sai.  If you remember, this drive is going to be off roading.  While we were in the jungle, it rained quite a bit.  We had no idea what we were getting into.  I thought that it was going to be simple drive back to town.  Boy I was wrong.  The dirt road was muddy.  The first hill we had to climb we barely made it.  The next hill was a different story.  We started to ascend up the hill and about half way we got stuck.  We were not moving at all.  The car was sideways.  A couple of us got out to push.  The car slid back a little to straighten up and then we started to push.  As we were pushing, mud was slinging back towards us.  We finally got the car unstuck and off the car went to the top of the hill.  We walked the rest of the way up to get in the car.  Again, another hill and again we were stuck.  This time the car was not moving at all.  We pushed and pushed and the tires were just smoking.  Everyone had to get out of the car because the bottom of the car was stuck in the mud.  The Lao driver and another Lao guy had to improvise.  They went into the forrest with a machete to cut down a tree to use as a lever to lift the car up.  As we lifted the car up with the tree, a girl in our group was putting rocks under the tires to create traction.

We eventually got out of the mud and back to the main highway.  I was covered in mud, but still happy to be alive.  Even though we got stuck a couple of times it was awesome.  It just added to this whole experience.  Really making it more worthwhile.  We still stopped two more times on the highway.  Once, so our driver can stop at a convenient story.  Not sure why we stopped, but whatever.  The next stop was at 2 cars pulled over to the side of the road.  The cars were not working and they were working on the cars to get them to work.  Our driver gave the guys a bottle of whiskey.  Now I realized why we stopped at the store.  The men working on the cars gave us some drinks of their rice whiskey.  We finally got back to the town where we started.  We checked into the guest house and showered.  I was happy and upset that the three days were over.  Happy to finally shower and rest and not trek.  Upset because it was an amazing time that can never be replicated.  I also met some amazing people on the journey.  This is a picture of me after our whole escapades in the mud.

This was just the beginning of our vacation.  We still had about a week and a half left.  The rest of the time we spent in Thailand.  We mostly stayed in Chiang Mai and spent a couple of days in the beautiful mountain village of Pai.