Gibbon Experience

“Step into the harness as if you’re stepping into a diaper,” the narrator in the instruction video said.

“Don’t reckon I ever actually have stepped into a diaper,” a fellow traveler mumbled. Fair point.  I hadn’t either.  But it’s not that hard.

I had just crossed over from Thailand in a small wooden boat. The visa office was closed for lunch so my crossing was followed by a couple of hours of waiting.  Followed by another hour of waiting at the office of Bokeo Nature Reserve because I had heard good things about the Gibbon Experience and wanted to see if I could get in.  Hours of wait time or not, I was in a good mood.  It’s hard to have a bad day in Laos.

The Gibbon Experience is an effort to allow travelers access to the dense forest of northern Laos while using the profits to preserve that same forest.  A good model and a hell of a lot of fun.

After a fairly strenuous hike, our guides passed out the harnesses that would hold us dangling in mid air.  The release for we signed said we could be 150 meters above the ground.  Were we really that high?  Who knows, but it felt like flying.

Christian Haugen's photo of zip-lining in Laos.

The closest I’ve come to flying…Photo by Christian Haugen.

I had never zip-lined before, and I’ll admit my first couple runs were rough.  You want the harness to be snug, but you don’t want to be hanging by your crotch.  Once I got adjusted though – Whew! What fun! The wind whistled by.  The valley, the trees, and a view only birds, monkeys and other zip-liners get to enjoy. I was hooked, so to speak.

A few days later, my gut muscles were sore.  Did I do a thousand sit-ups and not remember? Obviously not.  But you do get sort of a workout even though you’re having too much fun to realize it.  Nothing wrong with that.

Since that first whiz across the valley of the Nam Nga River, I’ve gone ziplining several times in various locations (Guatemala, Honduras, Hawaii) and the Gibbon Experience remains my favorite for several reasons:

  • The lines are long, giving you ample time to enjoy the view, the speed, the magic, before you have to start thinking about braking so you don’t crash into a tree.
  • After the guides teach you how to zip and then show you the circuit, you are free to use it as much as you want.  No one babysits you. You can keep going until you drop (figuratively, not literally).
  • You sleep in tree-houses high above the forest floor taking in the sights and sounds of the jungle.
Christian Haugen's photo of a Gibbon Experience tree house.

Stepping out the front door at the Gibbon Experience. Photo by Christian Haugen.

As an added bonus, if you are traveling through Laos, north to south, the Gibbon Experience is a great start.  Among other things, it means that you will have made some friend’s you can hang with on the two-day boat trip to Luang Prabang.

And P.S. – the food is delicious.

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