Part One: End of Thailand and start of Laos

The Gibbon Experience is a conservation project that provides a three day trip with exclusive access to the Bokeo Nature Reserve, one of the last remaining habitats of the black crested gibbon, previously thought to be extinct. It is also an adrenalin junkies dream with extensive zip lines installed across the canopy. For memories sake there is a lot to write and if anyone can be bothered, a lot to read so I’ll split it into two posts. The first will be the end of Thailand and getting to the Bokeo Nature reserve, whilst the second will deal with the fun within it.

I was thinking the other day about my one highlight in each country i have visited so far. Answers reached i decided that I would save them for the end of the blog, however I can exclusively reveal that the Laos award may already have been won. And yet if luck had not been on my side, it could have been so very different.

From Pai I rang the Gibbon Experience. A disastrous Skype/Lao line made the conversation difficult however i gathered that they had a place on the 14th March. A day earlier than I would have liked but sacrifices have to be made. However just as I was about to say yes the line went dead. On calling back the place had gone and I would have to wait another four days until they had space! Not ideal considering I was getting bored by Thailand but I had been aiming to do the Gibbon Experience for months so needs must. To fill the time I headed to Chiang Rai and planed a series of day trips.

It all started so well. Chiang Rai has a lovely small night market with a huge array of bargain food, even if most are deep fried! Deep fried vegetables anyone? The whole place had a superb atmosphere, without the tourist centric domination that has taken over a lot of Thailand. But then the rain started. Whether it was the result of a typhoon, the Japanese earthquake or something else, it was torrential and non stop for my time left in Thailand. Venturing out was occasionally done for food and a bit of sight seeing here or there but always with the same result, drenched and freezing cold. I don’t know how the temperature dropped so fast (from over thirty degrees to around ten apparently).

Eventually the day came to leave Thailand. I caught a bus to Chiang Kong and then a boat over the Mekong (the tenth longest river in the world) and arrived in Huay Xai, Laos. The moment i stepped foot in Lao the rain subsided…and then just when myself and a dutch guy marvelled at the coincidence it started again. I went to sleep with the rain thundering down cursing my luck and woke up on the morning of the 18th with birds signing and blue sky!

I made my way down to Gibbon Hq with a spring in my step. After meeting fellow adventurers we sat and watched a number of films on the conservation project and safety information. We signed contracts that devolved the project from any responsibilities in regards to our safety. My favourite paragraph was the one covering bear attacks. We were going to be entering a different world. From there the twelve of us piled into two open topped four by fours and sped three hours outside of Huay Xai.

The journey was smooth up until we veered off the main road and onto a small mud track. After passing the park entrance to the Bokeo nature reserve we stopped at a lake that had formed over the road. With no further hesitation the jeeps sank into it before reemerging at the other end. Now the jeeps may have survived the aquatic lifestyle but the rain had made the mud tracks frankly lethal with our jeeps sliding all over the place. A number of times we had to jump out and push it up the hills as it thanked us by spraying mud everywhere. The group that set off on the 14th had had to walk an additional six hours due to the weather. Our drivers had thankfully deemed the roads recovered enough but it must have been a very close decision. On one our driver decided that the navigation of an abandoned vehicle to dangerous for us to be a part of. The decision for us to stand on the side of the road and watch was called into question as it slid out of control and veered towards the scarpering onlooking tourists!

Amazingly we arrived in one piece at a scenic local village. All the houses were made of wood and a small stream ran along the bottom. Mothers carried chickens to sell or be cooked, whilst kids dragged/carried babies, it was a village well used to seeing tourists but in no way compromising their lives to adapt to it. A lovely start to what would be an incredible three days.


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