The Gibbons Experience is a unique adventure located near the tri-border of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Some people come for the Gibbons, others for the treehouses and some for the zip lining. I was interested in all three but staying in the world’s tallest treehouses high up in the rainforest canopy was the highlight.
Since it opened in 1996, The Gibbon Experience allows you to immerse yourself in a unique conservation project located amidst lush Laotian rainforests of Nam Kan National Park. This special experience encourages sustainable tourism to protect rare species like the endangered Lao Black Gibbons and creates local employment opportunities. The tours start with a hike into the National Park before flying through treetops on ziplines to eventually arrive at a treehouse, your home for the next night of two.
The Gibbon Experience Highlights
- Stay in the worlds highest treehouses
- Wake up to the singing Gibbons in the morning
- Zip between the treehouses on ziplines up to 570 metres long
- Make new friends with other travellers in your group
- Support an organisation protecting the rainforest and helping the local community
The Gibbon Experience
The Gibbon Experience offers not just an extraordinary adventure, but the opportunity to help protect and conserve Bokeo’s Rainforest. Tropical forests are being decimated by a combination of illegal logging, commercial cropping, excessive slash-and-burn practices and other land misuses. In order to combat these issues The Gibbon Experience was created to sustainably conserve and financially support efforts to protect the Bokeo forest.
Since 1996 The Gibbons Experience has provided 120 people with full-time employment in tourism-based conservation efforts like forest rangers, tree planters and local educators. They also plant approximately 100,000 trees in the rainforest each year.
The Gibbon Experience Tours and Prices
There are three tour options provided by The Gibbons Experience; Classic, Express and Honeymoon. We did the Classic and would recommend it but if you’re short on time then do the Express and you’ll still see the treehouses, ziplines and possibly some Gibbons. The Honeymoon option is similar to the Classic but includes a private treehouse for two people and is slightly more expensive (€30 extra per person). All tours start in the morning from Huay Xai so make sure you stay overnight there beforehand.
The tours include a guide, food, accommodation and transport from the Gibbons Experience office. The food provided was great and is prepared fresh everyday. It’s also nice to eat as a group at a different location for every meal.
Classic – Two nights, three days and the easiest trek with only a few hours of relatively flat trekking each day. The slow pace means you can spend longer in the treehouses or looking out for Gibbons. The schedule is very flexible to how the group feels. We were a relatively young group so decided to trek for longer periods and see more of the other treehouses.
Honeymoon – The same as the classic but you’ll stay in a private treehouse.
Express – one night, two days and a focus on trekking and ziplining as opposed to looking for Gibbons. The treks are more difficult that the other two tours but still not too difficult for most travellers in this region. You stay in one of the treehouses close to the largest tree in Laos (The Tree King). Most of the tour is spent in an area that is rarely visited by Gibbons which is why you have a lower chance of seeing them.
We did the Classic tour which felt like a good amount as it provided multiple hikes, treehouses and we saw plenty of Gibbons along the way. The hiking wasn’t very difficult and anyone willing to throw themselves across some of the world’s tallest and longest zip lines should have the fitness level to be able to walk between the zip lines and lookouts.
There were 9 in our group and it was great to share the 3 days with other backpackers. The trip is going to be heavily influenced by the group and weather you get along or not. I always say the type of travellers you meet in the less travelled places tend to be more travelled than those you’ll meet on a bus tour across Europe.
The accommodation is basic but comfortable. Each treehouse accommodates between two and 12 guests in a dorm style set up with mattresses and mosquito nets. Bathrooms are shared and usually drop toilets which fall to the bottom of the forest. Showers are also over the canopy and drop to the forest below.
The name of the company is taken from the Gibbon which is a species of primate found only in China, Laos and Northern Vietnam. They can grow up to 54 cm long and weigh 10 kilograms on average. Males are identifiable by their jet-black with white or beige coloured cheeks while females have golden fur and distinct patches on top of the head.
They usually live in small family groups and are best known for singing songs lasting around 30 minutes which they start at dawn each day. It’s sounds similar to whistling and is amazing to wake up to while in the treehouse. The Laotian subspecies takes refuge exclusively in northwestern Laos’ Nam Kan National Park where it remains critically endangered due to its dwindling population of just 1300–2000.
Getting to the Gibbon Experience
Being close to the tri-border of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar means there’s a few ways to get to the Gibbon Experience. No matter where you’re coming from you’ll need to get to the town of Huay Xai on the Loas side of the Mekong River separating Laos and Thailand. Most travellers will be coming from either Luang Prabang or Chiang Rai but if you’re further away you can take a flight to Luang Namtha then take a 4 hour bus to Huay Xai.
From Luang Prabang you can take a bus, train or go down the river on a fast or slow boat. The bus takes 12 hours to get to Huay Xai and costs 160000 kips. The train from Luang Prabang will take an hour and a half to Nateuy then you’ll need to get a 5 hour minivan to Huay Xai. The fast boat costs 21000 kips and is the quickest option at 6 hours but leaves when it’s full so the schedule is hard to predict, especially if there aren’t many other travellers. There’s also been reports of a lot of injuries on the speed boats due to so many hidden rocks along the way. The slow boat costs 320000 kips, takes 2 days and you spend a night in Pak Beng where you need to find your own accomodation.
We did the slow boat and actually regret not doing the fast boat. I’d imagined the two-day trip on a slow boat down the Mekong River to be an enjoyable experience, but it turned out to be pretty boring. The scenery is very similar and the boat travels so slowly you’ll soon regret not taking the risk on the fast boat.
From Chang Rai you can take a two-hour bus to Chiang Khong which is on the opposite side of the river to Huay Xai. You can then either walk or take a tuk tuk to get to The Gibbons Experience office.
It’ll Stretch the Backpacker Budget but it’s worth it
The Gibbon Experience is much more than just your average wildlife spotting trip. Imagine hiking, zip lining and sleeping in treehouses among the lush foliage of Nam Kan National Park. Enjoy peaceful nights sleep, high up amongst giant treehouses. Don’t miss a chance to hear and see rare black crested gibbons during your adventure!
Keen to read about more less travelled places in South East Asia? Read about my trip to East Timor and the beautiful Artauro Island known for amazing diving and white sand beaches.
Travel Resources for Visiting The Gibbon Experience
The Gibbon Experience – The official site and only place to book The Gibbon Experience.
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.