This week’s dream: Living like a monkey in the Laotian rain forest
“Were Tarzan to dream up an ecotourism adventure, it would probably look a lot like the Gibbon Experience,” said Eliot Stein in The Washington Post. For our recent honeymoon, my wife and I jumped right in, spending three days in northwestern Laos flying on zip lines high above the treetops of a rain forest, then sleeping in one of the highest-perched tree houses in the world. The thatched open-air shelters are reachable only by zip line, so women from the nearby villages fly in each evening to deliver your dinner. “Every morning, you wake up, slide on a harness, and essentially toss yourself out of a 15-story building.”
A two-hour drive from Ban Houayxay, capital of Bokeo province, brought us to the edge of the forest. Hiking in, we were “quickly engulfed in a riot of twisting vines, studded palm leaves, and massive banyan trees.” We were accompanied by two guides, Phad and Si—part of a small army of locals who either serve Gibbon Experience guests or work to maintain a 525-square-mile nature preserve funded by visitor fees. At our first drop point, high on a mountainside, Phad offered a one-line addendum to our crash course in zip-lining: “Don’t look down.” A moment later, I was airborne, and unable to resist catching a glimpse of my tiny shadow racing across the treetops hundreds of feet below. I screamed all the way to the next platform, where Si was waiting to catch me.
We owed it all to a small primate: the Laotian blackcrested gibbon, a critically endangered subspecies that was disappearing from the Bokeo forest before conservationists started building the tree houses. The gibbon’s numbers are now rebounding, but we never spotted one as we hiked between zip-line flights. Just after dawn on our final day, though, we heard one calling for its mate—“an eerie, ascending whooping sound” that echoed through the canopy. In the silence that followed, we scanned the trees for the call’s source until, somewhere farther off, a second gibbon started hooting back to the first. Though we eventually gave up on a sighting, “we listened, completely captivated, as the back-and-forth notes blossomed into a duet.”
The three-day Gibbon Experience (gibbon experience.org) costs $310 a person.