Southeast Asia: Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos

We knew before we got there that the "Gibbon Experience" was going to be one of the most remarkable things we'd do on our trip, despite the corny name. The experience consists of a three day stay in the Bokeo Nature Reserve in Northern Laos, staying in tree houses, and zip-lining hundreds of feet above the tree canopy, all in hopes of catching a glimpse of a gibbon. This area is home to the endangered Black Crested Gibbon - 10 or so years ago, they were heavily poached, but an enterprising French guy came in, convinced the poachers to become guides, and the Gibbon Experience was born. Today the gibbon population is stable, and the poachers make more money as guides than they did poaching.

 

Just getting to Bokeo took many hours of bus travel along windy mountain passes. On the way there, we stayed the night in the tiny village Baan Donchai. This was the view from our rustic wooden stilt-house.

Free-ranging water buffalo, just hanging out.

The view from the back porch of our stilt house was of this river. Much activity in the water - by both humans and a variety of animals - kept us entertained for hours.

Zip-lining! The zip-lining feels alarmingly haphazard. No safety gear, and you are expected to zip around yourself, without a guide. You can bet I double checked my knots, knees shaking, before every zip. It was amazing. And terrifying.

Each morning at 6am, our guide would zip into our tree house, wake us up, and lead us through the forest, trying to catch a gibbon sighting. On our last day, we had amazing luck. A group of about 10 gibbons passed right over our heads in the canopy. A young gibbon (you can tell the young from the old by the color of their coats - the adults are all black, and the young are a light brown) even stopped for a moment and looked right at me!

A gibbon from afar (we saw them much closer than this but didn't get any photos). The most amazing part of the entire experience was listening to the gibbons sing to each other. Each morning was filled with their calls, which sound like eerie sirens.

Sunset from our tree house

Every meal was brought to us by our guide, who zipped in (the only way in and out of the tree houses are via zip-lines). Four delicious fire-cooked courses awaited us in this neat metal cannister. And wine as well! It was pretty decadent.

Our tree house

The misty valley in the morning from our tree house.