25 March 2008

The Gibbon Experience

I went on a three day adventure in the forest staying in a tree house 50 metres from the ground and traversing the forest via walking and ziplining across the forest. The ziplines are amazing- they are up to 1km in length and up to 200 metres above the ground when you travel across the valley. The ziplines are like flying foxes only you are strapped in. We estimated that you travelled up to 40km per hour. When taking off sometimes you stepped off into mid air 50 metres or more off the ground. The hardest part was when you didn’t make it all the way across to the platform and you have to pull yourself across slowly because when you look down you might be 100 metres or more off the ground.

I liked walking around the forest, there was lots of different plants and fungi to be seen. We saw a green whip snake, quite a few birds and a giant squirrel. There were heaps of rats around the tree house at night. We even managed to see a black- crested gibbon, the tour’s namesake during our morning walk. They play in the morning and they pretty much swing quickly through the forest, crashing through . There was heaps of bamboo which made it feel different from home and we scrambled over and under piles of fallen bamboo. At night we could hear a really loud bark, probably from a monkey. We did hear a lot of crashing through the forest at night which could have been caused by deer or bears.

The tree houses were awesome. They were made of wood, although one was built around a metal cage. The roofs were made of the leaves that the Lao traditional houses are made of. The water is from a spring. There is a shower, toilet and kitchen. The water just drops 50m to the ground when you use it. It’s an open plan without windows so you need to use the mosquito nets to protect yourself from night visitors. I stayed in a large split level house that could sleep 6 people. I also stayed in the romantic one for just 2 people.

The Gibbon Experience is an ‘ecotourism’ project. I am impressed with how they have done the project. They did involve the community from the start. One of the guides said he helped build the first tree house and had elephants carry the wood through the forest. I think they enjoy working there- one had worked there for 4 years and all seem really enthusiastic. They were so nice to speak to us in simple Lao to make me feel like I kind of knew the language! I think that’s the most important thing. Most of the people working there are from a couple of local villages of the Hmong ethnic group.

There were a few minor glitches which could be easily improved, and I hope they do. Some tree houses can run out of water. They really have to do something about this! My friends warned me because they didn’t have water after their 3 hour trek so were quite concerned and mine ran out of water too. They also have people trek to the tree houses and back by themselves which takes up to a couple of hours without maps. In the comments book some people mentioned they got lost. They should also be more clear about how long the trek to the tree house is. I went to the closest tree houses which involved an hour trek, half of which was uphill. Other tree houses are a relatively difficult three hour walk away. One friend woke up at 5am to trek for 7 hours when the road was bad and wet. The guides don’t take first aid kits with them. They do have them in the tree houses but something’s more likely to happen when you’re walking so take one if you’re going walking. They should give some emergency procedures and tell you where the fire extinguisher is and tell people to take water when trekking. They can forget your dinner so check with them they’ll deliver it to you. They have forgotten to deliver meals, according to some comments in the book. Like in Lao generally, people might not act unless asked to, so do check for meals. The tree houses are more like camp site than guest house. That is, it is in the condition that the last person left it. I don’t think they wash sheets and towels that consistently. If they told people this, it might make their expectations more realistic and maybe they could encourage people to leave the tree houses in good condition. I just hope they take note of these things as people have written in the comments book because I’d hate anything bad to happen and have their reputation ruined!

No comments: