The Gibbon Experience is situated in the Nam Kan National park near Huay Xai, the capital of Bokeo province in Laos. When I say ‘in’ the Nam Kan National park, I mean they are the Nam Kan National park. The 136 000 hectare – area was officially given National Park status in 2008.
The company provides unique accommodation with the chance to see Gibbons in the wild. They are self-described as a tourism-based conservation project with tree houses for accommodation, reached via ziplines. The tree houses were built as high as was safe and overlook the forest canopy.
Ziplines have been installed throughout the vast property to reduce the necessity to walk up and down hills and time that it takes to get around. What once was an 8 hour walk now is a 2-hour walk. The Gibbon Experience houses a total of 15 kilometres of ziplines with the shortest being around 50 meters while the longest is nearly 600 meters long. While visitors are accompanied by a guide, they are local to the nearby village. Some guides speak English while others don’t and are referred to as more of an ‘escort’.
Helmets are always recommended as well as double-checking the knots in your harness and that your karabiner is securely closed.
The zipline wires need to be replaces often to assure that they are safe to use. The wires gets recycled and used for other purposes. One such purpose is a 60- meter long suspension bridge in Ban Donkham in the Nam Kan National Park.
The tree houses at the Gibbon Experience are built at a world record height of between 30 and 40 meters. That is over 10 storeys high! The top of the forrest (the canopy) an be seen from your bed! The tree houses are built in different styles to best suit the trees and environment around them. The sizes also varies with some being as large as luxury mansions of up to 160 square meters. The tree houses are stocked with the necessities including solar electricity for lighting, cutlery and crockery and beds.
As can be expected, the natural beauty around The Gibbon Experience is amazing. The highlight of the area is the critically endangered Western Black Crested Gibbon, a subspecies of the Black Crested Gibbons found primarily in Southern China and some areas in Northwestern Laos and Northern Vietnam. There are only about 1 300 to 2000 individuals of Crested Gibbons worldwide. 11 Groups of Gibbons can currently be seen around the Gibbon Experience. This is thought to be the only viable population outside of Yunnan in Southern China.
So what to look for when you go Gibbon spotting? Gibbons are apes rather than monkeys. The males are black with hairless faces while the females a beige-yellow with hairless, black faces and black patches on their chest, head and abdomen. Their arms are super long – about twice as long as the primates are tall! Your best bet is to look for them swinging from branch to branch or sleeping in tall, thick trees near a food source. While Gibbons are wild animals and sightings are not guaranteed, following their morning singing could offer visitors better chances of spotting them. On the other hand rainy and cold weather could hush them up, making them more difficult to find.
Besides the Gibbons, visitors could see a variety of deer, leopards, tigers, wild pigs, Asian Black bears and over 100 species of birds, to name but a few.
The national park is also home to the Tree King. A gigantic gurjum tree (Dipterocarpus Alatus) towers over the surrounding forest at a height of 55 meters. The diameter of this giant tree is e 3 meters at ground level. The Tree King is considered a sacred tree and religious rituals are often conducted in its honour.
The Gibbon Experience does not boast to providing a luxury experience. The main attraction of the trip is the raw natural beauty and wildlife that you can see. It is an experience for adventurists with a passion for nature and its conservation.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com