Laos is a place often forgotten about – yet it has the same beauty, prestige and adventure of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, it’s just simpler. Tourism really only opened here in the late 90s, keeping this little gem unknown to most.
While tourists tend to fly to the main towns and attractions of Laos – Vientiane (the capital), Vang Vieng (a popular backpacker destination) and Luang Prabang (a UNESCO world heritage listed town) we also recommend something a little different to start off your Laotian adventure.
We started our trip in Thailand – it is a cheaper alternative to air transport and we had the time to enter via overland and river, and secondly because we wanted to fly through the treetops of the Bokeo Nature Reserve. Literally.
We took an Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, a small little town in the north-east part of the country and negotiated a driver at the airport to take us sightseeing at Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple). This sci-fi inspired Buddhist temple, still under construction since 1997, is so intricate in detail (inside and out) you will not want to miss it, before heading to the small border crossing town of Chiang Khong. Here we had our passports stamped before climbing into a small, dugout, wooden, motorised canoe. We sped across the river to the Laos side (2 minutes later) and were ready for our adventure.
After checking into The Gibbon Experience office we spent four hours in a ute on the bumpy dirt road until we arrived at a small local village on the outskirts of the reserve. The Gibbon Experience pre-warns you there will be an hour and a half of essential walking, but make sure you are prepared for walking uphill. When we arrived at the main guide station harnesses were passed out.
From here we had short spurts of walking and then zip lining for up to 1500 feet through the forest before reaching our tree house (yes, you sleep there) situated 150 feet high in the sky tipped canopy. We spent hours on constant look out from eight storey high platforms for the famous Gibbon (monkey) and many other creatures we were lucky enough to find.
After a couple of days in the forest constantly wearing a harness has to stay on all day while trekking (and flying) we emerged at the village feeling refreshed and very proud of ourselves for actually completing the adventure, and very happy to celebrate with a cold Beer Lao.
Back in the small border town of Huay Xai after our zip lining escapade, we enjoyed local cuisince at a simple restaurant and decided that an open mind and a sense of adventure were both qualities needed on vacation in Laos — the people, place, and food would take care of the rest to guarantee a great time.
Go to The Gibbon Experience
When: You can go year round however just remember the rainy season in Laos is from May to October.
Where: The Gibbon Experience is in the Bokeo Nature Reserve, a four hour drive from Huay Xai.
What: A concept created by Animo where local people build the houses and zip lines around the nature reserve and the funds received go back into protecting the forest. There is currently a problem with poaching, logging and slash-and-burn farming in the area.
How: Many airlines fly to Bangkok – you can either then take an Air Asia flight to Chiang Rai and drive across to the border town of Chiang Khong or continue flying through to Laos. The best way, through Laos, to get here would be to fly through to Luang Prabang (Lao Airlines) and catch a boat or bus up.
What to bring: When in the Reserve make sure you have loose and comfortable clothing (especially longer pants). This will ensure your harness doesn’t rub any where. Make sure you have sturdy shoes. Only bring a small back pack (an overnight bag onto the experience) – leave your main bag at the office in town. You will need to carry your bag yourself.