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As the sun begins to break through the darkness in Laos’ Nam Kan National Park, the cries of wild, black-crested gibbons echo through the jungle air.Crawling out of our mosquito-net covered beds, perched high in wooden treehouses that tower over the jungle floor, we grab our binoculars for a closer look as these lively animals leap through the trees in the distance, the leaves around them shaking wildly as the branches bounce up and down.It’s an incredibly special moment you won’t find anywhere else in the world made possible by the Gibbon Experience, a tourism-based conservation project that kicked off in the late 1990s as a response to illegal logging.At a height of 30-40 meters above ground, the Gibbon Experience’s eight treehouses are the tallest in the world, according to staff.
But here’s the best part (or worst, if you’re not a fan of high-speed thrills). The only way to access them is via zipline.”We have a 15-kilometer network of ziplines,” explains Yann Gourmelon, the Gibbon Experience’s GIS specialist.”It allows us to bring customers deep into the forest very, very quickly. The longest line is 600 or so meters, which means you’ll be zipping along superfast for about 50 seconds enjoying the views.”(Check out some of this high-speed action in the above video.)
The Gibbon Experience offers three types of tours, all of which include a mix of trekking and ziplining.The Classic Tour and Waterfall Tour are both three days and two nights. There’s also a two-day, one-night Express Tour.We picked the Classic Tour — it’s the most relaxed option — given we had three kids under 12 and one teenager in our group.(The minimum age to join the Waterfall and Classic tours is eight, while kids 12 and up can join the Express Tour, which is more challenging.)
On day one, we journeyed from the Gibbon Experience office in the small town of Ban Houayxay to the Nam Kan National Park by truck, a 2.5-hour drive. After a brief trek to the equipment camp we were set up with ziplining harnesses and gloves.Accompanied by two guides, we made our way through the well-trodden jungle trails, trekking and ziplining, ending the day at our designated treehouse, much to the disappointment of the kids, who would have preferred to keep zipping well into the night.Day two was spent much in the same way — trekking through stunning jungle scenery and enjoying exhilarating (and at times terrifying) zipline routes, while also visiting other treehouses in the Gibbon Experience network.All of the treehouses are made with wood reclaimed from poachers and are equipped with electric lights. Beds, covered with mosquito nets, are basic but comfortable.Each treehouse washroom is open air (though shielded from other parts of the treehouse) and has its own fresh water shower.Laos-style meals are cooked up in a neighboring village and delivered to the treehouses by staff — via zipline, of course — along with fresh local fruits and local snacks.
So how do they select the trees that will hold these incredible treehouses?Gourmelon says considerations include location, height and whether there are gibbons nearby. Too high and it’s difficult to supply fresh water. Too low means visitors would miss out on the views.”About two years ago we changed the way we design treehouses,” he explains.”Before we had to bring an architect to spend a lot of time in the tree. It’s not very comfy and not easy if you want to take accurate measurements of the angles and curves everywhere. It wasn’t very efficient. You could make beautiful treehouses, but it took a lot of time.”