We did the 2 days, 1 night express visit. There is limited information on the different types of trip on the Gibbon website or in LP, so this is a rough breakdown of the shorter trip. It's long, but i hope it helps!
You start at 8.30am at the Gibbon office in Huoy Xai. You are shown a quick video explaining the project and what it gives back to the community (100 jobs, protecting jungle and education programs) as well as a break down of how the $160 trip cost is spent; which is reassuring. There is then a safety video. Watch carefully as the emphasis is on personal responsibility and asking guides when you are in doubt, rather than the guides specifically reminding you of safety. That's fine, as its not too complicated and video is clear.
We then milled around the office for 15 mins before being put in trucks. The office is really chaotic and poorly organised (though they are efficient at processing payments and answering pre booking questions). Don't let this put you off as the tour gets better. There are about 5 staff in office, but no one issuing instructions or looking approachable and its unclear who works here and who is just trying to hitch a lift in the trucks. Useless. You are meant to get gloves at this point. Ask for them if not. We, and two other couples were missed in the office confusion and thus didn't have gloves for trip, which is a pain as the zip rope can burn if you accidentally touch it when breaking. Even better, bring some gloves from home as the ones you are given are just woolen with some grips.
Eventually we were bundled into open top trucks. It was torrential rain and so we got soaked in the open jeeps. Even if it isn't raining, do bring a rain jacket as it may rain next day and you will get cold and wet when exposed to elements during the 45 min journey back. Also bring a change of clothes as we were all wet and muddy within 2 hours of the trip!.
The confusion continued when we arrived at start point of trail. We were split between 1 night / 2 night groups in a village and the 1 night group left by a shop. No instructions for 15 mins until 2 of the guys in shop suddenly jumped up and introduced themselves as guides. Again, confusing and frustrating but once we had our guides from then on, they were great and trip was clear. Gibbon just needs to sort out the first 2 hours!
We were given our safety harnesses in shop. You trek with these on as zip lining is part of the jungle trek. In fact first zip line is 5 mins into walk as you go through a village and then immediately zip line across a river. It's a short one and felt safe. One guide goes ahead to help you land and the other stays back last to check you attach yourself to line correctly. i had a few safety questions and the guides answered these and checked my harness, knots and procedure for attaching to the line, so I felt safe and adequately guided. You just need to be proactive and ask and guides assume you are ok unless you state otherwise.
It's then a 2 hour walk uphill in jungle. We were lucky as it was a cool day and so walk was fine but it is steep, so take lots of water if its hot. The Gibbon gives you lots of chocolate bars and a water at start of trek you will need another 1 litre at least. You get lots of rest stops and walk at pace set by guide which is relatively slow, so all ok. You also stop for a chicken sandwich lunch around 1pm. The first large zip line is 2 hours in. Again, guides check you on and give instructions as to whether its a fast line, whether you need to break or can lean back etc. I felt fully informed and again, safety felt ok. Admittedly no helmets, but this is Laos and so not European standards. Plus risk is crashing not trees with your legs, not head and if you are cautious and correctly break this is highly unlikely to happen.
From the first main zip, there are a further 8 zip lines every 10 mins or so until you reach the treehouse. Group size is thus crucial as each zip takes roughly a minute or two per person and so bigger group, more wait time. Max is usually 10 people but we had 11 and so there was a lot of waiting around queuing for the zip lines and then waiting for group before progressing. If you can, ask about group size before booking. You may be better off with 2 nights/ 3 days this goes further into jungle with smaller groups and so there is less waiting.
Tress house is lovely, though small. It's a proper treehouse. You zip in and it is very high up. There are 4 open plan double beds on one level and a further 3 beds on a higher level. They are very tightly packed but each double has a dark mozzie net over it, so you have some privacy. It's important to get in with the group ( ours was great) as you eat and sleep in very close quarters. Voices travel! There is one squat toilet on bottom level, with a cold but powerful shower. All open so sounds carry and people tried to avoid using bathroom where possible...though its perfectly clean.
We arrived at 3pm and had some snacks of oranges, peanuts and rice cakes. 45 mins downtime to enjoy treehouse. We read but again it's a squeeze with 11 people so don't expect quiet! Then we did some more zipping as there is a route of additional 4 lines in a square around treehouse.
Dinner was at 6.30. Very basic; sticky rice, cabbage, carrots and a bland meat stew - but extremely filling and given that all ingredients are carried in by hand up the trail, pretty good stuff. You share food from communal pot and dinner is a good bonding experience. Guides go to sleep in a camp elsewhere and group stays and chats (no beers allowed though!) before bed around 9pm or when last person stops talking. Sleep quality was ok. The beds are hard and once it started raining, the sound of pelting rain on tin roof kept us all up. However the mozzie nets are great and also keep out light so my sleep was better than expected. Should also mention they provide the linen and towels, so no need to bring.
It's then up at 6.30am for snacks and coffee and then the zip lining square again. Slightly repetitive and I personally was done with zipping at this point, but many of group loved it. Breakfast is at 9; sticky rice, eggs, cabbage and French fries. Arguably the saltiest meal I've had in ages but very filling and kudos to our guides for carrying fresh eggs up the trail!
You then head back at 10am on an adjacent route to one you came up. There are 6 zips on way back; the 600m one across open canopy is spectacular. After zips, it's a 1.5 hour fast walk back to village. Guides didnt lead as route back was simple so our group set a very fast pace back; something to note if you are a slower walker. Over river for final zip and then we reconvene in shop by 2pm and are given another chicken sandwich. Guides then leave us and we are taken back by trucks. We are then back at Gibbon before 3pm so you can catch evening bus. Reception is again useless but there is a shower behind building -which they dont tell you about - so ask them to open it if you need to freshen up before bus (and you will, jungle humidity is bonkers)
So in conclusion, this trip is great is you want lots of zip lining. some of the zips are truly amazing; really long and with stunning views. They also serve a purpose as they shorten walk to jungle and so this tour is much better than the ones in Chang Mai where you just zip around between platforms in a confined area. A really unusual, once in a lifetime experience. However you don't see Gibbons or learn much about jungle. The guides (whilst chatty and friendly) don't really guide you so much as check you are on the zip safely. They occasionally point out a millipede or buttferfly, so if you want wildlife definitely do the 2 night trip as its deeper in jungle, so theres far more chance of seeing a gibbon. Also if you at your own space or are worried about composition of group, then 2 night may be better as groups are smaller. The demographic for this tour was late 20s backpackers, which suited us fine but something to note if you like your space or are worried about fitness levels and keeping up with large group trekking. Overall, we did enjoy this trip and would recommend it. it's not exceptional value for money, but we understand where the money goes and is on balance worth it for a different experience and the positive impact the project has on community.
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