Houay Xai & The Gibbon Experience
Houay Xai is the Laos border town to Thailand, and we found it preferable to the Thai option. More laid back, it recieves all the late evening sun. We stayed at a good guestouse here called BAP guesthouse, run by an amazing Lao lady. She seemed to speak all European languages. I have no idea how old she was, but i dare say she had lived through a number of the different regimes Laos has suffered with in the last century. She had a wcked sense of humour, and a bossy temperament. I felt very sorry for her staff!
Our main reason to stay in Houay Xai was to register for the Gibbon Experience, which we had booked months before, and had both been looking forward to for ages. It is a four hour drive away from Houay Xai.
On the morning of the 13th we were up early in order to get into the back of a pick up truck to take a bumpy journey into the Bokeo National Park. 3 hours of rough driving later (only 2 of which occured on roads) we arrived at a small village. From here we had an hour trek into the jungle. An hour in we received our harnesses (our most vital piece of equipment for the next 3 days) and then another 45 min trek and a few zip lines through jungle to our tree house. The tree house was amazing, built high in the canopy of an enormous tree looking out across a beautiful valley. We shared our lodgings with a young Canadian couple, Emily and Tyler - who we had to get to know very well over the next few days - the 'bedrooms' were a mosquito net over a mattress, and the bathroom was a curtain rail partition, with the toilet being a hole, dropping out to the jungle floor. If you were having a shower (cold - and a slatted floor to the jungle) and someone zipped in, you can forget any sense of modesty! Luckily, they were really good company.
The days here were spent ziplining and hiking. The ziplines were incredible, long cords running across valleys. They were absolutely terrifying! Long enough to get a whole second wind of fear half way across.
We loved the whole experience. It was totally unique, incredibly beatiful and extremely exciting.
Weirdly, out of a group of 10 people, one of the people in our group was an ex Guardian employee called Marta... talk about small world.
Back to Houay Xai and we had a tough decision to make on how to get to Luang Prabang. A slow boat that takes 2 days, a speed boat that takes 1 day, but is notoriously dangerous, or a bus that takes 12 hours. We felt we wanted to see more of the Mekong so ruled out the bus. Matt (I blame him for the pain that followed!) thought the speed boat looked exciting so that was the option we took.
Once we got on the boat, thoughts of it's safety record were the least of my concerns - rather I started to worry that I would never walk again after the prospect of 7 hours in what can only be described as a Guantanamo Bay devised 'Stress Position'. We were in a tiny space with a knees pretty much around our ears. Awful! Those slow boats looked so good as we wizzed past.
Still, a day ahead of our slow boat companions we arrived in Luang Prabang.