The Invisible Gibbon Experience

If we could travel everywhere in Asia by speedboat, regardless of cost, I think we would. 6 hours up the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai – savage. Now it wasn’t much of a speedboat, more like a curach with a huge engine thrown into it. So basically when you see it at first you think ‘ah that thing isn’t going anywhere fast’. But then they give you a motorbike helmet and you realise this thing means business. For the first ten minutes, our eyes were bloodshot, partly from fear, partly from the speed. But we relaxed after a while and just took in the brilliance of the landscape, the valleys and mountains were simply awesome, even though the weather was grey, it really didn’t matter. Now since we have gone away Diarmuid and I have had very different sleep patterns, I think he has had a lot more than me, why? Well I cannot get to sleep on trains or buses really, but this man falls asleep on a speedboat going 50 miles an hour bouncing along the Mekong. It wasn’t even a nap, the lad was out cold. Anyway we reached Huay Xai that afternoon and it was a shithole. A genuine shithole. So anyway we found the Gibbon Experience office and paid up. That was not enjoyable, giving away €220 is never nice but I was seriously wondering would this trek be worth the money. But Diarmo had his heart set on it and we had heard a lot of good things about it. We did get a half decent hotel room and both of us were not in the best shape so both of us slept for about 14 hours.

So the next morning we set off on a bumpy ride to the jungle. Laos is an hilarious country, the people are so civilised and everyone seems so harmonious but on our way to the jungle, twice we slowed down passing a jeep full of lads with Kalashnikovs. So we met the other people in our group, all very sound. Bender was with us for another trek and two of her German friends Toni and Larry were there too. Then there was Jake and Bonnie, very sound New Zealand couple. So for an extra €100 you could do the ‘spa’ experience and there was a group doing that too. They were all couples, all newlyweds in their early thirties and they all seemed like no craic whatsoever. Poor Jake and Bonnie got thrown into a tree house with them and me, Diarmo and the Germans got one to ourselves. We set off into the forest with our guides, left the dry couples at one point thank God and then the zip lining began.

The first time is terrifying. You attach your harness to the cable and glide away through the trees and you think ‘oh this great craic’, then all of a sudden you’re flying through a valley 200 metres high in the air. So after the 2nd or 3rd one, Diarmo and Toni were asking ‘oh did you see the views aren’t they amazing?’. What views?? I didn’t look down once. But after 3 days of this, my fear of heights was conquered. They made us sign a waiver that if we die on the trek, the company is not liable. We survived and I just wish we could zip line around Dublin instead of using the shit public transport. So anyway we arrived at our tree house which of course you had to zip line into. The tree house was easily 150 metres high and the views were absolutely spectacular. The living area if you can call it that was really nice too; there were mattresses and mosquito nets for us all, a little kitchen and a bathroom which had no real pipe system, just a hole in the floor. Now one worrying thing was that our guide told us to tuck our mosquito nets under our mattresses and we thought ‘oh the mosquitos must be really bad’ but no, the guide casually said ‘just so the mice don’t get in’. Oh shit.

So our food was brought to us by our guides that evening and it was poor at best. Obviously we knew it wouldn’t be steak and chips but it really was mediocre and not enough for 5 people. But there was a bigger problem, there was one bottle of wine for the 5 of us. For the entire 3 days. I told Diarmo we should have brought a 6 pack each but he moaned that he didn’t want to carry it. He then apologised for that statement. So although this trek was already proving to be a great choice, after an unsatisfying dinner and half a cup of wine each, we wondered what to do. Thank god for cards and torches. Without both, we would be sitting in the dark with feck all to do. It got dark around 6 and there was no electricity, obviously because we were in the jungle, so by the time it was 10, it felt like 2 am and we all hit the hay.

The next morning we were awoken at 7 to go on a walk through the forest to look for gibbons. The guides were clearly experts on knowing where they would be. So we walked for an hour and a half and we saw nothing, experts – I think not. Luckily, that day was brilliant. The guides took us around the jungle and we did all the zip lines. The views were amazing, some of the zip lines were 400 metres long and we were getting addicted. We zip lined into the dry couples tree house and found out that the ‘spa’ experience they pay for included more alcohol than we got. We actually looked around their tree house to see if they had any left but to no avail. That is desperation. So once again we had the same evening, a dinner you would find in a London orphanage in the 1800s and some serious card playing. We’ve got to thank the German girls because if we were stuck in a tree house with 3 idiots or people who simply weren’t fun, it would have put a major downer on the trek. But they were legends the three of them, despite being very very loud when speaking German.

So the next morning we were awoken for another gibbon finding session. The previous day I had ruined my ankle by crashing into a tree on a zip line which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was still very sore and I didn’t have to get up and look for gibbons seemed more and more mythical. Diarmo stayed in bed too and the girls arrived back… no gibbons seen of course. So we headed out of the jungle that morning on got our ride back to Huay Xai. A great few days but I seriously wondered where our €220 went. The food was so bad, we didn’t see one gibbon and really we only had one full day in the forest. The tree houses and the zip lines were essentially the only things we appreciated.

So even though we were back in the awful Huay Xai, the 5 of us went out for dinner and in search of a half decent bar for much needed drinks. We found a bar which was pretty much on the street itself, Bob Marley playing and cheap cocktails, that would do nicely. Diarmo of course brought the cards for a few drinking games. There was a French lad drinking alone at the bar who we roped into our game. His friend came along later and the two of them were legends, French people really are brilliant as I have learned recently! By midnight the town had shut down. Not a soul in sight. Except for the 7 of us. We had gotten into a very serious drinking game and the lot of us were in stitches laughing. Eventually the barman said we really had to go to bed. We were proud of ourselves, we had made a serious session in the shittest town in South East Asia. Only the Irish can pull these things off. So we carried the lightweight Europeans home and hit the hay. And the next morning, we left Laos behind. What an amazing country.

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