Resident travel writer, Jaclyn Yost, reports back from the Laotian jungle canopy. If you’re on the hunt for an adventurous vacation, this extra special project supports the local community, protects the environment, and respects the local gibbon population. A must for conscious travellers and animal lovers (though perhaps not for those who are scared of heights!).
“Imagine your wildest childhood dreams come true, while simultaneously giving back to an organisation that works towards environmental protection and community development. The Gibbon Experience in Northern Laos is what jungly dreams are made of. This tourism-based conservation project is on a mission to protect the Nam Kan National Park’s Bokeo forest, the wildlife within (particularly the gibbon monkeys — some of Southeast Asia’s rarest primates!), and to provide better job opportunities for local Laotians and provide greater wellbeing for the surrounding forest communities.
What makes the project special?
The Gibbon Experience began in 1996, with the idea developed as a response to illegal logging, commercial cropping, wildlife poaching, excessive slash-and-burn, and mismanaged land practices that were running rampant in the area. Aside from offering sustainable solutions to these major issues, the initiative also set out to bring in new economic activity via tourism, as well as raise global awareness over the importance of preserving natural areas.
After 24 years of operation, The Gibbon Experience stays true to its grassroots beliefs and has slowly grown its practices to provide greater reach and support. As of now, the project only employs locals under the reliance that the native people will truly know how to manage the forest. They are, after all, the most knowledgeable about the unique cultural and natural landscapes and how they prefer operations to be managed long-term.
Furthermore, with the main objective to protect the forest and wildlife, the project has been able to employ forest guards; the first of its kind in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Under the supervision of the Provincial Department of Natural Resources, The Gibbon Experience, in partnership with the Lao Government, has been able to recruit local villagers full time to patrol the forest and regulate against legal logging, hunting, bomb fishing and land use.
As of now, The Gibbon Experience has 120 local people on board and covers their basic costs of living, including salaries, food, transport, and uniforms. They have also been able to launch environmental awareness campaigns, special law enforcement operations, and host educational community projects (i.e. teaching proper land flattening and irrigation services).
Aiming to bring new perspectives to the local Laotian biodiversity, the name of the experience is metaphor… and it certainly speaks for itself. During the experience, you’ll spend your time trekking through the forest, gliding on over 15km of zip lines up to 600m long, and staying in the world’s tallest treehouses (30-40 metres high. Yikes!). It’s truly living like a gibbon monkey.
During the experience, each group is assigned two English-speaking guides. All of whom are ready to answer any questions you may have about The Gibbon Experience operations or their culture. Plus, they’re good-humoured and fun to be around.
With all the activity, you’ll certainly work up an appetite. The food provided is locally sourced, fresh, vegetarian-friendly, delicious and brought right to your treehouse three times a day. Not to mention, there is free-flow coffee and tea.
Each of the seven treehouses is uniquely designed and set up to run as eco-friendly as possible — from solar panels to rainwater harvesting. The basic yet comfortable beds are set up in the treehouse so that you can rest and recharge for more adventures around the forest.
While it is not promised that you’ll see the gibbons on the tour, the experience is so well done that it is most likely you’ll have a memorable time regardless… and feel good about the impact that you are making through your travels.
With its transparent eco-initiatives embedded deep within the experience, it is no surprise The Gibbon Experience made its way onto our list of 8 Under the Radar Eco-Experiences in Southeast Asia.
The best time to experience it for yourself is during Laos’ dry season from November to April; where you’ll have your choice from three tour options — express, classic or waterfall — depending on your time and needs. Rates start at SG$244 or HK$1,412 which is inclusive of a local guide, three fire-cooked meals per day, safe drinking water, accommodation, transport to and from the forest, and more.
While the cost may seem higher than most Southeast Asian experiences, rest assured that your money is being used to ensure smooth operations and support a good cause.
To book your trip, check availability, and prepare for your adventure, check out the website here.”