The Scoop: Couples don’t accidentally wander into the deep jungle of Laos, but many nature-loving couples dream of planning a trip there. The Gibbon Experience, a tourism-based conservation project, offers couples that chance with the world’s tallest treehouse and spectacular views of ape habitats. It offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the all-inclusive canopies feature ziplines and opportunities to get away together and celebrate relationships in nature.
Couples often look to bring adventure into their relationships, and they can find many ways to accomplish that in everyday life. Bike rides, hikes, and exercise add a rush of adrenaline, but other exhilarating opportunities come along rarely.
The Gibbon Experience is one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures that allows couples to celebrate their relationships in the jungles of Laos. They also help protect the natural habitat and enjoy unique wildlife encounters during their stay.
The tourism-based conservation project was founded in 1997. It is famous for its canopy setups, including the world’s tallest treehouse, that overlook the Nam Kan National Park in Laos, where small apes also live. It offers ziplines and all-inclusive packages so nature-lovers can book a trip to escape from their everyday lives and focus on their relationships in a unique way.
It offers a variety of treehouse and zipline experiences. Each package presents a rare opportunity to see gibbons and other wildlife in a way that few can, said Thomas Calame, Manager of the Gibbon Experience.
“You see them at a distance, but even if we try to get close, they will move away,” Thomas told us. “They’re not the only monkeys, too. There are also langurs, which are arboreal. They sometimes go on the ground and grab some fruit or forage for food. There are also macaques and the iconic Slow Loris.”
The business employs local guides and escorts who can help couples immerse themselves in both the nature and the culture of the region. Laos is halfway between Luang Namtha and Houayxai, and access to the area is made possible by transportation that’s included in the packages.
Instead of worrying about logistics, couples celebrating their relationship can learn about the natural ecosystem, enjoy zipline adventures, and help protect the environment for years to come.
Growing From a Desire to Protect the Natural Habitats of Apes
Thomas said the Gibbon Experience Founder, Jeff, first came to Bokeo in 1997 when there were no development or protection measures. He started surveying the regions on Laos to see where he could base conservation projects. That’s when he learned of a group of apes called gibbons living in the Abaco region.
“We went there and met the villagers, and he found out that the apes weren’t hunted for food because they were close to humans. They were already a bit respected, but their habitat needed to be protected too,” he said.
That’s when Jeff decided to build the first treehouse and include the villagers from the very beginning. The treehouse would be a place to observe nature and the gibbons from a new perspective.
The first step to the project was to create a team of the five best tribal hunters living in the forest. They became forest guards, and were paid by donations collected through the treehouses. It was the first project of its kind in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR).
The Gibbon Experience expanded its initiative in 2003 by adding gradually 15 KM of ziplines that took tourists to the tallest treehouse in the world. They built more treehouses and created new packages to draw the attention of couples looking for adventures in remote locations. And they attract people who want to support places that help the community and the environment rather than negatively impact them.
After a few years, the program inspired the government of Laos to adopt more protective measures. Today, a national park called Nam Kan is designed to protect the critically endangered species there.
Visitors Can Hear Gibbons Singing Every Morning
Visitors can book three different packages through the Gibbon Experience. The Classic, which is the most popular, lasts three days and two nights. It offers a relaxed schedule with the best opportunity to see gibbons and other wildlife sightings. Four treehouses are available through the package.
The Waterfall package offers more trekking and zipline experiences and a more structured schedule. Participants also swap treehouses overnight to get different views. The shortest adventure is called the Express package, which lasts just one night and puts guests at the edge of the forest. With both the Waterfall and Express package, guests can choose from two treehouses to book for their stays.
“The treehouses can house one to five couples, but they have privacy because there are bedroom-like tents which also serve as mosquito nets,” Thomas said. “They feel like small bedrooms that are naturally made, in an open house, and in nice weather.”
Couples can book a private treehouse or small group adventures in advance. The small treehouse is designed for two people, but other treehouses include separate bedrooms and a private second floor. Treehouses include electricity for charging mobile devices, but don’t expect an internet connection. That eliminates distractions so couples can focus on nature — and each other.
Thomas said the gibbons sing every morning in the jungle and most visitors can hear them. Guides also teach visitors about other behavioral patterns since each ape species differs from others — and even the same gibbons found elsewhere in the world. For example, the gibbons that live on the other side of the Mekong sing in the evenings.
Gibbon Experience: Be Prepared For the Trip of a Lifetime
Thomas said families are welcome at the Gibbon Experience, although the children must be confident enough to use the ziplines.
“This is all about being disconnected, being in the wild, and seeing wild animals in the canopy level of the forest and all those birds that we normally don’t see from up close,” he said. “There are many plants as well, and different kinds of trees and flowers. It is for all nature lovers with plenty of things to discover.”
Along with gibbons, visitors can see sambar deer, barking deer, leopards, tigers, wild pigs, and more than 100 species of birds.
Thomas said any time of year is a good time for a planned visit. Summer is the monsoon period, and the rain fosters growth and life in the forest. Winter offers some of the best weather because it never gets too cold.
It’s good to book as far in advance as possible, as the Gibbon Experience tends to fill up. In the last couple of years, with the Laos borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the treehouses went unused, but the team plans to reopen them all as the situation allows.
In 2021, the Gibbon Experience hopes to increase its number of rangers while adding to the footprint of the forest it helps protect. That means more couples looking to make memories in their relationship can enjoy the gibbon habitat for years to come.