The Gibbon Experience Review – Is it a Must or a Bust?
Waking up in the morning to gibbons singing in the treetops of Nam Kan National Park is an experience I’ll never forget. To rise from our “bed” (aka floor mat) 60 feet up in a tree, looking through the mist covered jungle canopy to find a family of these majestic primates swinging from tree-to-tree was a sight to behold. Watching them move with such grace against the otherwise still jungle backdrop was simply magnificent, and a moment only The Gibbon Experience can offer.
This is all made possible with a series of zipline-connected treehouses built into the jungle canopy. It’s a chance to zipline, camp out, and get a peek at elusive wildlife. However, on the backpacker route, it carries a very high price tag both for time invested and in money out of your pocket. Despite the Gibbon Experience’s commitment to conservation and employment of indigenous people, in my opinion, the cost is too high.
The Gibbon Experience offers 3 tour options. All tours are led by local guides from the nearby villages and tribes.
The Classic 3day/2night: Easy trekking, ziplines, and 2 nights in a treehouse.
The Waterfall 3day/2night: More trekking to the waterfall deeper in the jungle. You get to stay in the furthest and possibly coolest treehouse.
The Express 2day/1night: A shortened version of the Classic that gets you to some, but not all of the ziplines, plus a night in a treehouse.
We did The Classic tour.
The program works like this:
Day 1: Check in at their offices in Huay Xai, a small town set on the Mekong River. There you pay, store your luggage, then hop in transport, for an hour drive out to the National Park. This is a rough ride in the back of a truck to a rural village. From there you set out on a 90 minute trek to reach the first zipline. The zipline network includes several platforms and totals 15kms in cable length, with the longest stretch of cable measuring around 600m.
After a short briefing on how to operate your harness and zipline, you’re on your way, flying through the treetops until you reach your treehouse. Once your group is settled, the guide leaves you with free time and the option to relax in the treehouse or head back out on the ziplines on your own. In the early evening, your guide will return via zipline, packing dinner for the whole group. After dinner the group is to remain in the treehouse for the rest of the night.
Day 2: Wake early to the calls of gibbons. Head straight for the railing to see if there’s any action in the trees. After your zipline-delivered breakfast, set out with your guide for more ziplining (with some short hikes in between). This gives you a chance to see the full expanse of the zipline network and the other treehouses. After zipping around all morning, you’ll return to your treehouse for lunch, followed by free time, then dinner…essentially the same as the previous afternoon.
Day 3 – Eat breakfast, pack up, head back on the ziplines, return your gear, and hike back to the village. Form the village you hop in the truck and head back to Huay Xai to collect your things.
Overall, it’s a great 3 days. The treehouses are pretty damn cool, but if you don’t love ziplining, heights, or so-so cuisine, this tour isn’t for you. With the cost coming in at around $100/day (rates vary depending on tour and season), it’s a huge chunk of a backpacker’s budget. If you’re going to commit to this price point, you want to see it all, but that depends on luck. If you get to see gibbons, it’s absolutely worth it. Seeing the wildlife is key.
Another pitfall of The Gibbon Experience is how long it takes to get to get there. We took a rather uncomfortable 14 hour overnight bus from Luang Prabang. Huay Xai doesn’t have much else on offer, so it’s hard to justify all that travel time, just to do the tour then turn back around. I would only recommend doing the Gibbon Experience if you are crossing the Thai border via Huay Xai. At least then you’re not going out of your way.
Another bummer is the lack of access to anything. Now, I wasn’t expecting a 7/11 down the tree, but most tours, even in remote settings, have an cooler with treats for sale. The Gibbon Experience encourages you to take as little as possible to ensure a good time ziplining. What they don’t tell you is that you will be spending a ton of time in a confined area with a group of strangers (60 feet off the ground!!!). A few beers amongst backpackers would make this situation a little more pleasant. Thankfully we always have a deck of cards with us. Otherwise, we would have been hurting for entertainment amongst the group. I feel like I should also state that the treehouses, while comfortable, are rustic and some of the sleeping scenarios could be considered, “creative”.
While I don’t think it is a total bust, my Gibbon Experience Review is that it is NOT a MUST! Sure, I got to see and hear gibbons. And yes, I enjoyed the ziplines and the treehouse, but I didn’t need to do it for 3 days. I like what they’re doing to promote conservation of local wilderness, but that’s not worth 2 days of travel. So, if you have time and money, or are passing through, sure…do The Gibbon Experience. While you’re not guaranteed to see gibbons, the ziplines are a lot of fun. And you are guaranteed to spend a lot of money for a sleepover in a tree.
Have you done it? Share your Gibbon Experience Review in the comments below.