We left Thailand, and Pai in particular, with heavy hearts and made a two day journey through Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong and across the famous Mekong river on a longtail boat to Lao. This put us in Huay Xai, and rite away we knew we weren't in Thailand any more. This country is one of the poorest in the world, though they manage to keep their standard of living surprisingly higher than some countries I have seen. Their money is the Kip and its about 8,000 to the dollar, which makes for a strange exchange rate, we're paying 60,000 for a room and it is cheap, and our standard meal is around 45,000. You really feel like a high roller, you know what it feels like to take 1,000,000 out of an ATM, I do.
After our first few minutes we found the office for the The Gibbon Experience, which we have been looking forward to since Dharamsala, India, but haven't, for the life of us, been able to make contact, even though your suppose to book 6 months in advance. They 'just so happened' to have two more spots to fill for tomorrow, but we had better book it or they will be gone, so we went for it. This is the most expensive thing we have done at $290 per person for 3 days and 2 nights, but after months of thought it was easy to part with it, I mean when are we going to be here again. Also it's for a good cause. It's kind of like poacher rehab in the way that your guides are reformed poacher, making more money for their families by taking tourists on treks than they ever did killing the animals. So here's the game...
We meet up with our crew of eight, one of whom is our Irish / German buddy from Pai, Dom, and cram into the back of 4x4 Toyota truck and head into the mountains for about two and a half hours. An hour and a half of this is on a dusty highway, and the rest is rugged mountain roads, through rivers and what not. We get off, well dusted, and hike through a village, some farms, and finally to the Jungle for three hours over thin bamboo bridges. You can imagine the scenery if you have seen any movie about Vietnam. They hand us our sandwich wrapped in a banana leaf, and point us to the waterfall where we can swim in the aqua blue water and cool off. As the fish nibble at our feet we catch our first glimpse of what we are in for. Looming 180 feet above our heads is a tree fort, the likes of which I have only seen in movies. After our swim we are suited up with harnesses and marched up the hill to to our first attempt of flying. There is a platform attached to the base of a tree as well as a cable that stretches out over the canyon and out of sight to the trees on the other side. Our guide gives us some safety tips, lets us know the stats of the line; its 380 meters long (about a quarter mile) and is sitting 180 feet up, and zips off into the distance. After a minute we here a 'clear' and we are off. Really there is nothing like it, I mean treks are one thing,but getting to jump from one side of the canyon to the other to continue your hike is really something else. The best part was that, after a few more zips, our guides led us to our tree house for the night, and took off giving us freedom to explore the canopy on our own. It was great. That night we ate a great meal, drank the wine that was provided; though we were told not to, and fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle far below.
Day twos' accommodations, reached after a few hour hike and a beer in a village, was even more mind blowing. I can safely say that most of us felt like ewok from Star Wars. The tree itself was something to be reckoned with, but adding in the two story tree house and the three entrance / exit points to different parts of the ridge line surrounding you, its just a recipe for wickedness. It was this day we got to try the biggest line at 430 meters long. It was here that I learned a neat trick from the guide. He chopped a two and a half foot piece of bamboo, cut a little hole in the top and in the side, added another little piece of bamboo, and within minutes I had an awesome bamboo bong! He said, 'later we use bamboo bong.' So I said, 'OK!'
But it was a tobacco use only kind of situation, but another story for the stoner archives. I don't think there was one complaint about the food, the beds were great, and we had drinking water on tap in the house. Wow the spiders though, they were fun.
Day tree was another new set of zips, along with the hike there, and all I can really say about these was that the view from the line was the best this day. You could see for miles. All in all we must have done about 20 zip-lines, hiked maybe 8 hours, and really had a blast. The biggest animal we saw was probably the spiders, unfortunately, but no regrets doing this trip. After the hike back, and a couple of beers at the village we took the dusty trip back to Huay Xai, where our new crew went out for drinks, already reminiscing the good times. Nice to meet all you guys and we hope to see you in Cali.
Nima and I are headed to Laung Parabang now where we hope to kick it for a few days before floating on down to Vang Vieng. Stay safe back home and remember you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but nosey friends are best unpicked.