Bokeo Nature Reserve, Laos, Part 2

On our first morning in the rain forest we woke up at 6:00 to listen for gibbons.  Boon Peng, one of the guides, said that very soon we would probably hear a group of Black Gibbons start singing from somewhere in the vicinity.  Minutes later a strange whistling noise rose over the other sounds of jungle.  Boon Peng ran to the other side of the treehouse and pointed out several gibbons in a distant treetop.

At first the singing didn’t sound much different than a birdcall, but it rose in intensity and became something unique, almost like a laser battle in a sci-fi movie.  I filmed a short video that caught some of the initial whistling but unfortunately I cut it off before the lasers started firing.  The gibbons were so far away that even with a 300mm lens I couldn’t see anything more than dark shapes moving through the branches.


Gibbons Singing (Video)


After breakfast we zipped to the ground and explored more of the area.  First we checked out Treehouse #2, where Lindsey and Graham stayed the night before, and then we hiked to a series of four zip-lines that formed a loop.  The guides let us run the circuit until we wore ourselves out – which, regrettably, didn’t take long, thanks to the previous day’s nine-hour endurance test.

I asked to go first on one of the zip-lines so that I could take photos of the rest of the group.  Mark said he’d shoot a video of me zipping away, so I planned to take an impressive-looking running start.  Instead I lifted up my feet too early and basically planted my ass in the mud before bouncing into the air.  Awesome…  Even more awkward than one of my typical wipeouts.


Maria on the Zip-Line


Mark on the Zip-Line


Otte Losing a Shoe


Kane Zip-Lining (Video)


Alternating hiking and zip-lining, we returned to Treehouse #7 for a late lunch with the whole gang – the Australian kids, the British Couple, the Canadian girl and the Dutch girl.

I hadn’t talked much with the Dutch girl so I asked her name.  “Bregje,” she said, pronouncing the “gj” with some kind of guttural hacking noise, like she was preparing to spit.  I made my best effort to say her name but totally butchered it, earning a withering look of disdain from Bregje.  Yikes.

“OK, nice to meet you Becky,” I said with a smile.  Another stern look.

Nobody would describe me as a people person.  When I meet someone random in everyday life, odds are I won’t be a big fan.  Traveling is different.  I genuinely like most of the fellow travelers I meet.  Becky was the one exception in the Gibbon Experience group.  The Australian kids told us later that Becky was unhappy with their group and kept badgering the guides to let her switch to our group.  Later that day the guides, unfortunately, accommodated her.

The three German girls, on the other hand, were a delight.  Maria, Annalee, and Otte, all in their early 20s, spoke excellent English and were amused by everything.  It took very little to make them giggle like schoolgirls.  If one of them had a close encounter with a bug at night, we’d hear a quick scream followed by a long round of laughter.  One of Otte’s toes looked pretty nasty by day two, but – after shaking off an initial scare that some kind of jungle worm had burrowed underneath her skin – she just giggled and never mentioned it again.


Otte’s Foot


Earlier that day Otte delivered my favorite line of the tour.  Maria and Annalee were filming Otte as she prepared to use a zip-line, giggling as they zoomed in on her butt.  Otte, dangling from the zip-line with her ample backside facing us, turned to me, Kane and Mark and said in perfect English, “Too much booty for one man to handle.”

I didn’t get to know the Canadian girl very well, but I really liked the Australian teenagers, who were far more mature than I was at that age.  And everyone was impressed with Lindsey and Graham for their gutsy performance on the first day – powering up the final ascent after dark in the pouring rain.  I got a kick out of their accent, which sounded almost Scottish – “my mom” was “me moom” and “mud” was “mood.”  They both work for a big retail company in Kuwait and told interesting stories about what it’s like to live there.

Before lunch the guides spotted another group of gibbons, still far away but a little easier to see.  Earlier Jeff had mentioned that in the treehouse he kept a powerful Canon lens (a 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM with a 2x extender) and that I was free to use it.  So I switched to that lens, which helped me get a few photos that at least show the wild gibbons, although the images are very low-resolution thanks to a heavy crop.  The guides explained the counter-intuitive coloring – Black Gibbon males have black hair but the females are orange-brown.


Gibbon Mom with Baby


Gibbon Mom Swinging with Baby


Gibbon Mom Hanging with Baby


After lunch and a rest we had to pack all our stuff and move to Treehouse #5, hiking and zip-lining for about an hour to get there.


Lunch at Treehouse #7


Kane Zipping Out of Treehouse #7


Hiking in the Mud


Our new accommodations weren’t quite as cool as Treehouse #7, but close.  By the time we’d settled in it was late afternoon and we were already looking ahead to our hike back out the next day.  If no trucks were available take us from Baan Toup to the main road, we were destined for another 9-hour hike – a repeat in reverse of the beatdown we’d received on our first day.  None of us relished that prospect.

In the morning we mentally prepared ourselves for the worst.  From Treehouse #5 we hiked and zipped for an hour or two before reaching the harness-storage huts, where we turned in our equipment.  From that point we had to rely only on our feet.


Annalee Zipping Out of Treehouse #5


Australian Kid Freestyling


An hour later we were in Baan Toup, where Toun, one of our guides, told us the trucks were still broken.  Jeff, however, was on the porch of the store having a serious conversation with some locals.  When he finished he told us that two trucks were available.  We didn’t really believe him until we were actually on board the trucks, comfortably rolling over the ground that took so much effort to cover on our first day.


Toun in Baan Toup


The exact number of trucks owned by the Gibbon Experience, and how many of those trucks were actually broken, remained a mystery.  Everyone we asked told us a different story.   Regardless, we were very happy to have five hours of hiking cut from our day.

Very near the main road we came to a small river.  On the way in we’d used a footbridge to cross the river, so I assumed the truck would drop us off there.  Nope, the driver decided to plunge in.  We made it, but I think it was close – at the midway point a few inches of water rushed into the cab.


Truck Driving Through a River (Video)


We ate lunch at the main road and an hour later we were back in Huay Xai, ready for a shower and a beer.  The Australian kids almost immediately caught a bus into Thailand.  But the rest of the group – including Toun – met that night for drinks, giving us a chance to raise our glasses to a unique, amazing experience.


Playing Hotel California in Huay Xai (Video)

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