One of the country’s pioneering eco-tourism projects takes place just outside of Houayxai in Bokeo Nature Reserve, a pristine area of jungle that had previously been unexplored by tourists. The acclaimed Gibbon Experience (t084/212021, whttp://www.gibbonexperience.org) is unlike anything else on offer in Laos, and has quickly become a must-do among backpackers (and others), despite its rather high price tag. Groups of no more than eight spend two nights in the reserve, on one of two trips – “Waterfall”, which involves two to three hours of trekking a day and thus gets you further into the reserve, and “Classic” which is a little more relaxed, with only an hour of walking. Each tour runs on alternate days.
Regardless of which tour you do, days are spent zip-lining through the forest canopy (an exhilarating experience) and exploring the reserve (with guides), while nights are spent in the specially crafted tree houses. Guides can be a little hit and miss, but most people say that the overall experience makes up for this. Don’t expect to see the eponymous gibbons, however, though you may hear them calling in the early morning.
Bookings should be made by telephone or in person at the Houayxai office (on the main street); the price includes all meals, accommodation, local guides and transportation to and from Houayxai.