treehouse at the Gibbon Experience in Laos

This Tree House Hotel is Accessible Only by Ziplines and Surrounded by Monkeys

Carrie Back

Carrie Back

April 29, 2024

6 min read

Deep in the lush jungle of the Bokeo Nature Reserve of northern Laos, a wave of humidity envelops me. I try to hype myself up about the mountainous terrain I’m about to face. I’m a beginner hiker, and now I’m second-guessing myself. I should have done some training beforehand because it seems like I’m lacking the stamina and energy of the others in my group.

Surrounded by a vibrant symphony of bird calls and the buzz of insects that fill the air, I’m trying to keep my enthusiasm up, reminding myself that once this steep section of the hike is over, we will be on a more plateaud ground. I’m distracting myself from the hard task in front of me by noticing the dense foliage and canopy overhead, with bits of sunlight creating a mosaic on the forest floor. 

My journey has just begun at the Gibbon Experience, which is home to the self-proclaimed tallest treehouses in the world. The best part, and the part I’m looking forward to the most, are the rustic 100-foot-tall treehouses—and our commute to reach them. The only way to get to them is by ziplines, which dart between the labyrinth of towering trees; some of the ziplines are as long as a quarter of a mile and are suspended 500 feet in the air. The entire network of ziplines that cover the Gibbon Experience spans over nine miles. 

zipline at the Gibbon experience

As we are led deeper into the remote jungle by local guides from the surrounding hill tribes, they tell us about the history of the forest and how it’s home to tigers, clouded leopards, black bears, and the black-crested gibbon—a small forest-dwelling ape known for the long arms it uses to swing acrobatically through the trees. They point out various plants and insects, like one of the largest non-venomous spiders I’ve ever seen, called an Argiope spider, more commonly known as a garden orb-weaver.  

There are three tour options, each of which involves some trekking, including the Giant Loop, the somewhat less-strenuous Classic, and the romantic Honeymoon option. Thankfully, I chose the 2-day, 1-night itinerary that included just two hours of a steep ascent and a network of over 20 ziplines, all varying in length and exhilaration. 

The guides are with me every step of the way to explain how the ziplines work, so I feel safe. With their guidance, and once my fear subsides, the fun begins! It is an exhilarating sensation flying through the trees as the jungle transforms into a blur of green, feeling too nervous to look down except for the occasional glance below me. Dangling at 500 feet in the air on their highest zipline, I’m speechless—except for the occasional nervous laughter and screaming from joy that I can’t control. 

After an afternoon full of adrenaline-pumping ziplining on more than 20 different ziplines, we reach the treehouses, and I’m in awe. They are very rustic, built with bamboo and wood, and are open-air style, with panoramic views of the forest. They are 100 feet high, surrounded by dense jungle. It’s an impressive view, as long as I’m not peeking over the edge and setting off my fear of heights. After a quick snack and tea, we settle into our rooms and prepare for night to fall. There’s even a family-style, homemade meal delivered by a zipline: Thai green curry, fried potatoes with mushrooms, sticky rice, and some local Laos rice whiskey as a nightcap.

treehouse at the Gibbon Experience

At dawn, I wake up to the sounds of gibbons singing in the morning. While I can’t see the elusive endangered primate, I can hear them stirring in the trees and howling. My favorite part of being in the treehouse, though, is taking my morning shower. While there is a curtain behind me, nothing separates me from the thick jungle in front of me; I am totally exposed to the treetop vista before me. 

Since 2016, the Gibbon Experience has set itself apart from other ziplining businesses in Southeast Asia. They have been successful at protecting the forests from illegal logging, animal poaching, and other threats. According to their website, over half their profits go to reforestation projects, ranger operations, sustainable wages for the guides, and wildlife conservation. 

So, not only will the Gibbon Experience be engraved in my memory as the most unforgettable experience in Laos, but I also feel great about doing it. Now, if only I could say the same about the sores and blisters I earned from my hiking boots!

Getting there

Getting there: The nearest domestic airport in Laos is the Luang Namtha Airport (LXG), which is just over 100 miles from Huay Xai, the home base of the Gibbon Experience. However, some travelers prefer to travel to Chiang Rai International Airport (CEI) in Thailand. This requires two visas to enter both Thailand and Laos, but this is the nearest airport and the easiest way to reach the Gibbon Experience. For this option, you’ll have to catch a bus from Chiang Rai central bus station to Chiang Khong, then cross the border into Laos. Alternatively, you can also fly into Luang Prabang International Airport (LPQ) in Laos, and your guesthouse can arrange a train, bus, or boat to Huay Xai. The cheapest option is often to fly to Bangkok (BKK) and then take a regional flight. 

Average flight price for Going's cheap flights to BKK: $594 roundtrip 

How to do it

Best time to go: The best time to visit Laos is between November and May when temperatures are cooler and rainfall is low. While it is possible to visit year-round, during the rainy season from June to November, the trail becomes muddy, making the trek difficult to maneuver (though this can actually be a great time for wildlife spotting).

gibbon in the trees in Laos

Cost: The price varies depending on the season, but usually, each trek is around 100 USD per day. If you have children, they offer a year-round 50% discount for kids under 12.

Safety considerations: The easiest trek is the 3-day, 2-night Classic Loop, which is also the best option to see wildlife. It is also the easiest trek, with one to two hours of hiking, and is recommended for trekkers from 8 to 65 years old who are in good shape. However, the Giant Loop is recommended for more advanced hikers and adrenaline-seekers since there is a steeper climb. This is the trek that has a lower chance of seeing gibbons and other wildlife since this also includes a series of ziplines that can scare off the animals. 

Tips: Online reservations are highly recommended, especially for the 3-day trek during the high season. They provide home-cooked meals, as well as water, coffee, and tea. So the only things you would need to bring with you are mosquito sprays, power banks since there is no electricity in the treehouses, a small daypack with all your essentials, and sturdy hiking boots, even in the dry season. You can leave everything else at their office, which has a locked storage area to hold the rest of your luggage.   

Carrie Back

Carrie Back

Freelance Writer

Carrie Back is an American freelance travel writer living nomadically since 2015. Her travel style centers around exploring off the main tourist path, seeking out ethical experiences that benefit local communities, and eating all the street food she can get her hands on. She has been featured in publications such as Travel + Leisure, AFAR, and US News & World Report. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at carrieabk


Published April 29, 2024

Last updated April 30, 2024

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