To me, the most amazing hikes are extraordinary because of the landscape that surrounds you. This is also true for my Number 5 on the list of Hiking spots worldwide: The Bokeo Natural Reserve in Northern Laos, or to be specific: The ‘Gibbon Experience’.
The ‘Gibbon Experience’
Opinions diverge on this institution. It was founded by a French guy, Jef Remaux. You may think that this is one of those tourist hot-spots the profits are being drained from Laos. But it is not that easy in this case. Remaux has been living and working in Laos for years before he got the idea. The company he founded is mainly focussed on conservation, but also through education and stable income and living conditions for the local people – in order to keep them from cutting down the rainforest (where the endangered Gibbons live). Remaux’s idea to solve the problem seems to work on a small local level: He employs Laotian locals in his conservation project and also in his tourist company. The locals working there receive a fair wage, and a good education as well.
Also the tourists profit from this strategy: The locals who work as tour guides for the 3-day hiking-trips provide an authentic perception of Lao life and nature. Some of them only speak the necessary amount of English – but they are open-minded and helpful enough to be reliable guides. They know a lot about the rainforest flora and bush food and are more than willing to explain.
Your meals are locally cooked Laotian specialties (be prepared for steamed rice up to three times a day) – but it’s delicious! You will try things you wouldn’t dare to order in a restaurant or street food stall – and you will find you love it! For example steam-cooked Morning Glory (or ‘Pak Bung’ in Thai).
The hiking itself is actually neither too extraordinary nor very challenging. It takes you a 2,5 hours hike through the mountainous rainforest region to get into the Natural Reserve (Be prepared for a much longer and more strenuous walk in case of heavy rainfalls, though!). It is a lot of uphill and downhill, but you are usually protected from the sun by the rainforest canopy. And when you reach your first destination – the treehouse you will spend the first night in – the reward is a breathtaking zipline- and treehouse-infrastructure with amazing views over the rainforest.
By the way: The Gibbon Experiecne is not about SEEING Gibbon in the first place. It takes a lot of luck to actually see one of them. But they are there, you can hear them feed on the tree leaves, and you feel: It’s good to know they’re still there. Last but not least, thanks to this conservation project.
For more information on the Gibbon Experience conservation & tourist project, I recommend this article: http://www.geographical.co.uk/Magazine/Gibbons_-_Jul_11.html
Or, of course, the website of the project: http://www.gibbonexperience.org