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Elephants, Gibbons and Cambodian Countryside

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Oct 12th, 2015, 01:56 PM
  #1
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Elephants, Gibbons and Cambodian Countryside

Soon to be trip report come January. I'm soliciting input from my Asian travel experts on their experiences at elephant sanctuaries, the Gibbon Experience, various adventure activities near Luang Prabang, and your thoughts about the best of Cambodia after the obvious. While there is an itinerary in place, your suggestions will be so very much welcomed. Thanks. Leaving for the month of January through 7 February.

I am a 62 year old adventure traveler, going solo. Prefer to do things like hike, bike, kayak, climb, horseback ride. Home stays and hostels are preferred over hotels. Journalist and author. Been doing this a good long while now, very fond of Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam. First time in Laos and Cambodia.

Your thoughts about weather this time of year? specific suggestions? Favorite experiences? Things to look for to bring home? Kathie's suggestions for take homes from my Myanmar post led to unbelievable treasures which are now on my wall in two rooms. I really do pay attention, and am most grateful.

Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas. Many thanks in advance for sharing your wisdom.
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Oct 12th, 2015, 03:30 PM
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Weather-wise this is a good time for both countries. You won't have the experience you had in Myanmar where it was ghastly hot!

Obviously, you'll want to visit Siem Reap and see some of the temples of Angkor. Get a copy of Dawn Rooney's book, Angkor: A Guide to Cambodia's Wondrous Temples to prepare. There are dozens of temples in that area, an many more temples farther away, some of which have only recently been opened for visitors. In Siem Reap, you may want to stay at the guesthouse owned by Ponheary Ly's family - sorry, the name escapes me at the moment. Take a look at www.theplf.org For info on this excellent charity, started by a Fodorite. Lori, the Fodorite who started the charity posted here about an excursion you can take to some distant, recently accessible temples (via motorbike). If I can find the info, I'll post it here.

We loved the Luang Prabang area of Laos - lots to do and see in the area. There is wonderful silk-weaving in this area. There are local weaver's cooperatives well worth seeking out. LP is a place to slow down and soak up the atmosphere.

I'm always hesitant to recommend wildlife experiences in SE Asia for the reasons you are well aware. One of the regulars here, crellston, has spent a fair amount of time in Laos and Cambodia, and I hope he will chime in with recommendations.

One thing to consider is a boat trip down the river from northern Thailand to Luang Prabang. There is an expensive boat, the Luang Say, but there are less expensive boats as well. There is a speedboat - which is not recommended.

Have a wonderful time! We are soon off on our third trip to Myanmar - heading to the north up the Chidwin River.
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Oct 12th, 2015, 03:43 PM
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Here are some of Lori's ( offwego) threads, which may prove useful:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...rip-report.cfm

and a recent update:

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...tanak-kiri.cfm

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...-siem-reap.cfm

Oh, the guesthouse I mentioned above is Seven Candles, about US$20 per night.
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Oct 12th, 2015, 03:54 PM
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Kathie
as always thanks for your considerate response. I did sign up for what my research indicated is a highly respected elephant sanctuary (my files are back in Colorado so I don't have the name with me). You stay for a week and basically work on everything from cutting grass to cleaning buildings, while also learning about elephant conservation. It seems- especially when compared to some others I saw in Thailand billed as "sanctuaries" - the real deal.

I fell in love with Myanmar, some places more than others, some people more so. I probably wouldn't return to Inle Lake. But the eastern hilltribe area, absolutely. What an experience. Those intense long hikes. However, next time I will definitely plan a winter time trip. May was exhausting although it was interesting how the body adapted. And then a month in Iceland where it rarely got past the sixties. What a summer.

I'll so some poking around with your recommendations. Many thanks again. Travel happy!
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Oct 12th, 2015, 11:01 PM
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Hi Jhubb,

The place in SR Kathie was trying to recall is the seven candles guesthouse. http://m.sevencandlesguesthouse.com Well worth considering. It is well away from the mayhem that is pub street. Having just visited Angkor for the third time in a couple of decades, I have to say I was glad to get out of the place. It is now overrun with large tour groups and that was in the low season!

Other places in Cambodia we loved were Battambang and the surrounding countryside and down in the far south, Kampot a very pleasant riverside town with lots to do in and around the town, possibly including a trip down to Kep famed for its crab market.

As you are also going to Laos, you could consider the overland route via Kratie and up the Mekong to the Si Phan Don (4000 islands) area. Don Khong is a wonderfully laid back island to rest awhile. From there you could reach LP by bus and plane or maybe take in Wat Phu or the Bolavens Plateau. Year since I have been that way but I imagine the travelling is a lot easier now.

Further north from LP I loved the areas around Muang Sing and Phongsali. Great hiking, amazing scenery and wonderful, friendly minority villages.

A good read is Dervla Murphys "One Foot in Laos"
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Oct 13th, 2015, 07:28 AM
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Crellston,

You are the best. I'm investing more and more in precountry reading these days, as having read several books prior to traveling Rwanda this past February really set me up for success in understanding the genocide, history and their recent past. Sometimes my travel schedule makes this hard, but at least I can put them on my Kindle and read in transit.

Kep is on the agenda but I didn't know about the crab market. Thanks for the head's up.

I am much saddened, but not at all surprised, by your comments about Angkor. As I am increasingly interested in temples and religious sites as I travel, this one in particular seemed important while at the same time my very real aversion to crowds and being shoved around by too many tourists is precisely what is making me question whether to bother. That's so very unfortunate. You might comment, if you wish- I've read in various places that there are nearby temples, while not quite the majesty of Angkor, still similar, and not overwhelmed. It's the sense- the feeling- I seek. While in Myanmar there was ample time to explore and often be alone in many temples. Probably got spoiled for it.

I'm ordering "One Foot in Laos" this morning and it will be on my doorstep when I get back from Massachusetts.

A note about the hilltribes. Perhaps the happiest time I spent in Myanmar were the hours having hiked up the isolated hills and spent in the homes of the hilltribes in the far eastern regions. My guides were kind enough to recognize I didn't want to "gape and go," but to sit and be with the kids and elders and shamans and animals. Sometimes we had something like 17 people at time sitting on a rickety verandah, just being there together. The old women smoking long pipes, kids staring. Women sewing fishing nets. All had come to sell me beads, which I didn't want or need. The guide and I had brought cooking utensils and nail clippers and spoons. Then we settled in and hung out. I treasured those hours of smelling the herbal pipe smoke, enjoying the banter, the laughter, and the easy comfort of communal curiosity. That kind of thing is transformational. Wallowing in oceans of tourists is not, even though I suspect that the architecture really is stupendous.

One last question: have your travels included Mongolia? I am headed there next August for about six weeks and would love to, when appropriate, inquire about your experiences. I will of course be adventuring, but all input will be welcomed.

Thanks as always for your thoughts.

Warmly,

Julia
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Oct 17th, 2015, 05:05 PM
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Mondulkiri in eastern Cambodia is a good place to visit elephants in a jungle setting. There are far fewer elephants remaining in Cambodia than its neighbouring countries. Many elephants are now being bought by a tour company in Siem Reap to be ridden around the Bayon Temple. This is not good news for the elephants.

There are at least two elephant sanctuaries close to the main tourist town in Mondulkiri - Sen Monorom (5 hours east of Phnom Penh).

The Mondulkiri Project (http://www.mondulkiriproject.org) elephant sanctuary is locally owned and managed. They have three elephants full time in the forest they have protected from logging. They offer day trips to visit the sanctuary and a two day trip that includes an overnight stay in a jungle lodge and a jungle trek to visit several waterfalls.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmwT4Al5bMc
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Oct 17th, 2015, 05:21 PM
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Julia,

No, our travels have not taken us to Mongolia - yet! The next, tentative, plan is Central America and a return to South America. Although impending grandparenthood may well delay that for a while!

I haven't been to Myanmar but imagine that the people in Northern Lao are of the same ethnic origins I.e. From China and the Tibetan plateau. The sheer diversity of the groups is mind boggling. The accommodation and food were basic to say the least, but the experience and the welcome of the people I shall never forget.
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Oct 19th, 2015, 02:44 AM
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Hi jhubbel,

May I recommend that you take a look at this page -http://www.wildlifealliance.org/page/view/504/visit-us - of the Wildlife Alliance website.

Wildlife Alliance is a NYC-headquartered NGO that does all its conservation work on the ground in Cambodia. It operates the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center that is a sanctuary for orphaned and rescued wildlife from illegal trade. You can take a behind-the-scene tour with Wildlife Alliance staff and meet the elephants it has rescued, including an orphan with a prosthetic foot. There are other eco-tourism opportunities at Angkor forests where there is an ongoing wildlife rehab and release program and adventure tours in Chi Pat. All the information is in the website.

Full disclosure - As a long-time supporter of Wildlife Alliance and a member of its International Advisory Board (of course it's volunteer and unpaid), I take every opportunity to spread the word and generate awareness of what it's doing. I genuinely believe it's a good cause and I think the experiences are truly unforgettable.
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Oct 22nd, 2015, 09:28 PM
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Greetings....
If you are going to be in Siem Reap you don't have to travel far to go to a REAL
Elephant Sanctuary.There is one located a hr out of Siem Reap.
It's called Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.Fairly new.
This wonderful sanctuary is owned and operated by Lek Of the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chang Mai Thailand.If you never heard of it it's a must in both country's.A true Sanctuary ... Been on National Geo and Lek has received awards from the White House!
If u love Elephants and all animals.No riding, no chains, no circus tricks.
In Cambodia there are two Elephants that u can walk in the forest with.
I go once a yr now.The property is on I think 60,000 acres.She had to hire a small army to protect what's left of the forest and animals.
You can google it and book thru Elephant Nature Park.They will pick u up
From Siem Reap volunteers are welcome day trippers to I believe.
Please folks never ride Elephants.... They are tourtured and starved into submission.
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Nov 13th, 2015, 07:13 AM
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Thanks again all, have all this and am doing research. Happy too visit.

If anyone has suggestions on the best way to get to Mondulkiri I'm open. No flights- is bussing it the easiest?
Thanks again for all the suggestions!
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Nov 13th, 2015, 05:41 PM
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ngodeia,

Looked up the link and researching. Am hoping to put this visit on the agenda in early February. Looking forward to it, great recommendation.

Again in looking at getting to Northeast Cambodia, if anyone has suggestions- best bus companies? Thanks again in advance.
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Nov 13th, 2015, 08:54 PM
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Hi jhubbel,

I'm confused. You said you wanted to get to Northeast Cambodia, but where is your origination point? I had a driver from my hotel take me from Siem Reap to Battambang for about $30. He came back two days later and took me in the opposite direction for the same price. If your distances are short, perhaps you can use a driver as well. Tuk Tuk drivers are good too, but only for days trips.

I also second Crellston's thoughts on Battambang, it is in a beautiful area with so much history, including the tragedy of the Killing Fields. I recommend spending a couple of nights there on your way to wherever you are going in Northeast Cambodia.
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Dec 10th, 2015, 06:02 PM
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Phnom Penh is my origination point, California Lady. Open to lots of ways to get around, thanks.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:29 PM
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Oh Lord. I did a very long submission ages ago and it never posted. OH wifi over here. Sigh.

Hahahaha. Well. I'm in Siem Riep right now, under one sheet in a tiny room, the heat of the day pounding down. It's about 8:30 am and I'm putting off my visit to the temples until midday to avoid the worst of the crowds. I have about four to five days in the area. Got here last night, staying in a small hostel two streets off the main avenue, went out and got thoroughly and happily lost last night trying to find the mini mart. Was really appalled at the thoroughly Western prices in the overly cooled store. Everything cost the same as in my stores in Colorado. Ticked me off. I got my supplies in the local markets instead. Even there, the price for a kilo of tangerines was twice or more what I'd paid in Phnom Penh. Tourism. Right.

I'll do my best to catch up. Journalists, bloggers, those who write like I do it's a fun adventure finding adequate wifi. From the time I arrived, I ran into much the same thing as I did last February in Rwanda and Uganda. Wife is advertised but "manager not pay bill." So not without a pretty good laugh I'd simply write on this tablet and forfeit any Internet reportage.

Folks back home hungry for photos also will have to wait until February, as any and all attempts to upload photos have been met with failure as bandwidth simply doesn't accommodate with one exception. The big, sterile lobby of the Lao Hotel in Vientiene, the site of the fifteen dollar breakfast buffet (well worth getting some proper protein and all the goodies) was the ONE place I could upload weeks' worth of photos to friends, albeit nothing from the Gibbon Experience, as my Nikon took a suicidal leap from my pants pocket whilst flying along at 50 mph on a zipline at 200 m over the forest floor. Alas. Poor camera. 8000 photos, 343 videos. The Gibbons might be heartily entertained but I mourn the garbage.

I will do my best to catch up in tidbits here.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:38 PM
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Upon landing in Vientiene on January 2nd I transferred almost immediately to get to the Elephant Conservation Camp about three hours' bus ride from Luang Prabang. I found it rather disconcerting that Josef, the manager who was so involved as long as I was still thinking about it disapppared completely (including not being there upon arrival, nor was anyone else in management) after I'd committed. This as I came to find out was true for many other travelers. As an adventure traveler, my interest in this camp was based on the description in Lonely Planet (LP) which said one would learn mahout skills, bathe and interact with the ellies. Well. About half an hour after I landed my young handler informed me that this was no longer the case.

Hmm. Not good. I'd signed up, for about $500 smackers, for six days of high touch, and was facing six days of sit on your ass high watch. Not good at all. To their credit, they immediately rebooked me at All Lao Camp, and gave me a discount on the night's stay, and sent me home. I had to pay the bus ride to and fro, no problem.

As it turned out, it gave me a chance to review the place- and commune with a number of others who'd had similar frustrating experiences. My guess is that a short while back there'd been a management/vision change, and some very poor communication in terms ot letting tours know what is and isnt' happening. Since the mahouts ride the ellies constantly, their message that "nobody rides the ellies" smacks of a double standard, for of course the mahouts do.

All Lao was only too happy to book me for their six day mahout training course, and boy was I glad they did. My guide Honda picked me up the next morning and I got placed in a lovely shaded personal bungalow right on a main tributary into the Mekong overlooking the morning parade of ellies as they headed to their first bath.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 05:52 PM
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In short order, Honda assigned me my elephant (Sophie, or Tum) Keat, her mahout and the only person she really listens to) and a genuinely ugly blue mahout training outfit. It was damned cold in the mornings, in the sixties, the room was freezing, and I used every single blanket I had. The mornings were very misty and overcast, clearing to sun and in the seventies by early afternoon. As we bathed our ellies in they morning and afternoons I ducked out of morning bathings and took her in the water when the sun was out which did nothing for the water temp (BRRRR) but a lot for getting dry fast.

A few things to know about All Lao. They have about 14 ellies, mostly females, some quite old. What I liked: since I have visited some pretty awful camps in Thailand I was on the lookout for good treatment, and I saw it. The animals were fed a wonderful variety of good food each day. That included being put in the jungle each night (tethered, by necessity, as a loose Ellie is a dead Ellie for a thousand reasons too many to go into here, but I researched them while in Laos, and became very supportive of tethering as a result). That way they were able to forage for the variety of fodder that provided the vast amount of fiber they need. Compare this to domesticated ellies who get nothing more than cheap pineapple tops for food which creates sores in their mouths and gives them terrible digestive problems. Second, they are moved by verbal commands. No hooks, no tools. While I can personally attest to how frustrating it is to attempt to command a two ton animal who would prefer to eat than attend to your commands, with love and affection and patience they WILL eventually respond to you, which means they will TOLERATE you, and with Keat's being there or at least close, do what you ask. But no metal anything. This is key.

The people who came to ride gave them bananas, oranges, all kinds of treats which they love. They had lots of human interaction. That made it easy for me to groom them, for which I had brought two horse brushes: a tough tail bristle for washing and scrubbing the body, and a goat hair soft bristle for the face. Not all ellies appreciate it but boy the ones that do nearly fall asleep while you administer this kind of love.

I had arrived a day late to my training so we jumped right in, and Honda handed me a list of Lao commands to memorize. I learned how to sit, knees on her head, which balanced my butt on her shoulders. This is far easier on her to hold my weight, and it's just like putting your child on your own shoulders. You can feel the bones and muscles moving, and you're not sitting on the vulnerable neck bones.

Honda told me that most folks have to spend a day getting over their fear of the animal, my problem is that they had to peel me off her. Each day we walked to the far forest where she foraged. I rode her back, and spent about three to four hours riding, commanding, practicing. My list of Lao commands got longer.
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Jan 24th, 2016, 07:51 PM
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I might add if I may....A true Elephant Sanctuary does NOT ride
Elephants.Thats whom they are rescued from in the first place....from camps
that ride them causing broken backs, legs,hips.....
Ugh.....
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Jan 25th, 2016, 02:36 AM
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Zoso, I note that you have some passion about this topic, and I respect that. However, I did not at any point indicate that All Lao was a Sanctuary, and my intention has always been to train to be a mahout, bathe with, massage, ride, work with, learn about and in all ways be immersed in all things elephant. The Sanctuaries, based on what I've learned in my travels especially in Myanmar, tend primarily to animals hurt in the illegal and dangerous logging industry. I can't speak to your comments about the camps. I am aware of poor feeding practices. However, I don't speak to what I don't know. I only write and talk about where I've been , what I've seen, what I've actually researched and interviewed people about-being a journalist I am careful not to make blanket statements. There are too many shades of grey, too many players, too many conditions, and too many things we don't understand. I come here to learn, not to judge, although I've been to camps in Thailand which were bad operators. You are of course most welcome to your opinion. I don't have a need to be right on this. However, being that this is my trip and this is what I wish to do, and I massage huge animals like ellies to give them pleasure, I would ask that you also respect my choice as well. We all travel differently.
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Jan 25th, 2016, 02:58 AM
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Kathie, I can finally report on Angkor Wat, now that I've been in Siem Reap for a few days. Wifi is a circus show, and there's much to catch up on, and I will, but I landed here a short while back. Today we were hit with a cold front of all things and it's given us a right cool morning and a 70s afternoon with nice breezes and very low humidity. Lovely.

My little place advised going to the temples at noon, which I did. Good call. The hordes were pouring out the gates in the opposite direction like rush hour, and I slipped into the shadows. Since there is just no way to show scale, I shot the details. I was entranced with the art on posts, over doors, most especially on walls. There was a Buddha that I found, and as soon as I bent my knee in front of it two extraordinarily dressed people (dressed up like Royals, who knows) with a rather large retinue of photographers did a series of photographs making merit. I got to see and photograph the whole thing. No idea if it was staged for an ad or very real. Either way great timing.

I'm too tired right now to recall the name of the second temple with the big Buddha heads. I was in the middle of the stairway going up, stuck in the flow of about fifty Japanese tourists, when I stopped and purposely stepped out of the stream and got off the stairs. Good thing- because the entire wall was such a treat. The carvings made the temple for me. The quality of the art, the delicacy, detail, mind boggling. You can stand for hours looking at it. So true for all the sites. As an artist what I loved was the storytelling, such as the Japanese warriors, the elephants and the Warriors with horses, and a lone isolated Buddha honored with berms of stones and a few candles.


There was something grand about seeing how the jungle was reclaiming the last temple of the day for itself, a work of earth, wind, water and sun taking over such a massive building, and such huge trees and root systems cracking open these buildings over time. My battery had run out by then but I may go back tomorrow afternoon just for those photos.

If I was bothered by any thing here I was bothered by the Western Minimart. It's just a few minutes from my hostel. Overly airconditioned, everything in dollars. Overpriced to the nth degree- everything in there is priced the way I would find items in my local corner 7-11, which is half again what I'd pay at a grocery store, with the exception of the coconut yogurt, the only thing I go buy there. A nasty thin egg sandwich is three bucks, that king's ransom buys you a big platter of lovely spring rolls four times the size of that sandwich and much better for you.

This morning I took a four hour horseback ride at Happy Ranch, which is a very nicely run place not far from the city. You take off at six am and ride for four hours (or far less if you don't care to get sore). My guide Twee and walked and galloped through villages and open country and down clay roads and under speaking trees. We visited a temple which is under reconstruction, paintings of the Buddha's life in colors so bright they almost hurt the eye. Inside and hour, top to bottom, ceiling included. It is some sight. No one was there but a pillow was provided for worship. I saw nothing about this place in any tourist material but it was a gem. I'm going back in the morning for another ride. This is one place which to its credit listens to you when you say you're an advanced rider, and they don't simply look at your age and place you on a nag. They gave me a lively rather green broke little mare, who was still learning her neck reining, and that made for a fun day. She had a nice swift gallop, she liked to photo bomb, and she loved her first massage.

There is a Flight of the Gibbon nearby, about which I have mixed feelings. For $99 you fly ten ziplines, however you are not allowed to handle your own carabiners or your own gear. While I've not yet discussed the Gibbon Experience where I spent three days in the treehouses in Houiesay after Luang Prabang, suffice it to say that this was a bit of a disappointment. It's overpriced for what you get, for their own rating system asks that you speak to how much you learned about the forest. Well, not much. We got a lot of silly jokes like, "whats in the middle of Paris?? R." I do want to learn about the forest, and I do like to develop my ziplining skills. Each outfit is different, you play by the rules, but this one is overpriced by fifty bucks.
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