Travel blogger Skye Gilkeson describes herself as a journalist, personal trainer, clean cook, nutrition nerd and intrepid traveller. She recently explored the tree tops of Chiang Mai, on the Flying Gibbon.
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand has long been a mecca for tourists, hikers, yogis and those in search off healing. It’s an ancient city rich with history, culture and charm; somewhere you can lose yourself for days.
But if you’re looking to go beyond the city walls and get a different perspective than the well-trodden Thai mountain tracks, why not see it from the tree tops?
I’m not a true adrenalin junkie but I do like to stretch my physical and mental limits. So when I read about the Chiang Mai zipline, the longest zipline in Asia, carried you over the canopy of the rainforest, I had to take on the challenge.
Flight of the Gibbon runs half-day tours out of Chiang Mai. They picked us up from our hotel at about 6.30 in the morning. Our group was small – it included the two of us, a couple from China and a solo traveller from Australia. A safety briefing video played during the drive and gave us more of a visual feel for the ziplining course we were about to tackle. The 55 minute drive up into the mountains overlooking the city was a lovely way to start the day as we got our first glimpses of the mountains, as the sun was rising behind them.
The van then delivered us to base camp. From the outset we could tell this was a professional outfit, which is something that’s kind of essential when you’re putting your life in a tour company’s hands!
Armed with a fresh cup of espresso, harness and helmet and we were set to start the 2-hour course. Back in the van for a quick five minute drive and we arrived at the first platform. Chai and Aof were our guides for the day. Thankfully, their english was perfect (as well as their Thai and Chinese) and they were fun and fit guys. They showed us the ropes (or cables as it were), explaining the do’s and dont’s and made us feel confident in their hands.
During the canopy tour, one Sky Ranger always leads the way. He floats over first, then each member of the group follows, one at a time, with the second Sky Ranger bringing up the rear. That first line definitely got my heart racing. It’s short and quite quick and a great warm up for the rest of the course. Ziplining isn’t like skydiving where you push yourself out into the open sky. You quite literally sit down and your weight carries you down the line. Tucking your legs up increases your speed, dropping them down provides a bit of resistance and slows you slightly. The Sky Ranger at the next platform helps you to stop too, so all you really have to do is to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking scenery, the centuries old trees at your feet and the sounds of the Gibbons and cicadas singing in the distance.
Flight of the Gibbon has something other courses in the area don’t have – the longest single zipline in Asia. The 800 metre line is only a few ziplines into the course too. But just before you jet across, special treat awaits; a meet-and-greet with local wild Gibbons.
Right near the zipline platform there is a tree with a flow feeding platform. We caught one gorgeous white-handed Gibbon enjoying the fresh fruit and vegetables on offer, others swung around the nearby treetops and a white Gibbon sat quietly watching as us, as we watched him. Protecting these primates is a big part of what the tour company does, so as you hike from one station to the next, they describe the flora and fauna we pass and the particular importance of respecting the beautiful apes.
There are 18 ziplines you’ll conquer in total. You’ll also carefully traverse 3 sky bridges, climb stairs that cling to tall trees, drop into a tree house for your own Swiss Family Robinson moment and rapel down a couple of very tall tree trunks – one is 14 metres long and the other a 45 metre drop, delivering you down to solid ground after your final zipline.
The tree top adventure was unlike anything I had ever done before. It was a truly unique challenge and a must-try for anyone with a touch of adventurous spirit.
The day doesn’t end there though. Back to base camp and we were treated to a traditional Thai meal. Red rice with steamed locally grown vegetables, chicken curry and fresh chunks of watermelon and pineapple were the perfect pre-hike fuel. We enjoyed the early lunch while listening to traditional acoustic music.
A trek up the 7 tiers of Mae Kampong Falls is next! You’ll jump in the van again for a quick drive up the road. It’s there you begin the climb up the falls. If you don’t quick have the fitness to climb the hundreds of (very steep) stairs, you can sit by the lower pool and watch the water fall from below. When we passed through a young girl was having a dip while her mother and another local woman were enjoyed the shade of the overhanging branches. For those who are up for a bit of a workout, you’ll climb to the top pretty effortlessly in about 15 minutes. A tranquil setting and a cosy log seat awaits for a quick break before you descend again.
A few reasons I particularly loved the Flight of the Gibbon experience:
- The course felt safe. The equipment looked new and was in perfect working order. The Sky Rangers were well across what they were doing and it was second nature to them to ensure each one of us was always securely hooked on to the safety lines at all times.
- They tailored it to each of us. For those who were a little more daring, they showed them a couple of tricks (I’m not giving away any secrets here though).
- The Sky Rangers made it fun because they were having fun too. There’s nothing worse than a guide who doesn’t want to be doing their job.
- It was such a great experience to do with The Hubby. We’ve been doing a lot of fun and active activities lately and that’s so important to keep shared interests alive and nurture your relationship. I’ve spoken about the importance of fit dates here.
- It was challenging without being terrifying. Standing on a wooden platform tens of metres off the ground does get your heart pumping. But stepping off that platform and flying through the air under the power of your own body, is extremely exhilarating.
Read more about Skye’s travels here, at thefittraveller.com.au