Getting an exciting overview of Chiang Mai’s rainforest jungles
If the innumerable tourist touts in downtown Chiang Mai are to be believed, the best way to experience the beauty of the jungles that lie outside the city is with the Flight of the Gibbon zipline tour. It all sounded quite plausible, so after booking my trip—B3,999 per person—I found myself the following morning waiting in the pre-morning indigo dawn for a pick up by the company’s minibus. Our group that day, which consisted of about five people, was soon outside the city limits, driving down rural roads as the verdant morning beauty of the monsoon season fields flowed past.
The flat plains of the Chiang Mai valley soon gave way to the surrounding hills as we ascended up to the company’s headquarters in the National Forest Reserve Area of Ban Mae Kampong. The office, which also acts as a suiting up station, offers free lockers for backpacks and other personal items and another area where the staff fits visitors into their harness and helmet. After being outfitted with all the necessary gear, our group was whisked off into a minivan to the first zipline.
I’ll be honest, I’m afraid of heights. However, the staff that led the zipline portion of the tour, otherwise known as Sky Rangers, were knowledgeable and amiable, and that certainly put me at ease. After a brief safety and training session I was off, leaping from the wooden platform high in the trees and careening down my first zipline cable. Floating through the thick forest canopy in the early morning northern Thai air, with the strange sounds of the jungle on every side, is truly a unique and unforgettable experience.
The ziplines felt extremely safe, and by the third line I had completely forgotten about my fear of heights. Two rangers were always on hand to help us take-off, while another waited on the platform at the opposite end, ready to grab us if we ended up arriving at the landing platform backwards (usually that person was me).
Near the midway point there was an informative hike through the jungle, during which one of the guides talked about the tea and coffee that is grown in the area. The company takes pride in the conservation work that is being done to protect the local land and wildlife, with an emphasis on working with local villagers. At the end of the hike one of the Sky Rangers led us down a narrow path to a large tree to show us actual gibbons. The two males—which are dark hazel brown in colouring—played in the treetops above us, while a female (white) snacked on fruit close by. The gibbons, we were told, are best seen in the mornings.
There are about 30 zipline stations along the course, some of which are perched 50 meters above the forest floor, and along the way there were some memorable moments. One highlight was the 800 meter line—the longest in the course—where I flew over the canopy in awe, and on two of the lines riders are split into pairs and coupled together tandem, which can be rather interesting. But by far my favourite crossing was the ‘Superman Line’ where the guides strapped a carabiner (a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate) onto the hook on my back, allowing me to jump straight out into the rainforest, falling for a couple of seconds then posing like superman with one arm stretched out in front of me as I travelled the length of the cable.
After the zipline tour our group sat down to an impressive lunch. As local villagers played traditional music we dug into some delectable local northern Thai dishes, the most notable being organic purple rice, and a local cilantro salad with tomatoes and a small amount of fish sauce—a unique dish from the area.
After lunch, we were taken on a tour of Mae Kampong village, which is a special excursion for early morning bookings. The village is in a small valley, and the houses rise up on one side of a beautiful stream. Of note in the village was the local fermented tea leaf chew, which is made by fermenting tea leaves which are then wrapped around strips of coconut (they provide a slow caffeinated energy boost during a hard day’s work).
After the village tour we walked uphill to a nearby waterfall, where I meditated on my experience—gliding over the canopies of this idyllic northern Thai rainforest. I was later returned to my hotel by minivan. My fear of heights is probably not cured, but hey, at least I got to pretend I was superman for a moment.
To find out more, or to book one of the many Flight of the Gibbon adventure packages, visit the website: www.treetopasia.com
By Danaan Andrew