CHIANG MAI, THAILAND – Bangkok might get all the publicity, but Chiang Mai is the place you’re more likely not to forget when visiting this ancient land.
The one-time capital of the Kingdom of Lanna, which covered northern Thailand and part of Burma, has an abundance of mountain scenery and some of the most serene temple grounds within the old walled city (some of the temples offer unique Lanna-style boutique accommodation).
As the hub of the lush and culturally diverse Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is also often a starting point for Thai-style adventures, such as overnight treks and home stays in local villages, elephant rides, river rafting and even caving and meditation retreats.
Outdoor adventures have become increasingly popular, thanks to the eco-wonderland surrounding the city. One of the more memorable is the “Flight of the Gibbon,” a co-op program between Thailand and New Zealand which boasts more than five kilometres of zip lines, skywalks and suspension bridges.
The drive to nearby Mae Kampong Village in Thailand’s interior where the Flight of the Gibbon is located, is almost as thrilling as the zip lining. The dense rainforest and small mountain communities along the way whet your adventure appetite en route to the zip-line base.
Welcomed by a staff of lively young “sky rangers,” our group splits up for helmet and harness fittings, then we’re driven to the start of the zip line. They put a premium on safety here and we go through a simple but effective four-step demonstration before we’re allowed to step on the first platform.
Above: A park where the gibbon monkey resides is one of the most popular tourist attractions.
Each “sky ranger” has two assistants, one of which is the first to go across the zip line, and the other who follows. The sky rangers clip us on and off the zip lines, and are always on the receiving platform to catch those who need assistance.
The sky rangers also make the whole adventure lots of fun while adhering to a strict code of conduct and safety.
We glide down the mountain from platform to platform amid breathtaking views. (Unfortunately, the longest park zip line — 800 metres over a forested valley — is closed for maintenance the day we visit).
Afterwards, our sky rangers take us on a lovely walk through the rainforest where we’re serenaded by the sounds. We even see a gibbon family which had been rescued as part of the Thai government’s rehabilitation and released program.
Above: Our writer and his wife do a little hand time on the park's zip line.
Signposts along the route identify and describe the plant life, insects and wildlife that inhabit this natural wonderland.
The zip-lining’s a great thrill, but the walks over the bridges swaying precariously over the forest are just as exciting. My wife insists we try the “honeymoon” zip line, so we go sailing through the rainforest side-by-side.
Once, one of the younger members of our group doesn’t quite make it all the way across a line and is briefly stuck hanging in mid-air. But the sky ranger quickly and calmly clips on to the young man and, with his feet, pushes them safely back to the platform.
Our day ends with a climb near impressive Mae Kampong waterfall before returning to Chiang Mai, cherishing the memories of our fun, adventurous and educational visit to the beautiful mountain village.
This is the kind of experience you can expect from Thailand ... you come for the culture and remember the adventure.