Ziplining with Flight of the Gibbon
“My first day of work today,” he shrugged as he clasped my harness onto the cable. Words you do not want to hear from your ziplining guide when you’re 120 metres above the rainforest floor, looking down on a sea of treetops. With nowhere to run from that small wooden platform attached to a ridiculously tall tree. Midway through our ziplining canopy tour, I hadn’t yet acquired a taste for the madness of voluntarily stepping into the green abyss – 10 times for 10 ziplines making 5 km in all. Sure enough, he was joking, but the humour is apparent only in hindsight.
Fears of heights and speed and everything in between had shown up in full force to feast on me. I felt that deep longing for boredom one feels in situations like these. When you wonder that perhaps all this ‘adventure’ stuff is severely over-rated and you’d so much rather spend your Sunday in bed with a book and coffee. Why am I trying to zip across a jungle from this height and this speed anyway? Isn’t the view from land great enough? Haven’t I had my share of being young-and-reckless in more ways than I care to count? Does my insurance even cover anything like this? If the cable decides to snap will they even find me (or what remains of me) on the vast valley floor?
“Neeext!” called out our guide aka Sky Ranger, cutting short my raging internal debate. Up here, over-thinking is a luxury not included in the package. Seeing as I was now the last one on the platform, I took those few steps to the edge, summoning up every speck of trust I’ve ever had in life and a fellow human. What made this particular zipline (called the Superman) unique was those first few seconds of free-fall it required you to throw yourself into. The clasp was on the back where we couldn’t see it at all, so there was nothing to hold onto. Except the hope that this wasn’t indeed the first day of work for the man responsible for our lives up here.
With skipped heartbeats, mad screams, terror-laced thrills and even – who would’ve guessed – actual enjoyment, I managed to get to the cargo grid at the end of the line. But not without giving my guide a bit of a scare when it seemed to him that I was somehow heading in a diagonal direction ahead of the grid. Was nice to see that this guy – who pushes people off ledges and ziplines for a living – felt fear too, even if only for a few seconds.
Soon we were on this hanging sky bridge, one of three that we wobbled across from heights I didn’t want to measure. ‘Don’t look down’ they said. Difficult advice when ‘down’ means that deep down and wide gaps intersperse the wooden planks. Below are some videos by a fellow traveller (thank you Thomas Robertson from New Zealand), because I cared way too much about my phone and my life to bring it along and make videos.
One of the ziplines here is said to be the longest in Asia, at 800 m. On that one, my journey weirdly came to a halt at about 90% of the way. Our guide clambered onto the zipline with a gibbon’s dexterity and helped me reach the platform within minutes. “You too light, that’s why you get stuck in middle” he informed me, adding that I better pull my knees up each time to make myself as dense a weight as possible. Being lightweight isn’t a good problem to have up here.
Suspended in disbelief and somehow enjoying it
Walking through the jungle, we saw gibbons swinging across high branches and hanging around in the literal sense of the word. Their hoo’s and wahoo’s making a fine background score with the synchronized chorus of cicadas. Surround sound finds a refreshing new meaning out here!
The last zipline led us to this 40 meter tall tree to be abseiled down. By now I’d begun to trust the entire mechanism of the madness enough to let go and lose myself in the experience. Letting my body spin down in spirals with the jungle whirling above me is my fondest memory of the entire trip. Well worth the trouble of the 10 ziplines and 3 sky bridges it took to get there.
If you’re considering ziplining in Thailand, here are the nuts and bolts:
Flight of the Gibbon (FOTG) began in 2007 and prides itself on exceeding international safety standards. That said, there isn’t a 100% safety guarantee in any adventure sport, but I’m reminded of that old Clint Eastwood line: If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster. FOTG does claim a record of more safe flights than all its competitors combined, so that’s some reassurance. Big on environmental responsibility, they’ve planted over 5000 new trees in the past year and rehabilitated a threatened species of gibbon known as the white-handed gibbon. Their triple-bolted zipline construction is supposedly the least disruptive to the trees and structurally as sound as it gets. For more details go to www.treetopasia.com. Be sure to have a good breakfast before you go, you will need it with all the jungle walks between the platforms and bridges.
COST: 4000 Baht (approx. 115 USD) per head
WHERE: It all unfolds in Mae Kampong, an award-winning eco-tourism village 50km east of Chiang Mai. I passed several tree-housed restaurants/cafes, homestays and sleepy dogs on my long walk up to the Mae Kampong waterfall. I would highly recommend staying in this village if Thai countryside has any appeal to you.
Left unchallenged, fears become habits. Left unsupervised, habits grow into walls. Seems a good idea to pick up a big fat brick once in a while and, with all of one’s gumption, throw it at these walls. Adventures are shredders of fears and limiting beliefs. Getting jolted out of one reality and landing into another is the value I see in adventure sports, the thing that keeps bringing me back to the edge again and again. As long as it’s not the guide’s first day at work. Thank you everyone at Flight of the Gibbon, Chiang Mai for the insane experience!
Big thanks to Cox & Kings for sponsoring my trip, in association with the Tourism Authority of Thailand in India. As always, all opinions and insanity are entirely mine 🙂