Category Archives: LearningThai Adventures

Jungle Flight – twice in a lifetime adventure!

It was a year ago now that I first visited the tranquil little village of Baan Nam Khong and enjoyed gliding from tree to tree with the amazing Jungle Flight adventure. I got a chance to fly again last weekend and try out the longest, fastest and highest cables around Chiang Mai, a new adventure package amongst serene giant trees and bright green jungle.

The new section of Jungle Flight has northern Thailand’s longest zipline (at 300 metres), three more lines measuring 130 to 180 metres, one of them over 40 metres high, with a stunning view of the mountains. You can take it all in if you choose Package B. The weather was just right, sunny and clear, but not too hot, with brilliant lights for taking photos in the trees. Our group spent almost 4 hours on the platforms and ropes. Absolutely mindblowing and thrilling and …. I will need to get a dictionary to find more adjectives. Last year, I was left desperately wanting more, for the second time now, it was complete and well wrapped up. Just my idea of the perfect day.

Jungle Flight has made some welcome improvements. There is now a new “headquarters” in the village, a traditional wooden house, with adequate facilities for getting changed and lockers for storing backpacks. Locally grown coffee is available in the small restaurant. Otherwise, Baan Nam Khong still a simple sleepy village from the olden days, not spoilt by all the people coming and going.

We had four guides with us to take care of all the ropes, pulleys and carabiners, secure our take-offs and landings, point out interesting trees and wildlife, and tease us endlessly. It also meant that we all had plenty of opportunities for tandem flights with a guide, being able to assume some interesting acrobatic positions like the “superman”.

They are great at reading how scared or thrilled people are, engage in small talk to make guests more comfortable, and keep a careful eye on every little detail. They are also super crazy and love to glide around upside down, enjoying another day at work.

All the equipment used for the flights is imported and top grade. However, passengers rely on simple wooden twigs as brakes. I enjoyed watching the newbies’ faces when they learn about the technique for slowing down: listen to the guide yell BRAKE and pull down hard with the twig behind the pulley. If unsuccessful…. get ready to hit the treeee! On the longest zipline, I managed to accelerate to such blinding speed that no braking was strong enough and I smashed into the tree…. crushing the helpless guide (half my size) who was trying to slow me down. But experience helps, hardly any bruises this time.

Just joking. The trees where you are likely to have problems are padded.

Here are some of the highlights. A picture says a thousand words – sorry if it is sensory or technical overload for some of you.

The platforms and many of the ziplines offer a unique bird’s eye view perspective of the jungle. Sign up for Package B to get the most amazing vistas. Good news: you do NOT have to approach the first platform on one of these ladders you see! The villagers climb these to collect honey from the treetops.

The guides think it is hilarious to bounce up and down the skybridges while people are trying to cross from one tree to another.

This is a photo of the bridge taken from the treetop staircase.

Ancient trees – just the way they are. Don’t forget to look up and take in as much as you can absorb, with all your senses.

The abseils…. there are now 4 if you go for Package B. Luckily, you don’t absolutely need to go upside down…. but you can have the rope attached to your back and then ask for a fast descent. Get your vocal chords ready if you pick this option. As close as you will get to bungee jumping without actually doing it.

A couple is getting ready to fly the 130-metre cable, the longest if you pick Package A.

This one was my absolute favourite! Note the abseil down to the lower platform…. that’s the second highest abseil. Sigh.

The longest cable at the moment is 300 metres long, and it takes almost 25 seconds to glide it. Calculate the average speed for maximum jawdrop effect. There are some very nice views to the right, but you also get a different experience in the dense canopy.

This is the highest cable of all (also in package B). This one has the best views of half the province, probably. I took a video here, as a guide was alongside me and taking care of my flight and my landing so I could enjoy the view. I almost got a heart attack when I saw the movie for the first time. Check it out at the forum. The real thing was nowhere near that scary in that moment, your senses work differently, they don’t take all that space and depth in.

On a few lines, you are offered the option to be attached to the cable using the carabiner on your back. Being Superman is actually not totally straight-forward, as you may start spinning around. Approaching a platform head first is also quite scary but of course
the guides help you and the rope rises sharply in the very last moment. Don’t miss it.

There is a 580-metre stretch of suspended walkway. It is steep uphill, and gives you yet another nice perspective of the forest without having to cut through dense foliage at ground level. It is manageable for reasonably fit people, and you don’t need climbing shoes.

Can you spot the crazy guide in this picture? This is the last platform – “happy ending“. I was one of the first to descend, and I loved collecting the soundbites from people once they had solid ground under their feet. “I will never do this again!” topped the list. That was when I remembered that this is exactly what I said the last time…. but my memory had deleted it, fortunately. You could try asking for a parachute, they didn’t give me one, so I guess this is the way down!

“I am scared of heights – should I go for it?”

I am definitely more of an armchair adventurer myself. You should have seen me the first time I was hanging on a rope. Even though I had been dreaming vividly about flying for decades, I thought cranes and heavy equipment will be needed to get me down the second tree. Then it got better. It is definitely acquired taste. Just relax and let it happen, spread your arms and fly, holding on the rope makes it worse. Screaming definitely does help. If it is only a yelp initially, then set your mind to it and scream intentionally. And, most importantly, don’t listen to the guides suggesting you need to look down to overcome the fear – that is a set-up :-) Look in the distance, admire the trees and the mountains and the amazing jungle.

Told you not to!!

Currently, Jungle Flight offers two flights:

Package A with 22 platforms, 14 flights, 3 abseils, 2 bridges, 1 staircase, longest line 130 metres. This is the original adventure as it was a year ago.

Package B with 33 platforms, 21 flights, 4 abseils, 3 bridges, 1 staircase, longest line 300 metres, suspended walkway, more views of the mountains, truly amazing.

There are promotional prices at the moment, which you can check out at the Jungle Flight website. Both packages include snack, drinking water, lunch, round-trip transport, a visit to the hot springs on the way back, and a visit to a small waterfall in the rainy season. It is possible to change your mind halfway through and switch to Package B – quite a few people do so.

Some practical advice:

You can take along your camera easily if you wear a small shoulder bag. Carrying it around in a hand or pocket is quite clumsy.

The adventure takes four hours or longer – especially if it is the rainy season and there is enough water in the waterfall to deserve a little side trip from the ziplines. A snack and plenty of drinking water is provided at rest stops, and guides take good care of anyone who needs help. However, make sure you eat and drink enough for breakfast because it is a long day before lunch, and it may not be a bad idea to carry a bar of chocolate or some glucose candies. I guess dehydration could be a real problem in the hot season if you don’t take care of yourself, even though the altitude helps and it does not get as fiercely hot in the real jungle as down in the concrete jungle.

I would like to thank the owner of Jungle Flight Mr Songsai Mangklad for inviting me again, and our guides for taking care of me (and all of us!) so considerately.

Jungle Flight – the best adventure in Chiang Mai

I enjoy getting lost. Taking a map, my camera, some water, and follow some deserted mountain road, looking down on valleys, looking over mountain ranges. This is how I found the beautiful little village of Baan Namkhong just a few weeks ago at the end of a winding road, in an area where my maps show absolutely nothing. They couldn’t be more wrong. At the altitude of 1050 metres, this little community is surrounded by ancient lush jungle, huge timeless rubber trees, amazing green scenery, and deep silence and serenity.

That is, until an adrenalin-fuelled scream breaks the silence.

This is the home of Jungle Flight, Chiang Mai’s ultimate jungle adventure: sliding from giant tree to giant tree on cables for over two kilometres, sometimes as high as 40 metres above ground. It is difficult to let go, to jump into thin air at first, but then, the flow carries you away quickly. If you are longing for some thrill, but bungee jumping is a bit steep for you, I think Jungle Flight is just what you have been looking for. However, you will find yourself at the end of a rope all the same, and I tell you that tree is coming real fast as well!

tree up close!

Take a deep breath. Just let it happen to you. Once the first adrenaline rush is over, and those shaking legs support you firmly again, you will find yourself looking at the jungle from a completely different angle, surrounded by treetops, wild orchids – and the word “depth” gets a whole new meaning. There is something timeless and ancient about Jungle Flight, which in a way reminds me of snorkelling.



silent giants

Our guides Pang and Yud are great with people, they know how to make people relaxed, how and when to tease or encourage. We all received lots of personal attention. The guides showed us coffee beans, flowers, a bees’ nest, gave us plenty of time to stop and admire the view, there was time for joking and fun.

When I asked what happens if someone doesn’t have enough momentum and stops in the middle of the cable, they showed me – they left me hanging there in the air, like a giant bird stuck in the canopy. That was the most carefree moment of my past couple of months, in the middle of nowhere. It is amazing too how quickly strangers bond on top of a tree.

It is a crazy idea to slide between trees when you first look at it, but at second glance, it looks perfectly safe. The longest and highest ziplines have two cables running parallel, and you get secured to both during your flight. The three abseil sections also have double safety lines. You are always attached to a wire while standing on any of the 22 platforms or walking the two wobbly skybridges. The guides hook you to the right places all the time, you cannot make a mistake. All equipment was imported, complies with international safety standards, and so does the safety training received by all the guides.

down here?! – no way!

At the very end, to descend from the last platform, you have no choice but to leap into the abyss – an eight-storey gap in the middle of a platform. You can ask to be lowered slowly or to have it with more of a free-fall twist. All I can say about this bit is that screaming actually does help.

There is a little bit of steep jungle walk back to the village, where a tasty lunch awaits the returning members of the expedition. You may also buy locally made herbal tea, honey, herbal pillows, or a Jungle Flight t-shirt. The restaurant overlooks the jungle and more giant trees, where you may wind down and share your favourite moments.

my favourite trees

The tour price is 2,200 baht for the entire 7-hour adventure, and includes round trip transfer, water, insurance, and a short stop at the local hot springs on the way back. You need to pay extra for lunch. If you choose an early pick-up time (6 to 6:30 a.m.) or a late afternoon adventure (leaving at 1-1:30 p.m.), the discounted price is 1,980 baht. You need to be taller than 120 centimetres and weigh less than 150 kilos to sign up.

that’s me at the end of my rope

Seven additional platforms will be completed by the end of April, including the longest zipwire in Thailand – 260 metres. There are plans for a daily ticket with unlimited number of rides. Personally, I can hardly wait for that one!

the longest cable at the moment – 130 metres

I think it is great value for money. First, it may sound too much for a daytrip, but just compare it to what the normal price of a bungee jump is. Jungle Flight takes three hours, you get to ride the longest zipline in Thailand, marvel at the jungle up close and from a bird’s eye view, and actually feel like a bird. It is as close as you can get to flying, something we all dream about. It is an adventure of a lifetime. The only problem is, you may get addicted!

jungle staircase

Your money also helps the local community. This little Khamu hilltribe village of 30 families is too high in the mountains for rice farming, so, the coffee plantations provide the main income. Jungle Flight brings in much needed income and jobs to the village while respecting the community. Part of the profits go towards funding a school van and school lunches to all children in the village, as well as towards maintaining the narrow winding road and providing clean water. Socially responsible businesses like Jungle Flight benefit local people, give them alternatives to cutting down the precious jungle, and are worthy of your support.

Baan Namkhong village

Also, a homestay scheme will be up and running in the near future, which should attract people looking for peace and quiet away from the city, overlooking the mountain ranges. The climate is noticeably more pleasant at this altitude, the trees are still green, an ideal place to escape to in the upcoming hot season.

The price includes transfer but if you would like to “get lost” on your own, head out of Chiang Mai on the Chiang Rai highway for 27 kilometres. At the sign to the Sankamphaeng hot springs, turn right and go a further 4 kilometres. Then follow the Jungle Flight signs for another 13 kilometres up the hills. It takes one hour to get there. A 105 cc motorcycle can just about make it, but that is not something I would like to try again.

Jungle Flight has an office opposite Thapae Gate (47/2 Moon Muang Road). You can also book your flight online at http://www.jungle-flight.com/index.html . The website has some stunning photos and videos of the trip – check it out.

I posted some more photos and a map at our Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand forum.

I would like to thank the owner of Jungle Flight, Mr Songsai Mangklad (Sonny) for inviting me for a site inspection. Sonny gave me the grand tour personally and took care of me all along the way.

If anyone reading this runs a tourist attraction or guesthouse and would like to invite any of the Paknam Web team of bloggers for a site inspection, then please contact us through the www.PaknamWeb.com website. We will then promote the location on www.thai-blogs.com and other related websites in our network.

Playing the Numbers Game

There are a number of reasons why knowing Thai language is beneficial to foreign visitors; a better understanding of Thai society and culture is the most obvious one. However, there are other little benefits as well. For instance, the only way you can be an active participant in Thailand’s “numbers game” is if you know Thai numerals well, and can read basic Thai.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? This game, which can be an endless source of fun, mild amusement, annoyance, alienation and embarrassment is more frequently referred to as the notorious two-tiered price system.

The basics
The game, in its basic form, is very simple. There are two teams: Darkey and Whitey (sorry, but political correctness is not part of the rules). The objective of the game is for team Darkey to fleece members of team Whitey as much as possible, as sneakily as possible. Darkey members have to come up with a variety of ingenious methods to disguise their intention.

That’s quite easy most of the time, since the majority of Whitey members are oblivious of, or couldn’t care less about playing the game, since they are just short-time players. The real veteran players are the ones who love Thailand and are somewhat familiar with its langauge and culture. This small group of core playas tries everyting they can, with their limited means, to trick the Darkey system, and to even the playing field as much as possible. Rules: anything goes, short of killing members of the opposite team. :)

Now that you know da playas and da rulez, let’s look at the game itself.
Richard and Gor covered the basics with excellent examples, explanations and a list of Thai numbers on LearningThai.com. Check that out first; I will just supplement it with experiences and some comments of my own.

Game replay
This picture is the ticket booth at the entrance to San Kamphaneg Hot Springs that I’ve visited with a friend last Sunday. (There are more pictures of this trip on the photoalbum for this site.) Even intermediate Whitey playas will immediately get suspicious when they see the prices in Arabic and Thai numbers. Then, after working out the meaning of the Thai numbers, they can figure they are being cheated.

There are few options one can take after this. One could either turn back in disgust, trying to negotiate/trick one’s way in, or just fork out the extra cash. Considering the small scale of the price, and the distance we traveled to get here, we decided to do the latter. However, later we found out that this incident was just an indication of worse things to come. If you take a look at the sign above offering foot massage, you can see the same thing (work out the Thai numbers), except now we entered the realm of three-figure numbers. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like having my feet – and my wallet! – massaged there.

At the Chiang Mai Zoo, the situation is the same, but there we were able to get in on local prices – my Thai friend asked for the ticket. Other times, when a large group of us (two Farang, four Thai) planned to charter a red songtaew for a daytrip to Doi Suthep, our Thai friends asked us to stay behind, while they are negotiating the fare. The reason: the mere presence of Whitey will awaken Darkey greed, no matter how many Thais they also have to cheat that way. At the end, the charter costed a total of 1100Bt for the six of us. A simple one-way trip up the mountain for a single Whitey is 500Bt, as I found out earlier when I tried to go up there by myself.

Temple Games
Orange robes have also joined Team Darkey lately. When we got to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the famous temple on the mountain during the above-mentioned trip, the first sign greeting us at the top of the long staircase was “FOREIGNER – THIS WAY” pointing to the right of the main entrance. There, at a small booth (‘FOREIGNER – PAY HERE), we, the two Whitey members had to buy our way into the temple. Selling popcorn and fries would have completed the illusion of going to a circus. Other visitors, including Asian foreigners, could get in for free, like the locals. I’ve yet to see the Notre Dame de Paris or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome charge extra to their dark-skinned visitors.

The Southern version
But nothing could outdo the avarice of the South Darkeys. Since it is a very popular tourist destination, 10-50times ripoffs are commonplace – again, from my own experience, when peddlers told me about the “good deal” of buying 500Bt-postcards. This was also the place where I witnessed the most ingenious way of Darkey disguise. A general store had various goods displayed, with the standard grocery price sticker saying Thank You, with the printed price below. Each item also carried a similar sticker with a series of short numbers, presumably a barcode of some sort. Nothing wrong with it, right? Well, as it turns out to be, two Thai teachers, who were friends of mine and were travelling with the school group, pointed out to me that the last number in the lower right corner on the second sticker is the actual local price. I thought they were joking. Upon closer inspection however, I noticed that the “Thank you”-price always happened to be the exact multiple of the number on the second sticker. Strange for a barcode…

The true test came when we got to the cashier. I already believed my friends, so I took their offer to put my wares in their basket (I payed them later, of course). I watched with a smirk as the cashier ringed up the “barcode” number.

And if you think that was funny, wait, there is more: I told my experiences to the Thai sitting next to me on the tour bus, who displayed the same disbelief I had just a few minutes ago. He payed the “Thank you” sticker price for his stuff! I directed him to the two friends who helped me. He finally believed it, but he was flabbergasted. Ironic, isn’t it? Darkey greed goes so far in disguise, they trick Thais as well.

Reflections
Disguising the double standard in Thai numerals, writing prices out in Thai letters, having a double set of menus at restaurants – and now this. I wonder what gave rise to such dishonest practices in the land where honesty and meritmaking are so essential?

Whenever this happens and I’m with Thai friends, they are embarrassed beyond description, for the lowly behavior of their fellow nationals. I know I would feel the same way if my own country treated my foreign friends this way. Money is not the main issue here, though for expats living on Thai terms, it can also mean a significant burden on the long run.

Treating us this way simply creates a feeling of alienation and exploitation. No matter how long I’ll live here, how well I will know Thai culture and language, how much I will help the country – to these people I will remain no more than a walking ATM, due to the color of my skin.

(pro- and contra arguments about this issue are listed in a Gors World story. If you have one that’s not listed there, please let us know by leaving a comment to this blog.)