Our guide approaches us, his nose seemingly buried in what looks like an instruction manual with the words “trainee instruction book” handlettered on the cover. He is holding it upside down and wearing a big grin.
The upside-down part, at least, seems arguably appropriate; A few minutes later, we’ll have a chance to see him effortlessly riding the ziplines in every position imaginable, head first, feet first, and sideways. But there’s no nonsense about fitting the harnesses, wearing the helmets, and clipping in the caribiners: We’re going to be flying up to 1000 feet through the jungle, and on this fully supervised course, the guides watch our every move.
In Your Bucket Because…
- It’s one of Thailand’s leading zipline courses, and plans are in place to add a course that will be longer, higher and faster than any in Asia. (If you’re interested in that course, check first to see whether it is available yet.)
- They make it easy for you to get there and back by providing transportation and lunch, with four daily departure times from Chiang Mai. All you have to do is show up.
- Good for thrill seekers, eco-tourists, and families.
Chiang Mai: Thailand’s Hub for Eco-Adventure
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand has long been a popular destination for adventure travelers, backpackers, and eco-tourists seeking an off-the-beaten track experience. With the recent addition of more than a dozen high-end hotels and resorts to the region, northern Thailand’s combination of jungle mountain scenery, hill-tribe villages, and adventure travel tours now appeals to travelers across the board.
Ziplining is one of the region’s signature activities: It’s a low impact tourist attraction that doesn’t require fossil fuels, offers employment to locals, and channels the tourist dollars into hill-tribe and jungle communities. Income streams include land rentals, employment, and related ventures such as providing food, drinks, and souvenirs; at Jungle Flight, the experience includes a village tour, tree-planting (not that this jungle seems to need it) and an authentic local lunch prepared by village women, which was by far the closest I had to a home-cooked meal on my trip.
Jungle Flight’s Course Features Ziplines, Abseiling, Sky Bridges, and Hiking
Jungle Flight is located about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai. With 34 platforms, ziplines ranging in length from 30 to 300 meters, and four abseils, the last and highest of which features a 40-meter descent, this course holds its own with some of the world’s top ziplines.
Upside down trainee instruction manual notwithstanding, it becomes quickly apparent that our guide knows his way around a zip-line course. This particular one begins with a gentle, short zip to give guests a feel for the ride; this introduction also gives guides a feel for how guests respond and how much help they might need. Jungle Flight’s guides do all the clipping and unclipping of caribiners and pulleys, and ride with guests who may be a little frightened, uncertain, or need extra help braking. After the introductory zip, the rides get longer, higher, and faster, culminating in an exhilarating 300-meter ride over the jungle canopy.
The ziplines not only vary by length and height, but by speed, as well. On the slower lines, no braking is necessary: As the rider reaches the next platform, the angle of the cables slows the approach and you glide smoothly to a stop. But on the faster lines, we use a forked piece of bamboo to pull down on the cable as we near the platform to keep us from smashing into the next tree. The friction slows us down, and I must say I vastly preferred these home-made bamboo “brakes” to the thick gloves that are typically used for braking. Some of the ziplines have one cable and guests go one at a time. Others have double cables, which allows guests to zip together, or ride side-by-side with a guide.
For me, the most fun parts of the course were the four abseiling platforms, where a zipliners are lowered from heights of up to 160 feet above. There are also some swinging suspension bridges called “sky bridges,” and a couple of short, stiff uphill hikes, one in the middle of the course, and one at the end. Guests have a choice of tackling all 34 platforms, or doing a shorter course consisting of the first 24 platforms. The full tour takes about 3 to 4 hours, depending on the group’s size and traffic on the platforms; the shorter tour takes 2 to 3 hours. On the planning board is another course, with a 1.5 mile-long zipline at speeds of more than 200 meters high, with speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
- The Jungle Flight zipline accommodates groups of up to 10 at a time, with larger groups being staggered. Two guides are assigned to each group.
- Wear comfortable clothing, tie back hair, and wear securely strapped shoes: Flip flips can go flying.
- Jungle Flight will pick you up at your hotel in Chiang Mai and bring you back. The day includes village tour and an authentic home-made lunch.
- It’s luck-of-the-draw, but the earliest departure times tend to be the least crowded; you may even score a private or almost-private tour!