SE Asia 2009
Chiang Mai - Zip lines, bikes and markets
January 29 2009
After an interesting day checking out the tour operators and night market we opted for a day beginning with the "Flight of the Gibbons ". This is a new attraction near Chaing Mai, but It is not about seeing gibbons, it's about pretending to fly through the tree tops like a gibbon. Starting on a steep slope we were launched out into the tree tops suspended on a single steel cable. We landed on a small platform in the fork of a tree from where we launched out on a 70m “flight” to the next tree platform. For the next two hours we zipped along flying foxes in the forest canopy. Despite a couple of abseil descents, we were in a deep gorge and the final zip line finished 50m up a strangler fig tree. Hanging suspended below the wire in a full harness was safe enough, but our guides found subtle ways to keep the adrenalin flowing in those that were looking a little too relaxed. This often involved making the wire swing or spinning us as we started, but they had some other tricks that you may discover.
The facility is well run with a good briefing and well trained guides who worked hard to make it a positive experience for everyone. Frances and I were buzzing at the end and we will definitely be including this in the main trip (We subsequently found an even better facility in Laos, "The Gibbon Experience" is three days living in the trees with a good chance to see gibbons).
The Flight of the Gibbons is located in a Hill Tribe village and the road into it is steep and spectacular. We had hoped to cycle back down this road, but time ran out after a late start. Instead we spent the afternoon cycling through farming villages back to Chaing Mai. It was a great way to observe village life; rice was being planted in the paddy field, but we also passed through mango orchards, tobacco fields and numerous other crops. We stopped to visit a temple where we had a very informative session on Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion. The trip finished at a farmers market where we wandered around as the only farangis (foreigners). We avoided most of the exotic and strange things on offer, settling for fresh coconut, bananas, mandarins and some strange fruit with an outside a bit like a pear and an inside like a star fruit (OK but not exceptional).
We had planned to finish the day with a Thai massage, but after a swim in the hotel pool and a long wait for dinner we were a little tired and opted to leave that for another day.
Anyway, that was all yesterday. This morning we met Ouam and on a whim have toured with him for the day checking out cycling options in the far north of Thailand. On the way we stopped at a Chinese New Year festival where the local hill tribes had gathered to celebrate. It was very colourful with many different costumes – and a very authentic experience. We were almost the only foreigners present.
Mae Salong 31 January
Last night we stayed in the hill top village of Mae Salong. The ride up to here would be a considerable test of fortitude on the very steep sections but well worth it for the stunning views. At around 15000m the evening was cool enough to require a light pullover. We sat at a table outside our hotel enjoying deep fried bamboo larvae washed down with the local beer. The larvae look like huhu grubs and taste like pretzels.
Huay Xay 1 February
Today we crossed the Mekong and entered Laos at Huay Xay (also spelt Houei Xai but easiest to pronounce as "whey sigh"). It’s a laid back riverside town and we are in the middle of the siesta – a most appropriate time as it’s a bit warm out in the mid day sun. We are contemplating a quiet afternoon but have heard that the original flight of the gibbons facility was developed here and is even better than the Chaing Mai one. We may even see the gibbons.The Mekong is the transition from driving on the left (Thailand) to driving on the right (Laos and Vietnam). There was little traffic and what there was seemed to use either side of the road, so it was several hours before we noticed the change. It could have been serious as we almost hired a scooter on arrival.