Soft adventure

David Whitley checks out the options in Thailand for those who like their adrenalin rushes adventurous but not terrifying

A holiday in Thailand can be all about lying on the beach. But if it’s more action you’re after, never fear – there are some great soft adventure options across the country. These include…

Where? Chiang Rai
The mountains in the far north of Thailand are essentially the foothills of the Himalayas, but elevations never get too extreme. Think large hillsides, covered in bamboo forests, with beautiful lookouts over valleys and tea plantations that were once used for growing opium poppies. Two or three day hikes, staying in hill tribe villages, are available for the most enthusiastic. However those who just want a taste cane try two hour ambles packaged up with long boat and elephant rides as a day trip from Chiang Rai. One day trekking adventures provide a happy (if extremely sweaty) medium.
Eagle Adventure Tour is one of the more reliable and likeable outfits selling such tours. Expect to pay 3,000 baht for a full day if on your own, or 1,600 each if there’s two or more of you.
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Sea Kayaking
Where? Krabi
The gorgeous Andaman coastline around Krabi is ripe for exploring by kayak. With a bit of arm-power, it’s possible to sneak into the mangrove channels that motor boats can’t risk, and gliding next to the limestone karst islands that the region is famous for is a treat. Sea Kayak Krabi runs day-long tours on a number of routes. The Ao Thalane tour heads through the Krabi Klong Talen mangroves – monkeys that are known to jump out from them – whilst taking in impressive limestone canyons. The Koh Hong trip, on the other hand, concentrates on the islands and builds in some snorkelling time for anyone wanting to ogle the abundant marine life. Prices start at 1,500 baht per person.
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Rock climbing
Where? Railay
The limestone coastline around Krabi keeps the rock-climbers just as happy as the kayakers, and the top spot for it is Railay. There are over 400 bolted climbing routes, with plenty of options that are suitable for beginners amongst the tougher, more technical climbs.
Numerous outfitters will happily kit you out and show you the ropes, although Hot Rock is one of the better bets. A full range of options, from half day introductory classes to three day sport rock climbing courses are available.
Daredevils can try what is euphemistically called ‘deep water solo’ – essentially clambering up ledges that hang above the sea. Make a mistake, and you will fall – but the water is deep enough to ensure that no harm is done to anything but the pride.
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Snorkelling and diving
The Gulf Islands – Ko Tao in particular – offer some of the best diving in Asia. Trips can be arranged from Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan, but anyone serious about underwater activity is best off getting the ferry to Ko Tao and being closer to the true aquatic honeypots. Amongst the best spots are Chumphon Pinnacle, which tends to be home to large tuna and grey reef sharks, and the coral-decorated Japanese Gardens.
Numerous companies and travel agents offer round-island snorkelling trips that include equipment hire and stop for a splash at a number of sites on the way. These include Ko Tao Marine, where day trips cost from 1,200 baht per person.
Dive shops are even more prevalent, with most offering learn-to-dive courses as well as day trips. Crystal Dive has an excellent reputation, and offers trips for already certified divers for from 700 baht per dive. For beginners, a four day Open Water course with full PADI certification at the end costs 9,800 baht.
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Where? Chonburi
Calling it ‘The Flight of the Gibbon’ is somewhat ambitious – gibbons are far more graceful than any human trussed up in a harness will ever be – but flying through the jungle is possible to the south-east of Bangkok.
The Flight Of The Gibbon zipline course in Chonburi involves trees being connected to each other with wires. Visitors clip on to them, then fly across from platform to platform, often over somewhat terrifying drops.
Go for the full day, 3299 baht option with pick up from Bangkok, and you’ll cover over 3km of zipline, leaping from 24 platforms and tackling one monster run of over 300 metres.
The same company also runs a similar course near Chiang Mai.
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Where? Phuket
Of all the ludicrous adventure activities to have come out of New Zealand in recent years, zorbing is arguably the silliest. It involves no skill at all – just the ability to flounder around inside a giant plastic ball as it lumbers down a hill. The twist is that the ball is partially filled with water, meaning that the guinea pig (or should that be hamster?) inside sloshes around with it.
Therefore, as you roll down the hill, there’s a high chance of being flushed into all manner of positions – upside down, backwards or flat on your face. It’s more fun than frightening, though – laughter is far more likely than screams.
The Rollerball operation near Phuket’s Patong Beach claims to have the longest zorbing run in the world, stretching 190 metres from the hilltop and running down towards the Andaman Sea. One run costs 950 baht (A$30) per person.
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Quad biking
Where? Phang-Nga Province
A good way of exploring the off-road trails in the Thai countryside is to hop on a 320cc quad bike and prepare to get muddy. ATV Phuket offers three hour quad bike jaunts around Phang-Nga province – pick-ups from Phuket are available – and there’s no pretence that anyone’s going to stay clean.
The route goes along bumpy trails, past villages and towards the river. The twist is that you don’t cross the river – you ride along it, tyres creating quite the splash as you go.
The tour then heads up a hill track, towards spectacular views at the summit. Training on how to use the quad bikes is given before the group sets off, although it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work them out. The outing costs 4200 baht per driver – not including the laundry bill afterwards…
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Where? Pai, Chiang Mai Province
There are plenty of other spots in Thailand where rafting is possible – Nan and Kanchanaburi are good options too – but Pai has the advantage of offering two types of rafting trip.
The first – bamboo rafting – is more sedate. This basically entails a small group sitting on a raft made from strapped-together bamboo logs as a guide steers downstream. Such trips are usually packaged into full days out involving elephant rides and trekking. If you just want to do the rafting for a couple of hours, it’s best organised through your guest house or one of the numerous travel agencies in Pai.
The more adventurous can head out white-water rafting. The scare factor depends largely on the time of year. Hit the height of the rainy season in August and September, and you’re looking at some Grade Five rapids, whilst water levels tend to be low between February and May.
Pai Adventure offers two day trips down the Pai river, and one day adventures where the Khong and Pai rivers meet. Prices start at 1,500 per person.
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You can get Thailand included in the Globehopper RTW or the Navigator RTW

Photo courtesy of HotRockClimbingSchool

Bangkok Bars

Woozy from his flight, David Whitley parks himself at one of the tiny streetside bars that brighten the Bangkok night 

The posh type on the next table is braying about how he used to be his school’s top dope dealer. It’s clearly an attempt to impress; this sort of misguided bragging turns into a competitive sport when the sole female is outnumbered five to one.

Earwigging on such fumbling courtship is one of Bangkok’s delights. It’s not a city in which to bother trying to find an authentic locals’ bar. That’s not where the people-watching is at. It’s best to embrace what Bangkok is – an international beast where travellers, waifs, strays and the highly dubious end up brushing against each other.

But it’s also a city where the stories are not kept behind glass. Sure, there are upmarket bars where air-conditioning bills and style outweigh fun, but they could be anywhere in the world.

After a long flight, a frankly terrifying taxi ride and a quick freshen up, we didn’t want to go hunting for the best spot in Bangkok. We just wanted a few drinks that would hopefully keep us up late enough and then knock us out sufficiently for our body clocks to be set properly.

A stagger down the street took us past sure signs of expat central – a couple of semi-swanky four star hotels, an Australian pub, a German beer bar.

But on the corner was a little cart with fairy lights around the top. Bingo. These are where the gold lies in Bangkok. The cart, in this instance, was called Anna Bar. But it has cousins all over the city with different names. Painted in as many lurid colours as possible and pumping out loud commercial dance hits, it had little to offer but a few plastic chairs and a stash of spirit bottles.

It’s a one man operation. The chap sat next to the cart makes all the cocktails, hands out the bottles of beer and collects the money. It’s deliciously small scale, with room for maybe twenty people sat around it at a push.

But that cast changes, both in personnel and temperament. When another four arrive, Cartman pulls out another plastic table and four more chairs, sticking them in the middle of the lane for traffic to negotiate. One car attempts to get past and the chair ends up scratching a long gash in the paintwork.

The cocktails are potent, though. They loosen tongues. The table to our left starts exchanging sexual confessions. They’re the sort that are tame to older, wiser heads, but racy to 19-year-old backpackers who know the people concerned.

And going by are more confessions waiting to be made. A bald man in his fifties comes past, hand in hand with his new love. She’s Thai, in her early twenties, and clad in the sort of tight lime green miniskirt indicative of profession. Her Adam’s apple is equally indicative.

They slip away into the hotel opposite. We stay where we are, drinking, watching and listening until alcohol and jetlag slam into each other with irresistible force. A better introduction to the city would be hard to find.

You can get 
Bangkok, Chiang Mai or the Islands included as a stopover in the Navigator RTW


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