On Friday I’m giving in to wanderlust and heading to Thailand for a few weeks of elephant cuddling, under water exploring and jungle ziplining. I’m flying with Emirates to Bangkok – here’s my list of the gorgeous things I plan to see and do.
1. Scubadiving in Ko Tao
Eschew raucous party islands Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan in favour of Ko Tao, their chilled out little white-sand-and-jungle brother. This tiny weeny (21 sq km) but bountiful island is surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Gulf, a diving haven stuffed with bright coral and undulating manta rays. Try some gentle snorkelling or get serious and scuba dive with Big Blue Diving. A backpacker favourite, the cheerful gang at Big Blue offer everything from taster dives to three-day PADI courses and even month-long internships on their boats. When you finally come up for air, their chilled-out bar on the beachfront are perfect for necking a well-earned post-dive beer and boasting about all the sharks you had to fight down in the depths.
Rockclimbing in Railay
My bouldering shoes and dilapidated chalk bag are packed and ready for some hardcore deep water soloing in climber’s paradise Railay, nestled amongst the stunning Avatar-style limestone crags that tower over the azure sea on the Andaman coast. Scout out the Railay Rock Climbing Shop, owned by climbing veteran Jane, which offers half, full and multiday climbing trips on some of the 500-plus routes that dot the nearby cliffs. Boulder, rappel, abseil and freeclimb your way along the coast, then head to Skunk Bar to swap vertigo-inducing stories with all the hippy locals (dreadlocks required).
Elephant cuddling in Sukhothai
You have to be pretty careful about where you meet elephants in Thailand – these one venerated animals are now often mistreated, and tourists paying to ride on their backs are only adding to the problem. Head instead to Boon Lott elephant sanctuary, tucked away in a magical grove of banana trees in the jungles of the north. Founder Katherine set up Boon Lott to help abused elephants, and whilst visitors can’t ride on these gentle giants, they can wash, feed, care for and cuddle them instead – far more rewarding. Read Katherine’s beautifully written journal for more on the good work done by Boon Lott, and book well in advance to stay in one of their dinky wooden guesthouses.
Ziplining in Chiang Mai
The second largest Thai city, Chiang Mai is still lightyears more relaxed than Bangkok, and makes the perfect base for exploring the untouched jungles of Northern Thailand. Go all Spiderman with a trip down the world famous Flight of the Gibbon zipline near Maekampong village. A breathtaking 5k course through lush, ancient rainforest (prime gibbon-spotting territory), the ziplines, tree houses, platforms and sky bridges are woven into the jungle in an eco-conscious design and take three hours to complete.
Off to Asia? Don’t forget mosquito repellent and a sturdy mozzie net for night time. Book your vaccination appointments at least a month before you travel, and make sure you check that your holiday insurance covers extreme sports, especially if you’re planning to climb.
Book flights with Emirates, who’ll fly you in comfort to Bangkok and Phuket as well as a host of other places in Asia.
Heading to Vietnam too? Here’s my list of five incredible activities to get stuck into there.