I arrived at the hotel and met the 15 people I would be spending the next nine days with through REI Adventures. My taxi was late getting to my previous hotel to pick me up, so I arrived ten minutes late. Everyone was fit and standing in the lobby of the outdoor/indoor hotel. The guide, Tri, was giving the group an overview of what the week would look like. I met everyone so quickly, and I couldn’t remember who came with who or anybody’s name.
The two vans would be leaving soon to take us to our first destination for the afternoon. While we briefly waited, a girl walked up to me and said, “Hi, you must be my roommate. I’m Nicole.”
We were both solo travelers and neither of us paid the $600 single supplement fee, so we were roomed together. Nicole was 44 but looked like she was in her early 30s. She had brown hair, a sweet smile, and was very athletic. She lived in Denver, Colorado, and worked from home as a project manager.
It would take me two days to learn everyone’s names and remember where they were all from, but here they are!
Nancy and Steve: Married couple in their 50s who live in North Carolina
Andrea and Scott: Married couple in their 40s who live in Minnesota
Christian and Kristen: Married couple in their early 30s who live in Washington
Terri and Cathy: Two women friends in their 50s who live in California
Mimi and Lisa: Two women friends in their 50s who also live in California
Tien and Clark: Friends Tien (in his 40s) and Clark (in his early 60s) who live in New Mexico
Neil: Man in his 60s who also lives in Washington
Nicole: Woman in her 40s who lives in Colorado
We boarded the two ten-passenger vans and drove to Wat Suan Dok Temple. I sat in the front row of one of the vans, next to Cathy and Clark. We talked and got to know each other. It was clear that there were different personalities on this trip.
We arrived at the temple and had to climb up 300 steps. I was wearing mid-length jeans that made it an uncomfortable journey to the top. To get into the temple, women need to have their shoulders and knees covered. I was wearing a tank top, so I was provided a short-sleeve shirt to wear while I was inside.
Our guide, Tri, had been leading tours for several years. He was short, had black hair, and had a huge, welcoming smile. His English was pretty good, but sometimes we struggled to understand each other.
The temple was outdoors, and I was sweating in the sun. We had to take off our shoes and leave them outside. The stone floor was warm on my feet, and I didn’t like walking around barefoot. We huddled around statues as Tri told us about the stories behind them. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist. I was starting to get overwhelmed after 30 minutes. It was a lot of information to take in, and the heat wasn’t helping.
The temple was full of tourists. With a group of 15, it was difficult to navigate through the crowd. At one point, I accidentally lost the group, and the people behind me were now lost with me. Clark teased me because he had been following me. Oops. We eventually found the rest of the group and then headed back down the 300 steps.
We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant. All of our meals would be shared family-style. There were five vegetarians, so Tri asked that they sit together to make sharing easier. During lunch, I was able to talk to a few people and tell them about my travels. They were surprised to hear that I had been traveling for seven months, and they enthusiastically asked me questions.
Nancy works at an REI store, which is a separate division of REI Adventures. Her khaki clothes gave her an outdoorsy look. It seemed to make sense that she’d work there. She knows a lot about the outdoors, so I’m sure she is super helpful to customers. Her husband, Steve, works as an engineer and is also into the outdoors. He struck me as responsible and smart.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel to check-in and clean up a bit. The hotel was a beautiful resort that had a lot of green trees and impeccable landscaping. It had soft, comfortable beds.
For dinner, we boarded the vans again and went to a restaurant. Because it was Chinese New Year, Tri gave us the option of going to an outdoor market to check out some festivities. Some people in the group had just flown in that morning, so they were exhausted and opted to go back to the hotel. A few of us went to the market.
It turned out to be the market I had visited the day prior. Now that it was nighttime, it was packed! It was difficult not to get separated from the others. We watched some festivities on a stage and walked around the booths.
After walking around a little bit, we decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest. The next day would be our first hike and ziplining. I was excited about hiking but less excited about ziplining.
We ate breakfast at the hotel, which had an incredible buffet spread, and left for our hike. We drove to a small village of wooden houses precariously built on a steep hillside on the side of a mountain and started our hike.
Once we passed the houses, we started to climb on a trail through the forest. It was warm outside, but there was a cool breeze. I quickly fell to the back of the group. Ascending is harder for me because it’s hard to catch my breath. My slow heartbeat starts beating too fast, and I need small, 30-second breaks.
I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. They’re a young married couple from Washington (Seattle). Christian works for REI Adventures and does the planning part before people leave for the trip so they’re all prepared. He had been working there for less than a year and really liked it. He wanted to make it clear he was just on vacation and wasn’t working.
Kristen worked in admissions at a university in Seattle. She was so sweet and friendly and also wanted little breaks, so we stuck together. They are one of those couples that are really cute together because they are both kind and thoughtful.
The trail was narrow and not very well maintained. Trees and bushes often overtook the trail. The dense forest was beautiful, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t more humid. It was “cool season” for them, and being in the mountains made it much cooler than the rest of Thailand. Thailand has three seasons: Cool, Hot, and Rainy.
We arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we took pictures and ate snacks. I took a picture with Nicole, my roommate. She was hiking in the front of the group because she’s very athletic.
After our snack, we continued climbing. There were a few bridges, which were ladders laid down with some fences, that we had to cross. One bridge was more a swing-type bridge.
At times, the trail was steep and narrow on the side of the mountain. Tri said once during the rainy season, a guest slipped and slid down the side. She ended up being ok but was cut up. I was grateful it wasn’t raining.
After several miles of hiking, we went to a beautiful outdoor restaurant for lunch. Most places in Thailand are outdoors, which makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.
During lunch, I talked with Tien. He’s a psychiatrist but was going to start a new job soon working in more of the administration side of a healthcare company. He was married with two young kids. Tien had a subtle sense of humor. We talked about my travels and his job throughout lunch.
I also talked with Clark. I told him about my solo travels and some of the things I need to be aware of as a solo female. He said, “You’d be hard to kidnap.” I asked why, and he replied, “Because of your attitude. You don’t seem like a victim.”
After lunch, it was time for ziplining. We drove five minutes to Flight of the Gibbon. We were fitted with gear and weighed because they have weight limits. Because our group was so large, we split into two. My group had the following: Clark, Tien, Scott, Andrea, Mimi, and Lisa.
Clark and I were both nervous. He’s tall and extremely fit. He does a lot of trail running behind his house in New Mexico and can be pretty hardcore with his workouts, but ziplining didn’t appeal to him very much.
We jumped off the platform one by one. To stop, this zipline company doesn’t use brakes. The zipline in Canada that I had gone on a few months prior had a brake system. Instead, you have to raise your legs when you’re coming into the treetop platform and the guide will help stop you before you smash into the tree. I was nervous about this because, on the zipline in Canada, I kept inadvertently turning around, so I always went backward. This time I needed to make sure I didn’t turn or I wouldn’t know when to raise my feet.
The zipline has 14 lines, which is a lot. The two other places I’ve ziplined only had six to seven lines. I zipped across, tightly holding my harness. I could not relax because I kept thinking I’d be too heavy and I’d fall. What if the safety standards haven’t been met? I tried to convince myself thousands of people do this, and I’d be fine.
Once I landed on a tree platform, the guide would hook my harness onto a cable wrapped around the tree. This was necessary because the platforms were very high into the tree with minimal space for standing. The seven of us would pile on, hugging the tree as we waited for everyone to finish. A couple of times, there were still people on the tiny platform from a group in front of us. I worried there were too many people on the platforms, but at least we were clipped to the tree.
We continued zipping through the forest, and each time I was scared. I just wanted to get done with it. The trees were beautiful, but I just couldn’t shake the fear. The local guides sometimes did crazy things like pulling on the line when someone was on it, making the person bounce. On one line, they recommended we go “Superman” style where our face would go first, facing the ground. Then we’d have to climb up a rope net. I just did the regular line instead of that contraption.
Most people were really enjoying the adventure, even if they questioned some of the safety standards. Clark, on the other hand, was like me. I couldn’t tell if he was joking at first because he’s a big jokester, but he was just as frightened as me. Fourteen lines is a lot, and it was starting to weigh on him. He knew there was no way out – we had to complete the lines. At one point, he turned to me, “I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m serious. I have nothing left to give.” I knew exactly how he felt.
Halfway through, we came to a section where we had to rappel down from high above on the tree platform. I’ve never repelled before, and having to rely on the guides lowering me down was not comforting. I knew I had no other option to get down. I sat down and tried to get myself to go through the small square hole in the platform. I told the guy to go slow and said I just want to get home alive.
We continued on several more lines until we were finally done. The final line was to rappel down again. This time I enjoyed it. The guide lowered me slower than others, which made me feel better. Once we were done, I was relieved.
A few months later, Scott came across an article about that zipline, Flight of the Gibbon. A 25-year-old Canadian tourist was on those same lines two months later and fell to his death. He was halfway through one of the lines when “the lock on his body harness and the main line broke.” His girlfriend watched as he fell and I can only imagine the horror they both felt. My heart breaks for them.
Reading about that accident and the history of accidents at that zipline made me incredibly grateful we were all safe. I recognize that many thousands of people have been on those lines and have not gotten injured. However, the company has had other accidents and even deaths over the years. From my own experience, I can say the safety standards were poor. Pulling on lines to make people bounce around was not safe. The company is currently shut down for an investigation. REI Adventures has discontinued using that operator and instead of zip lining, people will now meet elephants. I think that’s a great alternative and I’m happy they are always looking out for the safety of their members. I can confidently say that was my last zipline adventure!
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