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Adventure travel: Treetop hopping in Krabi
Away from the beaches, happy, terrified tourists are zipping through the jungle with the greatest of ease
Up among the swaying treetops in the jungles of Thailand's Krabi province, tourists are screaming, shrieking and pleading. Because no one wants to spiral into a freefall and splatter onto the rock-strewn jungle floor below, of course.
Others are fiendishly laughing, yelping with joy or silently bug-eyed with frenzied focus, desperately hoping their nylon ropes will keep them attached to steel "zip lines" strung from tree to tree, around 20 meters above the ground.
"I thought at some point I was going to cry. Not die, but cry," says Jo Waisel, a 31-year-old office manager from Tunbridge Wells, England.
"For me, it was a bit too much, a bit too intense. The zip wire bits were great, but some of the other ones were too challenging for me. Too hard. Too much like pushing yourself to the edge of what you are used to doing," she says.
Her husband, Gadi Waisel, 34, feels the opposite.
"I really enjoyed it, personally," he grins.
"I think it's beautiful that it's blended with nature, and they didn't have to destroy anything, and it's in the jungle. It's just ropes. It's very simple, but so much excitement, and I think this is the beauty of the place," Gadi says.
Once you've stopped screaming, admire the view
Visually, the Tree Tops Adventure in Krabi's Ao Nang rainforest is a beautiful blend of vivid green jungle, looming karst limestone and an occasional giant butterfly. It's an area few tourists get to experience, as most head straight to the famed Railay Beach.
Thai staff provide basic training by showing each visitor how the equipment works, and soon the real adventure begins.
Wearing a comfortable mountaineering harness strapped around your rear and waist, you climb up to treetop level and attach your hand-held, double-pulley wheels onto a lengthy, horizontal, steel zip line.
The zip lines are strung from one treetop to the next, beckoning people to follow an increasingly whacky, and somewhat nerve-wracking route deeper into the jungle.
So you hook two metal clips onto your pulley -- which prevent you from falling too far if you drop -- and then you step off your treetop's small wooden platform as if walking off a skyscraper's ledge.
Fortunately, your seat harness supports you like a scoop-shaped chair, allowing you to rapidly glide through the air, above the trees, on a slightly downward zip line.
After a few seconds, you land with a thump, preferably feet first, on a heavily padded platform built onto the next treetop where another zip line awaits.
Double dog dares and safety
To make things a bit more insane, the route includes absurd challenges such as walking on a zip line tightrope above the trees, guided by two additional hand-high lines on either side.
Another challenge involves trying to stroll on a series of small wooden planks loosely suspended from wires.
The most surreal dare includes riding a bicycle on a long, dangling bridge made of wobbly wooden slats above the trees.
Not many people reach the other side of the swaying bridge without losing balance and tipping their bike.
If you stumble or let go at any time during the entire route, you won't fall far because your harness, pulleys and clips are capable of carrying more than one ton.
But you would not want to be drunk or otherwise off your head, because even while doing your best you can easily smash into nearby trees, cliffs, platforms, equipment or other people, and seriously cut or bruise yourself.
"You are very concentrated, and your adrenaline is pumping, so you are more focused than what you think," Gadi says.
"So, if you're drunk or you're not straight in your mind, you might hurt yourself, but if you are just doing it for the fun, you won't have a major injury. I've done nothing like this before. I've done bungee jumping, parachuting, free diving. But this is something else. It's in nature. It's just fun.
"I wouldn't call it extreme, but I think if you like nature, and you like exercise, and you want to confront your own mind and fear, and see how you function, I think it's a great place," Gadi says.
If you scream, they will come
A common complaint is that only a handful of staff are around, so visitors often feel they are on their own, standing on a tree top's platform, with no immediate assistance when they suddenly feel weak or scared.
If you scream, however, they will come to offer assistance.
Also, everyone is in single a line -- either in front of you or behind you -- so if you panic and freeze, you may suffer additional pressure because you are holding up the line while gathering courage to step off a ledge.
The harness, pulleys and clips are included with the price, along with rubberized gloves, cold drinking water, insect repellent and other basic needs.
Similar "treetop" experiences are available elsewhere in Thailand, including in Koh Chang, Pattaya and Chiang Mai with a variety of different challenges and routes.
For more information, check out the Tree Tops Adventure Krabi website, Treetopadventurepark.com or call +66 (0) 84 462 3443. Price: 1,900 baht per person, includes round-trip transportation from Klong Muang, Ao Nang, Ao Nammao Pier, Krabi Town.