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8 Adrenaline Pumping Adventures in Thailand

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Looking for some adventure in your life? TPG foreign correspondent Lori Zaino shares eight amazing activities in Northern Thailand that are sure to amp up your adrenaline. Read on if you’re looking for excitement while on vacation.

During my five-week trip through Asia, I wanted a bit of everything: city touring, relaxation on beaches and, of course–a little adventure. It turns out that Northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai is packed with activities for the adventure traveler.

Wat Chiang Mai has free entrance and is located in the city center of Chiang Mai
Wat Chiang Mai has free entrance and is located in the city center of Chiang Mai. Shutterstock.

Read on for eight adrenaline pumping ways to explore this beautiful region. I’ve rated each on a scale of 1 to 10 based on their adventure level (10 being the highest). Warning: Some of these are not for the faint of heart.

1. Hot Air Balloon Ride. Adventure Rating: 6

Take a hot air balloon over the Thai countryside
Take a hot air balloon over the Thai countryside

If you aren’t afraid of heights and want to see the rice fields and villages of Northern Thailand from up high, balloon it up! A professional and highly rated company (especially for safety, which is clearly a top concern) is Balloon Adventure Thailand. You float over the countryside for about an hour and then have a breakfast buffet and champagne toast after landing. The price includes transport to/from your hotel ($270).

2. Elephant Rescue Camps. Adventure Rating: 7 

A rescued baby elephant with her "stepmom" at Ran-tong Elephant Rescue
A rescued baby elephant with her “step mom” at Ran-tong Elephant Rescue Center

If you’re an animal lover (like me), this adventure is perfect for you. Visit an elephant rescue camp where you’ll feed, bathe and ride your elephant bareback in the jungle. Caution: Be very careful about choosing this activity. I spent hours researching, as I want no part in anything that mistreats animals. Instead, contribute to a worthy organization that rescues and rehabilitates elephants. Patara ($180 day trip) and Ran-tong ($70 day trip) are two notable and well-vetted options. Both include transport to/from a Chiang Mai-based hotel. Oh, and prepare to get muddy and wet.

3. Tiger Kingdom. Adventure Rating: 2

Playing with a baby tiger is sort of like playing with a cat...with sharper teeth
Playing with a baby tiger is sort of like playing with a cat… but with sharper teeth

This activity is great to do as a family or with kids, and it’s more “touristy” than some of the other activities. Tiger Kingdom works like a zoo, except that you wait your turn to enter the cages to get up close and personal with tigers. You can choose to see babies, juvenile, medium-sized or giant tigers and it costs about $10 per group. They’ll even let you hold the baby tigers. Be sure to pay close attention to the rules about not approaching the tigers head as to avoid any “accidents.”

4. Treks. Adventure Rating: 4-9

There are so many amazing hiking spots near Chiang Mai. Shutterstock.
There are so many amazing hiking spots near Chiang Mai. Shutterstock.

Many come to Chiang Mai simply for the hiking. The surrounding mountains make it an excellent setting for several styles of hikes, easy afternoon treks or two night/three day survival treks. There are many companies to choose from depending on what style you’re after. Some reputable companies include Pooh Eco Trekking and Trekking Chiang Mai–they also offers rafting tours.

5. Climb To the Doi Suthep Temple. Adventure Rating: 1

The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Shutterstock.
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Shutterstock.

While this isn’t as crazy as some other activities, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is located on the Doi Suthep mountain about nine miles outside of Chiang Mai. Hire a tuk tuk, car or rent a motorcycle to take the weaving drive up the mountain. Once there, climb the many stairs (or for those feeling not so adventurous, take the elevator for $1) to reach the temple atop. This is still a working Buddhist monastery today.

6. Zipline. Adventure Rating: 8

Zipline through the jungle of Northern Thailand
Zipline through the jungle of Northern Thailand

If you fancy flying through the jungle on ropes, why not zip-line through the Chiang Mai treetops?  Everyone considers Flight of the Gibbons ($110)  the best in the area, but it’s also the most expensive. Jungle Flight ($80) is also a reputable company at a more reasonable price.

7. Rock Climbing. Adventure Rating: 10

Climb the Crazy Horse Buttress...only the for the MOST adventurous
Climb the Crazy Horse Buttress…only the for the MOST adventurous

If you’re feeling especially daring, climb the Crazy Horse Buttress with Thailand Climb. This area is considered a “mega crag” and if that idea is too much for you, they also offer caving adventures. The company has both day trips and overnight adventures to choose from.

8. Helicopter Tour. Adventure Rating: 5

See some amazing views of Chiang Mai from helicopter
See some amazing views of Chiang Mai from helicopter

If you really want a view from up high of Chiang Mai, try a helicopter tour. Advance Aviation offers 20 and 30-minute sightseeing tours, as well as transport to/from Chiang Mai to other cities. While this won’t be cheap, it’s a once in a lifetime adventure that you won’t forget.

*Please note that above pricing is approximate

How to Get to Chiang Mai and Where to Stay

Rates at the Le Meridien Chiang Mai start at just 3,000 Starpoints per night this October
Rates at the Le Meridien Chiang Mai start at just 3,000 Starpoints per night this October

A variety of airlines offer non-stop service for the hourlong flight between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, such as Bangkok Air, Thai Airways and AirAsia. Once there, if you’d like to use points to stay, try IHG’s Holiday Inn Chiang Mai, (10,000 Reward points or $36 per night in October) or Starwood’s Le Meridien Chiang Mai (3,000 Starpoints or $91 per night in October). There is also the luxurious Four Seasons Chiang Mai ($694 per night in October), and for something with a more boutique feel, try the Tamarind Village ($173 per night in October).

TPG Insider Tips:

  • Book ahead–this will ensure you get the tour you want on the day you want. The elephant camps are especially popular and will sell out, so don’t wait until the last minute to book.
  • Dress/pack appropriately for your activities. Be ready for rain, mud, intense sun and mosquitos. Remember to cover your knees and shoulders when exploring temples.
  • Many of these activities may earn you double points on your Chase Sapphire Preferred card if they count as travel (plus no foreign transaction fees). Chase’s policy states that travel agencies count for 2x points, so try to book these activities ahead of time through an agency.

Related Posts:

10 Unexpected Things I Learned on my First Trip to Southeast Asia

Maximizing TripAdvisor: How to Find Your Perfect Hotel

Exploring the Ancient Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia

There are so many other amazing adventures in Chiang Mai–the options are endless. Have you done any of the aforementioned activities or others? Please share tips in the comments section below.

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