As one of only six countries in the world to have never been colonised, the country with the longest running monarchy and a name that translates literally to ‘the land of the free’, Thailand is one of those destinations that any budding traveller must see before they die.
It is one of those unique locations that has holiday opportunities to benefit any kind of traveller. The country is littered with everything from luxurious five star hotels to three-thousand-meter long zip lines. So whether you’re looking to unwind in luxury and have full body massages every day, or you just want to hang from the trees and explore the jungle, Thailand is the place for you.
The adventure opportunities in Thailand are especially outstanding. The rugged landscape of this popular destination allows every adventure to be possible. Within the space of a few days and a 5km radius you can hike through a jungle, sail through the islands on a yacht and scuba dive in an aquarium-like sea. What makes this country an even more attractive option is the proximity to Dubai – just a quick six-hour flight from Dubai international and you’ll touchdown in Bangkok Koh Chang. From there you can choose any of the surrounding islands to fulfil your adventure dreams. My personal favourite is Koh Samui. There’s a reason why Hollywood chose to film blockbuster movies like ‘The Beach’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ in this distinctive landscape, as the scenery is just too beautiful to pass up – so if it’s good enough for Hollywood, it should be good enough for you!
The scenery below the surface of the water in Thailand is just as good as what is above, if not better. On the island of Koh Samui especially, there is no shortage of dive operators ready and waiting to take you out for the dive of a lifetime. Starting early, the boats usually leave been 7 and 9am, depending on the season (the earlier the better in my opinion). The boat ride out to the dive sites is half the fun. You can opt for either a larger boat, with more passengers and facilities, that takes its time to glide across the blue surface, allowing you to take in the sights at your leisure; or you can chose something faster with a little more horsepower in the engines, that will get you there in half the time and at double the speed. The latter is a little more exciting. The islands you zigzag through are unlike any others in the world. The distinctive rock formations with palm trees hanging over the water are what give this destination its movie-ready scenery.
The dive site we visited, however, wasn’t located close to one of these beautiful islands. Rather, it resided below a small, lone rock out in the middle of the ocean. Excited to go in, we quickly geared up and took the giant leap in, and as the bubbles cleared you’re immediately granted over 50 meters of visibility, allowing you to see straight to the bottom as well as all around you, so you see the bottoms of surrounding vessels bobbing in and out of the water from below the surface. The dive site itself surrounded the lone rock, forming a large pinnacle, with huge rock faces crowded with colourful corals. Following the steep decline of the rock face you can settle at any depth between 10 and 35 meters, making the dive site suitable for all divers. The comfortable temperature of the water made a short wetsuit the perfect choice, not that you’re really thinking about the temperature when you’re surrounded with such underwater beauty.
Moving away from the wall, towards the blue, gives you a great perspective of the size of the pinnacle, as well as the amount of colour that it is giving off. When you’re hovering in the blue however, you’re not there alone. About 15 meters off the rock face there were huge schools of barracuda, tuna and batfish. Although the tuna and barracuda mainly kept their distance, the batfish didn’t get the memo and had a very vague understanding of personal space, coming right up to our faces and taking their time investigating my shiny new GoPro camera. Moving back to the rock, embedded in the face of the wall was a narrow, vertical tunnel, which you could enter at the bottom and ascend about 15 meters out the other end. With all these features together, this dive site made for a fantastic dive. The Lonely Pinnacle in Koh Samui is only one of thousands of dive sites in Thailand, but it’s the perfect example of the diving available in this diverse country.
Getting back onto land, you can head straight into the jungle. Thailand is covered with tens of thousands of square kilometres of jungle, so it would be incredibly difficult to see it all. But if you want to cover a large amount of land in a short space of time, your best option is on a quad bike. Dirt, mud, grass and even paved paths run throughout these jungles and allow you to race swiftly though the vast expanses of vegetation without you even needing to put on a pair of hiking boots. These quad biking tours can last for hours and hours, which may seem like a heavy dose, but once you’re aboard one of these 4x4s and in the Jungle, you’ll never want to leave.
The jungle itself is exciting enough, filled with flora and fauna native to only these islands. Thailand has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, so the chances of spotting something wild is high. In my last jungle experience I was lucky enough to spot a green snake curled around a branch in the trees above me. It’s safe to say I didn’t spend too much time sitting directly below the tree on my ATV. And of course, as Thailand lies incredibly close to the equator, it experiences high amounts of rainfall all year round, as with any tropical location. And with rain comes mud puddles. So if you want to hit the jungle aboard one of these speed demons, I’d avoid wearing white clothes. Although the more sensible and cautious riders will steer clear of these puddles, the less cautious and reckless drivers like myself will hit these small mud pools head on, at full speed. I often later regret these decisions as I try to clean the mud out of my ears. Make no mistake though, the trails running through these jungles aren’t always flat, and can often feature steep inclines, requiring a switch to 4×4 mode.
However, the careful rides up the mountains don’t go without reward, and once disembarking the quad bikes you can partake in a short hike to a series of local waterfalls. This unique set of waterfalls in Koh Samui has a series of ropes that you can use to navigate your way up the three different levels. From the first pool to the second you have to be able to hold your breath for a few seconds because to get to it you need to swim through a tunnel about 3ft under the water. If you’re brave enough to do that, then from the second pool you can use a rope to climb up the surrounding rock face. At the top of that you can stand under the main waterfall and feel the heavy water massage your back. Like all waterfalls, the water is cold and fresh, an invigorating change from a pool or a beach. After you’ve had your shower, and you’ve built up the necessary amount of courage, you can slide down the slippery rock face from the highest waterfall to the next one. (It takes a while to build up that courage). It’s the underwater tunnels and slippery slides such as these that makes Thailand’s hidden waterfalls seem like playgrounds created by the gods.
Making your way back out of the Jungle toward the ocean, you can board a yacht for an ocean adventure that takes place above the surface. Using a catamaran to hop between these beautiful islands is a must-do experience. As we sailed through the islands we eventually picked one to throw the anchor down by. Using the paddleboards we made our way to the shore of this pristine quaint little island. Exploring the beach, we walked across the soft white sand and crossed bamboo bridges suspended between rocks. Hung from a tall palm tree on the edge of the beach was a hand crafted rope swing that was just the icing of the cake of this island paradise. All of these islands were different, and were ready and waiting for any and all ocean adventurers to explore them.
These are just a few examples of the many different adventures you can have in the land of the free that is Thailand. The clear and busy waters, the full and abundant jungles and the many different islands surrounded by soft white sand and tall palm trees can satisfy anyone’s needs. Not only does the landscape provide for all adventurers, but this holiday destination also provides for all different types of travellers. The prices of hotels, restaurants and activities vary greatly and therefore makes this destination a viable option for all. If it is adventure that you seek, make your next destination Thailand.
Words + Photos by: Jake Lyle