Heart-pumping, pulse-racing and unforgettable. That’s exactly the three words I would use to describe one of the wildest rides of my life. Recalling my 2013 Bungee jump in Pattaya, I always thought that would be the most adrenaline-filled activity I could have done all my life, until Eric’s team at 8Adventures proved me wrong.
It all happened in Chiang Mai, the northern capital of Thailand, an escape from the typical hustle and bustle of daily life. Regardless of the number of people flocking in through trains and planes, the former capital city of the Lanna Kingdom remains as a relaxing and laid-back destination brimming with unspoiled beauty. The 2017 Nomad Summit was held in Chiang Mai on February 4, I confirmed my presence in early December last year. Successful digital nomads from all around the world gathered to network, share their business models, tips and hacks, and buck making techniques in the 20 minute TED Talk-style presentations. While, I had my plane arriving Chiang Mai two days before the event, I decided to grab some adrenaline, so I googled for “things to do in Chiang Mai” and came across white-water rafting, I did more research but couldn’t find anything that could beat white-water rafting. Then I started searching for an operator providing white-water rafting tours in Chiang Mai and came across 8Adventures, founded by world-class adventure enthusiast and two-time freestyle kayaking World Champion Eric Southwick. I sent him a couple of e-mails and Bam!, he totally convinced me to do the 10km adventure through the steep gorges and exhilarating rapids with a great Class III-IV rapid section on the Mae Taeng River.
On the morning of Friday, February 3, a mini-van from 8Adventures picked me from my hostel in Chiang Mai at 08:15am. We went on collecting others who had registered for tours with 8Adventures for the same day, once we had everyone collected, we headed to the 8Adventures camp which took us a good 2-hour drive. On our way to the camp, the mini-van had an LCD tv that viewed a safety demonstration video by Eric himself. Upon our arrival, we stored our valuables in the lockers, signed the insurance documents, paid the dues, and enjoyed a few more minutes having a quick coffee and chit-chat with others.
We were called in for the safety demonstration and briefing, that’s when I realized that it was certainly not how I had imagined. As the instructor began telling us the Do’s and Dont’s, my mind started going absolutely insane:
“If I say ‘get inside’ ALL OF YOU GET TO THE MIDDLE OF THE RAFT and until I tell you all that we are out of danger.”
“If you go overboard, DO NOT PANIC: relax and we will drag you back in.”
“If the raft flips over, cling on to it until our rescue team comes for help.”
YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME?
And then panic set in: I began thinking about all my options. Can I walk 10km around the rim of the Mae Taeng River instead? How do I cross this river without passing through gorges and canyons? Should I take my chances with the tribal people and hope I don’t disappear into the deep and tangled forests of Myanmar? These are only three of the hundreds of questions that ran through my head then, and then we were given the helmets, the exact moment I thought it was time to find religion! Alright, I’m exaggerating a little but you understand, right? We were told to hurry and get the rafts into the water.
SHIT JUST GOT REAL
There were fifteen of us including the instructors and four rafts. I was told to get into a raft with two Germans who sat at the front row, I was in the middle row and our instructor at the back. The remaining teams were even-numbered, everyone were in pairs, there was also a genuine couple in one raft, except ours, because of me. Maybe I had to sit alone in the middle for being the most reluctant. I tried to think positive because the instructor was sitting behind me, but it turns out it was not good and that it was the most difficult position apparently.
We got into the rafts and began the ultimate 2-hour journey down the Mae Taeng river, we saw beautiful scenery, elephants bathing and dandelion falling off trees like snowing. The first 30 minutes passed without any major action, but all that time I was envisioning myself hitting a large rock with broken bones and admitted at a Thai hospital for the next couple of weeks. I was certainly alarmed about the adrenaline ride, but when I pledge to do something I am always 100% in it. The moment I climbed in the middle of the raft with my paddle and set off smacking the rapids, I was there, I was going to get through it and I was determined to live to tell this story to my friends and write it here.
The instructor in our raft yelled simple commands in English as the water gushed around us, all of us acknowledged that we understood this during the 10-minute safety briefing session we attended before we got into the rafts. It started gaining speed down the river, an intense combination of excitement and fear began building inside me. Each time the instructor tells us LEFT, I would sit on the left side of the rafts middle row and move to the right side or turn back to look at him. He has actually been instructing one of the German guys who sat at the right side of the front row to move to the left, not me. I saw the helpless look on the instructor’s face, my heart was pounding in my chest, the adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I was thinking this is it and that we are all gonna die. “LEFFFTTT,” he screamed and I got back on the left side and began paddling left. He yelled “get inside” I got in the middle with the two sitting in the front row, we slowly began understanding and adapting to the situations, he began smiling for forcing us to do what he wanted. I felt a little relieved, at least things were looking up, and we might actually survive.
I must have spoken too soon, there was a huge drop in front of us and we had to get beyond the rocks. My heart sank and again I thought “What am I doing here?”, we managed to get past the treacherous rocks and rapids, and we did it without capsizing. All of us high-fived with our paddles up in the air. Another relatively easy 20 minutes passed and we got onto dry land and carried the rafts to the 8Adventures camp where we had a refreshing shower, collected our valuables from the lockers and had a sumptuous lunch along with everyone else who did rafting that day. Another 2 hour ride in the mini-van and everyone was dropped back to their accommodation in Chiang Mai before 2pm.
If you are planning a trip to Chiang Mai, I would repeatedly tell you not to come back without going for a white-water rafting trip with 8Adventures. Eric’s team are professionals and you would probably notice it that they are more geared and takes safety measures much more seriously compared with other competitors and operators in the region. You will also observe that they have rescue team members allocated on dry land where the rapids are more turbulent, they are on stand-by to throw ropes and drag you out of the water should you fall off the raft or the raft flips over.