Facing Your Fears: 7 Things to Do in Thailand That Will Push Your Limits

Facing Your Fears: 7 Things to Do in Thailand That Will Push Your Limits
Thailand has adventure at every bend. From rock climbing without ropes to scuba diving without a tank, there is no shortage of adventurous things to do in Thailand that will push you to your very limits.

Facing Your Fears: 7 Things to Do in Thailand That Will Push Your Limits

Ten years ago my mother offered to take me on a holiday to Australia. That’s a hell of an offer, isn’t it? An trall-expenses paid trip to Australia! Who would turn that down? Nobody, right?

Well, I did.

Sure, I liked to travel—I had been around the US a fair bit and had traveled to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. But Australia? “No thanks,” I told my mother. “It’s too far.”

A few years later I thought back on that moment and realized how absolutely ridiculous that was. There was a moment, I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I swore to myself that I would no longer run away from the things that scared me.

In fact, I swore to do everything that scared me. Soon afterwards I bought my own one-way ticket to Australia, and within a month I was jumping out of airplanes.


RELATED: The Secret Jungle Temple in Chiang Mai I Shouldn’t Even Tell You About


These days I live a little bit more by the seat of my pants, and I genuinely believe in making the most of every day. Sometimes that means watching a full season of Breaking Bad in a single sitting (or, let’s be real, the whole series in a weekend), and sometimes that means climbing, jumping, or racing as high, far, or as fast as we possibly can.

By the time I made it to Thailand, one of the most-visited countries in the world, I was looking for adventure everywhere. Sure, I love a lazy day on the beach as much as the next traveler, but I’ll also be the first one in line when it’s time to do something crazy.

1. Deep Water Soloing in Tonsai/Railay

Deep Water Soloing in Tonsai/Railay, one of my favorite things to do in Thailand.

Deep Water Soloing in Tonsai/Railay

Deep Water Soloing is one of my favorite adventure activities in Thailand—it’s like rock climbing on steroids. It’s a form of free-climbing that involves bouldering and scaling cliffs without ropes, harnesses, anchor points, chalk, or any other climbing gear.

The only way up is to climb, and the only way down is to leap from the edge, whether you’re 10 feet or 100 feet in the air, plunging yourself into the water below. It’s just you, the rock, and the sea.

Near the Krabi province in southern Thailand, the Tonsai and Railay beaches are the best places to go Deep Water Soloing. Professional local guides will take you on a tiny long tail boat to the 200 foot karst rocks nearby that jut upwards out of the sea and into the sky.

Rope ladders will help you climb onto the rock from the water (it’s a lot more difficult climbing out than you might think), but once you’re up on the rock, you’re left entirely to your own devices, and you’re climbing straight up the side of a cliff with no ropes. If your foot slips or your grip gives out, the only safety net is the ocean 50 feet below you, and you’ve gotta freefall the whole way there.

More Information

To book, visit Hot Rock Climbing School or Basecamp Tonsai. They offer half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips, lunch, an English speaking guide, boat rides, climbing shoes, etc. Prices are about $30 USD per person (฿800 – 1,000 THB) for a single day.

2. Free Diving on Koh Tao

Freediving is described as a form of underwater meditation

Freediving is described as a form of underwater meditation

Scuba diving isn’t the only option for exploring coral reefs. If you really want to push yourself, try diving without an oxygen tank. Believe it or not, this sport has gained some serious traction in recent years, making it one of the best adventure activities in Thailand.

Freediving, also known as apnea, is relying on one breath of air and diving for a couple of minutes, down to 20 or more meters, to discover shipwrecks, sea life, and coral reefs. The longest freedives are upwards of 20 minutes on a single breath, but nobody is expecting that from you on your first day.

The key to successfully freediving is learning how to relax underwater and learning how to control your breath. You know that tightness that you feel when you hold your breath for a couple of minutes? Well it doesn’t actually mean you’re running out of oxygen.

In fact, rising CO2 levels fill up your lungs, which cause the diaphragm to contract and urge you to gasp for air. In actuality, this feeling indicates that you’ve only used about half of your breath capacity.

Without an oxygen tank, and with your breath and body under control, free diving is described as a type of underwater meditation. Your mind is the only thing holding you back.

More Information

Epic Gap Year offers freediving courses on Koh Tao starting at $150 USD (฿5,500 THB) for two days. Courses are all-inclusive, and accommodation, equipment (long length fins and low profile masks), course materials, and SSI qualification are all provided. Book online using the links above or email Chris at [email protected].

3. Climb an Abandoned Skyscraper in Bangkok

More of city dweller? It might be worth trying your hand at some urban climbing.

Bangkok is home to an abandoned 49 story skyscraper. If you decide to do this, do so at your own risk—it’s definitely not legal to enter and I do not recommend it. There are a group of squatters who live in the Sathorn Unique and, depending on how much flack they’re getting from the police at the time, and how much you intend to bribe them for, they may or may not let you enter.

The Sathorn Unique building, also known as Bangkok’s “Ghost Tower,” was left abandoned at 80% completion as a result of the collapse of the Thai Baht and the Asian Financial Crisis in 1990. It is now left as a reminder of that uncertain time, sporting only wild bundles of cut cables, rusted piping, unsealed elevator shafts, broken toilets, and huge holes in the ground.

You’ll have to climb the stairs to the 49th floor, and even then you won’t find any windows or guard rails. But, sitting on the edge of the tower, letting your feet hang down from 49 stories in the sky, the sense of accomplishment (and fear—don’t look down!) will have made the climb totally worth it.

More Information

Remember: It is illegal to enter the Sathorn Unique and you do so at your own risk. I tried to do it but couldn’t get past the third floor. Read the full story here.

4. White Water Rafting on the Mae Taeng River

I always go for the front seat ;)

I always go for the front seat 😉

Feel the force of tons of water drenching you and tossing you in different directions. When you’re not paddling for dear life, you’re hanging on for dear life, on a whirlwind ride on an inflatable raft down some of mother nature’s most dangerous creations—rapids.

Northeast of Chiang Mai you’ll find the Mae Taeng River, home to class 2-4 rapids and exotic wildlife (including elephants), mountains, rice fields, orchid valleys, canyons, and indigenous hill tribes. It starts in the valleys and canyons near the Burmese border and joins the Chao Phraya River, which later pours out into the Gulf of Thailand.

If you just want a taste, stick to smaller rapids like class 2 and 3. On a class 4 or 5, I sat by as a gentleman asked to leave the boat—it was too much for him. We pulled over to the side of the river and he stepped out and walked himself home.

More Information

Siam River Adventures offers a full day of white-water rafting on the Mae Taeng River for $50 USD (฿1,800 THB). For twice the price, you can book an overnight, two-day trip which includes white-water rafting in the dark!

5. Off-Road Motorbiking Through the Northern Thai Jungle

Jungle in Pai in Northern Thailand

Sunset in the jungle in Pai in Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand is home to some of the thickest jungle in the country. You could scooter your way around Chiang Mai like everyone else, or you could get out of town for a while to explore some of the lesser-seen landscapes of Thailand. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Thailand.

This is the ideal place to rent a motorbike and explore the jungle. You’ll go off-roading on mountain trails, through forests and rivers and deep into the Thai countryside.

Recommended Routes:

The Golden Triangle – This route is 390 miles of twisty, curvy mountain roads that take you through caves, farms, temples, elephant camps, hot springs, and mountainous scenery. The Golden Triangle route leaves from Chiang Mai and goes through Tha Ton and Phayao, along the Mekong River on the border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.

Sukhothai Loop – This 620-mile trip takes you through thick forests and historical heritage parks—with stunning panoramic views—from Chiang Mai, Phayao, Nan, Sirikit Dam, and the Sukhothai Dam Reservoir on one of the top ten best highways in the world, Highway No. 1148.

Mae Hong Son Loop – The 425-mile Mae Hon Son Loop, along the Myanmar border, features windy, narrow roads through the mountainous province of Mae Hong Son. This route takes you from Chiang Mai to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, (approximately 8,500 feet meters above sea level) and small villages like Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, and the backpacker capital of Thailand, Pai.

More Information

Thai Bike Tours, Tony’s Big Bikes, and Enduro Wild all offer extreme off-roading adventures in Northern Thailand up to ten days long. Prices vary depending on the length of the trip.

6. Waterfall Abseiling and Rappelling in Chiang Mai

Abseiling down the middle of a waterfall!

Abseiling down the middle of a waterfall!

Rappelling down limestone cliffs underneath a waterfall in the heart of the Thai jungle might be an adrenaline junkies dream. Rappelling down a cliff is one thing, but rappelling down the middle of a multi-tier waterfall is something else entirely!

If you’ve never been abseiling before, you might want to try it dry first…or don’t, and jump right in! From Chiang Mai, visit the 985-foot Wachiratarn Waterfall of Doi Inthanon National Park—there’s plenty of waterfall to climb.

More Information

Cliff Top Adventures will take you abseiling for the day, which includes some trekking and rock climbing, with prices starting at around $50 or ฿1,800 THB.

7. Scuba Dive the Similan Islands on a Live-Aboard Boat to Myanmar

Scuba diving in warm Thai waters

Scuba diving in warm Thai waters

Those who’ve been reading for a while know that I love scuba diving. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed by the diving in Thailand’s dive capital, Koh Tao. The heavy rates of tourism and the large number of visitors have destroyed the reef and caused much of the local marine life to relocate.

Instead, I’ve reached out to my friend Justin to ask his advice. He’s a man on a mission to dive the top 100 dive sites in the world, and when I asked him about the best places to scuba dive in Thailand, he had one simple answer: “Get on a liveaboard boat and go to the Similan Islands.”

You’ll spend four to ten days diving and sleeping on repeat on some of the best reefs in all of Asia. The Similan Islands, which are encompassed by the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar, are a world class diving destination. They host impressive coral reefs teeming with fish, whale sharks, barracudas, cuttlefish, lobsters, crabs, manta rays, underwater canyons, and more.

Because the Mergui region opened up tourism less than 20 years ago, its underwater reefs have remained almost untouched for a very, very long time. You be be assured that the diving there is immaculate.

While there, please be respectful of the reefs. We don’t want it turning into another Koh Tao.

More Information

The Similan Islands are best reached from Khao Lak on the west coast of Thailand, though transfers are available from Phuket. Epic Gap Year offers 3-, 4-, and 5-night cruises with up to 19 dives (appx. 4 per day) starting at $550 (฿19,350). You can also get your PADI scuba certification on board for an added fee. Book online or email Chris at [email protected].


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21 Responses to Facing Your Fears: 7 Things to Do in Thailand That Will Push Your Limits

  1. Wayne Liew March 19, 2016 at 4:18 am #

    Hi Jeremy, I’ve been to Thailand on two short trips now and I’ve never done any of these!

    They all sound like activities that I would enjoy, but I don’t do a lot of extreme activities just yet apart from hiking and ziplining. Which one of these will you recommend to an adventure travel newbie for him to get started?

    Many travelers out there who are adventurous will enjoy this blog post as it goes beyond the usual sky bars, beaches and elephant sanctuaries that many travel blogs keep repeating, so I’m going to share this on Twitter and Facebook. 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing these activities.

    • Jeremy Scott Foster March 21, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

      Thanks so much, Wayne! I’m glad you liked it 🙂 Scuba diving and motorbiking are probably a good place to get started. Zip-lining sounds great, too—there’s a fun place in Chiang Mai if you’re ever out there.

      • Wayne Liew March 22, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

        Nice! Thank you so much for the suggestions, Jeremy!

      • Chiang Mai Rider May 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

        Before going to the rope parks, I would advise reading the reviews about them. Since it is not always complied with the proper precautions and safety.

  2. Suze - Luxury Columnist March 19, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

    I’d never heard of deep water soloing before, it certainly looks very brave! I also agree with doing something that scares you every day though my activities tend to be a bit milder – one of the most recent was snow Segway 😉

    • Jeremy Scott Foster March 21, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

      Haha that actually sounds like tons of fun! I think it’s important to push our minds and our bodies. It’s the only way we can grow as people.

  3. Dagmar Leuenberger-Swift March 20, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    Hi Jeremy,
    Loved the article, some pretty amazing places you have listed. Let’s hope you come back there next year! We sure are looking forward to seeing different regions during our next time there.

  4. Sophie March 25, 2016 at 2:36 am #

    Woah, some awesome and scary things to do in Thailand! I don’t think I could do them all, but want to try some! I’d love to get to Thailand someday soon 🙂

    http://www.travelmatters.co/

  5. Stephen April 20, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    Nice brother. I had no idea about the skyscrapers.

  6. James Johnson April 25, 2016 at 8:28 am #

    Great recommendations! I’m off to South East Asia in October, so this has been added to me ‘Adventures’ bookmark file! You should turn this into a downloadable PDF so people can take it to read offline, too. Just a thought!

    White Water Rafting is by far one of my favourite comfort-zone pushing activities. I took a trip to do it in Arequipa, Peru and it was like being locked into a rollercoaster though a volcano. I’m scared of water I can’t see the bottom of, and big drops (like where you plummet over the horizon with no idea what’s below) and it’s a great way to tackle both of those fears.

    Thanks for the post 🙂

  7. Amy (Two Drifters) May 14, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

    I think we’re gonna end up in Thailand later this year. My first time!
    These things all look very cool. I’m not much of an underwater person, but the rafting looks fun! 😀 I gotta get more adventurous I guess. I swam with whalesharks….that’s as crazy as it’s gotten over here. hahaha

  8. Ooty Tour Packages May 16, 2016 at 3:57 am #

    Loved the article. Will share with my friends.

  9. Private Guide May 19, 2016 at 1:59 pm #

    Thanks for the tips!
    We’re just going to Thailand.
    Be sure to use your routes.
    See you in Thailand!

  10. Katie June 8, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    Love the activities, I went scuba diving in Thailand and it was fantastic. I need to get back and try the Railay climb!

  11. Deivis February 28, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    Very beautiful place!
    I want to one day visit and take my vacations in this paradise!

  12. kevin Ngoc March 17, 2017 at 6:23 am #

    what a great time!. “Scuba dive” , i have never done this. It sounds very interesting. I wanna try it in the next time. haha

  13. Tony James Slater March 24, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Nice round-up! I’ll see if I can find some stuff to add to it when I’m back in Thailand later this year. Most adventurous activity I found was volunteering in an animal refuge!

    • Jeremy Scott Foster March 24, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

      That’s not a bad thing to do in Thailand either, though!

      • Tony James Slater March 25, 2017 at 1:22 am #

        Yeah! It certainly left me with more scars than anything else I did there 😉

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