A little north of Cha Am and west of Phetchaburi, on a bright sunny day you might see paragliders soaring high in the sky, near a summit named Khao Den.
These aren’t the gliders you sometimes see on the beach with a huge motor, strapped to the pilot’s back that resemble a huge floor fan, known as paramotors in Thailand, or a hang glider, where the person is suspended by a triangular frame. These paragliders have an elliptical shaped parachute with a reserve of course! Enthusiasts launch themselves from a cliff edge or mountainside. Watching the clouds for signs of thermals and the direction of wind, scanning the horizon for a flock of birds ascending rapidly, they ride the uplifts for many hours. Paragliding is one of the few sports that can offer the freedom of the skies to soar like birds that take you places unimaginable on the ground.
One of the major reasons for the sport’s popularity is the ease in which you can learn and the compact nature of the equipment. One late Saturday morning, I met up with an international group of paragliders; Swedish Ake, a New Zealand couple, Pen and Matt, and two French guys Pascle and Bob at the landing site. This is open land, ideal for landings, before clambering into a 4 wheel drive pickup for a trip to the launch site of Khao Den. Sarapee Montong, once a paraglider herself, owns land at the landing site and at the Khao Den launching site drive us in her 4 wheel drive pickup to this significant paragliding site. In 2014 a paraglider flew over 80kms, landing somewhere very close to the Burmese Border! With winds from the E/SE, at 290 metres elevation this foot launching site is the highest in the region with hills to the north and east and flat lands stretching 30 kilometres east to the coast, Khao Den offers a great paragliding launching point.
Typically a paraglider will wear a harness, a waistcoat with many places to attach hooks for the chute, steering and brake toggles. They will have a knife should they have the misfortune to land in trees or scrub, a radio to communicate with the ground, a variometer to check descent or ascent and a GPS for unfamiliar territory or in competition paragliding. Water and some snacks come in useful too. Prior to take off, the elongated chute is laid out on the ground. The chute is connected to the harness and there is double check of steering, brake and other lines. After waiting for the chute to rise with the wind, and walking steadily backward, lift off can be achieved.
Sarapee can organise transport to the landing/launching sites from Hua Hin, Cha-Am or Had Chao Sam Ran and local accommodation if required. Her advice and practical help is indispensible. If the landing is site is missed very friendly locals offer transport back to the landing pad and Sarapee is on hand to assist.
A phone call to her will lead to a discovery of the exact location. It can be quite an adventure! Regulations vary country to country, but it is strongly advisable to take a course with experience trainers, before starting. Courses are available locally 35kms south of Hua Hin at Sam Roi Yot at the 300 Peaks Paragliding School which offers instruction and starting packages. Sam Roi Yot means 300 peaks and the coastline is stunningly beautiful with a majestic backdrop of mountains, free of high rise buildings, which help!
A tandem paraglide with an experienced paraglider is a great way to discover whether you will like the experience. A course with hired equipment and expert instruction may be the best way to start. The most favourable conditions for paragliding roughly coincide with the main foreign tourist season, November to March.
For more information see: www.300peaks.com and www.thaiglider.com