Microlight flying is said to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on; and who am I to disagree? Wearing a tracksuit, trainers and a stiff upper lip, I drove out to the Chiang Mai Sky Adventure airstrip, about fifteen kilometers out of town towards Doi Saket, for my maiden flight. Having landed by light aircraft on the beaches of remote Scottish islands, I was nevertheless unprepared for the sight of my first microlight; a soapbox derby entrant with wings sprang to mind.
Any reservations I may have had were soon dispersed when I met up with my pilot, Prayote Chaimongkol, Chief Flying Instructor and founder of Chiang Mai Sky Adventure. Khun Prayote exudes an air of relaxed calm as he runs through a description of the aircraft and our half hour flight plan. We climb aboard; khun Prayote in the pilot's seat ,and yours truly seated behind him. The engine kicks into life, we trundle across the grass, pick up speed, and are soon soaring above Wat Doi Saket, its red tiled roofs sparkling in the morning sunlight.
Not wishing to explode, due to a surfeit of oxygen, I exhale and begin to relax. The first thing I am aware of is the relative silence; the engine noise is whipped away in the slipstream and I can hear the wind as it flows beneath our wings. The scenery is truly breathtaking; mile after mile of green fields on either side of the Ping river as it meanders through the city on its route south.
Microlight flying is unique, in that you can fly slow enough, and low enough to photograph a working buffalo, or to soar like an eagle to the permitted ceiling of three thousand meters. Only last year, a British microlight pilot flew over Mount Everest, but we are happy to stick to our permitted flight envelope and glide gracefully across the Ping Valley at a modest twelve hundred meters. Farms, orchards, paddy fields and private housing estates roll past beneath us.
We bank to the right and are soon flying parallel to a range of hills, leading us to the Mae Kuang reservoir. Khun Prayote's voice enters my helmet as he asks whether I want to take photographs. I had forgotten about my trusty Nikon, and soon we are banking gently to circle the dam as I run off shots that National Geographic is eating its heart out to receive. We level off and head across the valley in line with Doi Suthep with its spires glinting amid its lofty green perch.
All too soon we are descending toward the airfield, with its windsock fluttering in the morning breeze". Is that half an hour already", I mutter into the wind. A glance at my watch confirms my disappointment; we are about to land. Swooping in over the grass we gently touch down and roll to a stop, close to a hanger.
Chatting to Khun Prayote, I discover that he is a vastly experienced flying instructor, who has taught the art of microlight flight in France and in Thailand.
He tells me that, since opening Chiang Mai Sky Adventure in 1988, he now operates two other branches: Sakolnakorn Sky Adventure, in the upper East region, and Kam Paeng Petch Sky Adventure, in the lower North region. (note to ed: we could do with inserting exact locations!).
I am an instant convert to microlight flight, and I shall return. But don't take my word alone; look at this sample of opinions, as entered in Khun Prayote's logbook.
Chiang Mai Sky Adventure operates two kinds of aircraft: the microlight and the Ultralight.. Passengers are encouraged to bring along still and/or video cameras. You can communicate with our highly experienced pilots through the intercom during your flight.
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