Extreme sport can sound like a recipe for getting drowned, shot or generally mangled. In a sense, it is – I know, I've explored the field in depth, deployed by past editors gleefully keen to see a reporter suffer. But the stress serves a purpose: it tests your limits and the theory that what cannot destroy you makes you stronger. For a lightning immersion in 'controlled edge' extreme sport culture, visit Chiang Mai, the Thai town 700 kilometres north of Bangkok.
Chiang Mai may sound like an odd launchpad because the Rose of the North's immediate attractions are shimmering temples and Lanna ('million rice fields'), craftware and food. Still, the local mountains – some of Thailand's highest – and the countryside host heaps of adventure. Find out what's out there.
"If you haven't experienced a paintball war before you won't believe how much fun it can be and how much it can get the heart pumping," says Chiang Mai’s X-Centre on its website. At first, the war is petrifying. The bullets pack a punch and spray yellow paint. But, once you get over the jolt of being shot with more than a water pistol, you get into it.
2. Whitewater rafting
Whitewater rafting is my favourite extreme sport. Its inherent exhilaration comes with little risk of harm, unless someone hits you in the teeth with an oar or you topple into shallow, rocky water. The Maetang River, which tumbles out of the hills and runs right through Chiang Mai province, offers Thailand's top white-water thrills. Don't be surprised if you catch yourself laughing hysterically like an escaped lunatic. Just remember that the rabid sport is only do-able close to or during the rainy season when more than a dribble of water is assured.
3. Mountain biking
If the words "mountain biking" make you think of serene streams and leisurely freewheeling with your legs in the air, think again. Mountain biking is 'mental' – the ultimate thrill ride, especially when enacted on Chiang Mai's hard, high-speed slopes, Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. You may take the odd break to gaze at a temple or coffee plantation, otherwise, the rocketing pace rarely slackens. Try to slow down on any mountain bike ride and every rock and rut will judder the frame of your high-suspension bike. Go with gravity, if you dare.
4. Rock climbing
Rock climbing fans are spoilt for choice in Chiang Mai. The area offers three climbing walls plus the giddy buzz of northern Thailand's best developed crag, Crazy Horse Buttress, which stands east of town in the Mae On district. Crazy Horse has 150 routes. However many you attempt, use your legs – both of them. People, men especially have a tendency to try to rely on their arms, which makes this tough sport even tougher. But one pay-off is that the sport's very intensity promotes stellar fitness.
5. Flight of the Gibbon
Including the Flight of the Gibbon experience in an extreme sport post might seem crass. The experience has a strong 'green' slant, unfolding in the mountain forest of Mae Takhrai national park in the eco-village of Mae Kampong. "Imagine gliding through a sea of luminous green treetops and feeling safe and secure as you sail into the most stunning vistas on the planet," the website says. A million miles from paintball's primitivism, Flight of the Gibbon still has a clear-cut adrenalin angle. Like Tarzan or an embedded jungle gibbon, you soar across the canopy on zip lines.