Collision of worlds: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Discover a Thai town abuzz with culture, history and eccentricity.

HOME to 250,000 people, Chiang Mai has more life than a city with 10 times that number of inhabitants.

No longer treated by travellers as a sleepy backwater en route to the hills, the town steeped in local Lanna culture is booming. Travel and leisure has helped Chiang Mai climb up the ranks as one of the world’s top cities.

At the heart of the north-western town ringed by highways and hills stands the old, moat-lined walled city. One ex-rodeo rider resident I know, who roves the area’s maze-like streetscape by bike, says Chiang Mai is so rich that you never exhaust its potential. Read more at the Star..

Five Asian paradise islands

Gin-clear water, pearl-white beaches, swaying palms: the idea of the paradise beach has a powerful grip on the imagination. Who is not a bit of a sucker for the dream of a retreat where lazy waves lap at a white stretch of sand edged by palm trees? The image, which graces a billion brochures, evokes a life of carefree leisure, uninterrupted by SMS messages, emails and Tweets.

When it comes to those stress-free paradise islands, the Caribbean springs to mind. But the eastern hemisphere has more than its share of contenders. Read more at Agoda…

Top gear, no fear: Chiang Mai mountain biking

Perched as close as possible to the peak of the mile-high mountain, we stand on the pedals, lean back, ease off the brakes and whoosh! Reaching speeds of 50 kilometres an hour – that’s 13 metres a second – we hurtle over the rocks, ruts and roots of Doi Pui, the Chiang Mai national park.

All the dirt-bike routes up here are advanced. Some, I’m told, may even be among the world’s hardest. Even veterans sometimes find themselves walking the strenuous bits.

In theory, nobody gets hurt. Our bikes boast spacehopper-suspension and we all wear helmets, body armour and in some cases goggles. Nonetheless, I don’t relish the prospect of tangling with a tree, which could easily happen if I daydream or dither. Read more at Thailand’s Nation newspaper…

Vang Vieng tubing

As sports go, in terms of sophistication “tubing” is up there with darts.

If you want to go tubing, all you need is a tractor tyre’s inner tube and a peaceful river. Then you plonk yourself slap-bang in the middle of the tube, legs dangling over the edge, and float spread-eagled downstream. The object of the exercise: grab as many cold beers as possible, flirt with the maximum number of available strangers and try not to drown… Read more at Thailand’s Nation newspaper…

Tasmania twilight platypus search

A twilight search for one of the world’s strangest creatures ends in joy for a group of anorak-clad enthusiasts, David Wilson writes.

Early on my Tasmanian tour a Kiwi backpacker jokes that the duck-billed platypus doesn’t actually exist: it’s just a myth devised to intrigue tourists.

I know what he means. I’ve lost count of the number of Australian ponds and rivers I’ve pored over in search of the world’s strangest animal. I’ve seen nothing except the occasional freshwater lobster. Until now. Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald…