We find out where to experience paragliding in Hong Kong and the region, through EL contributor NEIL ARMSTRONG. (He’s tried it twice and says it’s amazing – if a bit nerve-wracking at first!)
What is Paragliding?
Paragliding will see you floating through the sky, relaxing in a comfy cloth chair cum hammock, suspended by a thousand slender strings under a billowing parachute/wing. All while watching the world below from a blissful, stress-free perspective!
For many, this will sound like something they’d love to experience. But there’s no escaping the reality: to get there, you have to run into the void off a high platform or cliff. This is where an encouraging instructor, and your tandem partner, are worth their weight in gold. Well, okay, maybe half their weight. In feathers.
Thanks to a leap of faith, a large, lightweight and highly manoeuvrable paraglider wing – think of it as a cross between a parachute and a flexible wing – plus a comfortable padded harness, the sky is your canvas. Chasing thermals to gain altitude, you can soar, swoop and bring out your inner eagle.
The flights are a mix of extreme adrenaline and zen – let’s call it “adrenalizen”. The moment you are clipped in and standing at the mountainside, you might be questioning what you got yourself into. Then you get the signal and run forward (you might let out a bit of a scream, or possibly a silent prayer), the wing inflates, and you find yourself hanging. You’re now airborne in a silent world, enjoying views few get to experience, with an enormous smile on your face.
There are organisations offering paragliding tandem tours and lessons throughout Asia. Here are a few…
Paragliding, not to be confused with …
Parasailing – This involves a person being towed behind a boat in a specially designed parachute known as a parasail. Skydiving – While in paragliding you launch yourself from the ground, skydiving involves dropping out of a plane and deploying a parachute to descend to the ground.
Hang gliding – Hang gliding is probably the most similar sport to paragliding (launch areas are often shared), but the equipment is quite different, with hang gliders consisting of material stretched over a stiff frame.
Paragliding in Hong Kong
If you want to take things up a notch from your weekend hike, why not try paragliding? Soaring above HK reveals just what a vast nature reserve much of it is – and the views are magnificent.
Emil Kaminski is owner and pilot at Hong Kong Hike “N” Fly; he says, “This is a great place for paragliding because of the easy access to some seriously big and scenic mountains. These include Dragon’s Back on HK Island, and Sunset Peak on Lantau, both of which are easy enough to reach. The year-round flying conditions are good, too, which you rarely find in other places around the world. Other than the brief interruptions for typhoons during the summer and the occasional one- or two-hour delay due to a spring thunderstorm, we get to fly every month of the year.”
As to which location you’ll paraglide in, be it Lantau, Dragon’s Back or Ma On Shan in the New Territories, it all depends on the weather forecast. Instructors will let you know where to head a few days before your flight. Conveniently, there are no age restrictions, and generally speaking, the lighter you are, the longer your flight time.
The other nice touch? You’ll end your flight by landing on the beach. It’s hard to find a better spot in Hong Kong for a touchdown, “Passengers only need to bring excitement, patience, and a positive attitude!” grins Emil. At Hong Kong Hike “N” Fly, tandem flights are $2,500 with an in-flight video included.
Paragliding elsewhere in the region
Due to airspace restrictions, paragliding flights aren’t allowed in Singapore. Not to worry! The friendly crew at Singapore Freeflyers take regular trips over the border to Malaysia (when restrictions allow) where there are a host of suitable spots manned by licensed operators. The trips are usually on weekends, and prices vary depending on accommodation and location.
The club is not-for-profit and encourages those who want to fly regularly. They do ground-handling exercises, with full equipment, on a big field along Old Holland Road. Find out more about the Singapore Freeflyers and their trips on the website of the Paragliders Association Singapore (PGSG) or get in touch with them at email@example.com.
With numerous elevated rocky outcrops dotting Phuket’s coastline, everywhere seems like a perfect location for launching into the sky. But it takes an expert to find the most suitable spots – so you can float over the water instead of plunging straight into it. Enter Oliver Thurmann, owner, head instructor and pilot of Paragliding Phuket, who’s combed the island and found the premium places to take flight.
“At the moment, we’re flying from two different locations,” says Oliver, “depending on wind directions on the day. Black Rock offers a well-elevated take-off, and our other site is the Windmill viewpoint, a lower take-off, ideal for west winds – known for its beautiful sunsets.”
The best time for taking to the air in Phuket is February to November. But Oliver is in negotiations with Phuket’s Governor so they can have access to other spots for Paragliding Phuket to fly year round.
At Paragliding Phuket, tandem flights are 3,500 baht (around S$140). If you are looking for paragliding lessons as a first-timer, there is “Introduction Day” (which takes you from the first steps with an instructor to learning to fly by yourself, with a tandem flight included), you pay 4,900 baht.
In the very north of India, between where the farmland ends and the grand Dhauladhar Mountain Range (a gateway to the Himalayas) begins, you’ll find the picturesque area of Bir-Billing (named for two different towns in the area, Bir and Billing). Known for its numerous hiking routes and unique birdlife, it’s also high on the list of go-to spots for serious paragliders due to its thermals, and the variety of flying areas. Bir-Billing hosted the Paragliding World Cup in 2015, with 140 international pilots attending, further cementing its reputation.
The green meadow directly above the villages of Bir and Chaughan is one of the best gliding sites in the world. The massive mountain range and the Kangra Valley below with its panoramic views offer opportunities for both high-altitude and long-distance flying, with journeys of 200 kilometres recorded! September to November is a prime time for paragliding.
Paragliding Billing offers all sorts of paragliding lessons from first-time tandem experiences to multi-day basic, intermediate and advanced courses. If you want to crank it up a notch, they also offer tandem mini-acrobatics flights. Tandem trips start from INR 2,000 (S$35) and courses from INR 30,000
While the majority of visitors to Bali throng the popular beaches and warungs, very few have ever viewed the majestic cliffs, temples and reefs of the popular south coast while aloft, floating on the breeze. Being able to enjoy this unique angle is something worth seeking.
Flights take off from a licensed flying site located at Kutuh village in the southern part of Nusa Dua (30 minutes from Kuta). You launch from a cliff area with ample ocean views and soar above the ridge line.
There are two landing options, with the sand being the preferable one – especially if you want to top off the experience with a beachside massage! May to December is the best time to book, during the dry season. Bali Paragliding Tours has tandem flights from US$55.
Did You know?
Some paragliding trivia …
- The sport has its origins in the 1950s and 1960s, with pioneers including American NASA consultant David Barish who designed a variation of a parachute with some gliding capabilities. The first official paragliding flight took place in 1978.
- The world record for longest straight distance of a paragliding flight is – wait for it – 582 kilometres! It was set in 2019 by a group of Brazilians.
- The highest ever flight saw German paraglider Ewa Wisnierska ascend to 9,947 metres – but this was no record attempt. Ewa was sucked up into a cumulonimbus cloud while training in the skies above New South Wales, Australia, and lifted to the huge height at speeds of almost 80kph. She managed to return safely to the ground three hours later.
- Last year, Tom Cruise was spotted paragliding in the French Alps, apparently in preparation for stunt work for Mission: Impossible 7, due for release in 2023.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.