Photo: On the way into the hills.


Around five hours and 165km of winding mountain-top road south of Mae Sot, lies Umphang -- a blip of a village that would be completely unknown was it not the launch pad for Thailand's largest, and most impressive waterfall, the mighty Tee Lor Su waterfall.

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Umphang has long been popular with domestic tourists, but it's strangely never been all that popular with foreign visitors -- partly due to the fact that it sits almost at the end of what is essentially a dead-end road.

While it was once possible to undertake a seven-day walk from here to Sangkhlaburi in Kanchanaburi province, as the circuitous route required substantial stretches within Karen State of Burma, it is well and truly off limits for the time being.

The result is a moderately-sized village that has largely dodged the bullet of tourism development. Sure, there's a bunch of guesthouses, a handful of trekking outfits and a few places to eat, but Pai this is not -- which means Umphang could be just what you're looking for.

Umphang has maintained most of its natural charm and around town there is still very much a lifestyle which many travellers associate with yesteryear. Small market vendors are dotted around, and the majority of the people work in the local rice paddies. Forget the minimart, bar or disco, but expect an abundance of smiling inquisitive locals -- many of whom remain mostly unacquainted with modern mass tourism.

The majority of the Thais who visit Umphang do so as a part of a group tour. These tours tend to simply pass through town en-route to Tee Lor Su and don't actually interact much at all with the locals, so if you've the time to stop for a few days and just wander about you'll certainly be up for an enjoyable stay. The local people seem keen to learn English so don't be surprised to be collared by an eager local looking to practice their vocabulary.

If you can find your way around the streets of Umphang without getting lost you're a better man than most. Not that it's a huge place by any means -- in pretty tiny -- but the way the streets are interwoven, and the fact that there's nothing which distinguishes one from another makes it quite confusing. Fortunately it doesn't matter as there's not that much to it.

Umphang has a handful of small eateries, and a bus station. Aside from a small cookie shop, book shop and a souvenir shop, there's no commerce to speak of, and there's no bank -- so make sure you bring some cash with you!

Aside from Phu Doi and Trekker Hill which are by the hill-top bus station, all the accommodation is on the road which heads directly down from there. The road is a few kilometres long and is dotted with places to stay, as well as a scattering of places to eat.

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