Waterfalls

Stunning

What we say: 4 stars

Unlike most Thai islands, Ko Chang boasts pristine mountains and waterfalls in addition to its beaches. In fact, large scale tourism wouldn’t have been possible without the mountain water sources that feed the island’s eight notable waterfalls. Some of these are easy to reach while others demand some effort, but each has its own allure.

One of Nang Yom's many tiers.

One of Nang Yom’s many tiers.

When hiking to the more remote falls, be careful not to step on the light blue plastic water pipes that are often found along the stream beds and trails. If you break one, you’ll cut off water supply to a portion of the island. If you’re not keen on motorbiking, many of these waterfalls can be visited as part of a jungle trekking tour. These photos were taken in December and January; a lot more water can be expected from July to October.

Khlong Plu
As Ko Chang’s most popular and accessible waterfall, Khlong Plu is worth the pricey entrance fee despite the crowds. A pleasant 600-metre trail from the national park booth skirts a stream before entering a ravine surrounded on three sides by sun-soaked cliffs with subtle tones of amber and violet. The waterfall itself is an angelic tower of white with an upper section framed between two sheer cliffs. Very impressive indeed.

It’s possible to swim in the narrow upper pool, but most opt for the larger and deeper swimming hole down below, where you can scale the cliffs and drop back into the crystal clear mountain water. Khlong Plu gets crowded with Euro dudes in speedos and Thais trying to avoid the sun. If you need some solitude, wander back down stream to the picturesque lower pools where you can watch the fish from mossy rocks shrouded in jungle.

Arrive in the early morning to avoid the crowds.

Arrive in the early morning to avoid the crowds.

Travel info: The entrance to Khlong Plu is located at the end of a side road that’s clearly marked by signs along the main drag through Khlong Prao. The locals will shout in the hopes that you’ll pay 10 baht to park your motorbike outside of the gates, but it’s free near the ranger station. You can’t however avoid the 200 baht (100 for kids) national park fee for non-resident foreigners, which gets you a rundown visitor centre, toilets, unnecessary ropes along the path, info signs that state the obvious (really — rocks are made from minerals?) and an obtrusive wooden sign at the waterfall. Lifeguards also hang out at the falls, making this a safe choice for families. You can re-use the same ticket if visiting Than Mayom waterfall on the same day.

Nang Yom
Nang Yom (aka Khlong Jao Leuam) waterfall is perhaps more worthwhile for the scenic hike than the falls themselves. After passing a charming house and spirit shrine, a well-marked trail leads for some 500 metres along rolling hills framed by mountains blanketed in old growth forest. A more rugged trail then takes you to the first of Nang Yom’s 10 tiers. Though none of these are more than a few metres high, it’s a fun place to explore. Once you work up a sweat, take a dip in any of several crisp mountain pools.

Travel info: From the main road through Khlong Son, take the inland road that begins next to 7-eleven, following signs for Baan Kwan Chang Elephant Camp. The road bends past old wooden houses and rubber groves before ending at an imposing orange sign for the waterfall. You can park motorbikes up by the sign for free, or pay 20 baht to park by the house that lies just beyond a stone bridge traversing a stream. Even if avoiding the parking fee, you should at least buy a water from the friendly woman who lives here in exchange for crossing her land. Otherwise, entry is free.

Kai Bae
For years this refreshing waterfall was a secret greedily guarded by Ko Chang’s long-term residents. Though you still won’t find it on the tourist maps, the cat has long since left the bag. It’s a good thing, too, as this is one of the best waterfalls on the island. The falls cascade gracefully down a single wall of jagged rock, emptying into a wide circular pool shaded by lush foliage. We arrived to find a pair of expat islanders who turned their noses up at us for intruding on their “private” oasis. Hogs!

Kai Bae the perfect cure for a hot day.

Kai Bae waterfall is the perfect cure for a hot day.

Travel info: Take the side road that shoots inland next to the southernmost of Kai Bae’s two 7-elevens, passing Kai Bae Elephant Camp and Sanook Sanang Resort. At the backside of the resort, bear left along the gravel motorbike path rather than heading straight up the hill. You’ll then pass an old water tower and some fruit orchards before the flower-fringed path slopes uphill. From here, take the nondescript trail, marked by a nondescript sign, that meanders past three concrete villas, then follow the rugged trail or stream bed for another 10 minutes to the waterfall. Entry is free.

Phrao Talay
Part of the expansive land owned by Aunchaleena Resort at the end of the eastward road from Bang Bao, this minor waterfall is only worth a visit if you’re paying the resort’s day fee anyway. The waterfall slips down a rock face that stands no more than six or seven metres high, with no pools suitable for swimming. Still, it’s a pleasant enough sidetrack if you’re in the area.

Travel info: The narrow road past Bang Bao ends at the gates to Aunchaleena, where you’ll need to shell out 50 baht to enter the grounds. From here, the trail to Phrao Talay is marked by a sign, and it’s an easy 300-metre hike to the waterfall.

Than Mayom
It’s debatable whether Than Mayom is worth the 200 baht national park entry fee, but you could certainly give it a pass if on a budget. Though none of the four tiers stand more than a few metres high, the lower sections are beautiful, with bands of whitewater showering unhindered into clear pools sheltered by smooth walls of rock. The water is so clear that you can make out minute details in the rocks that sit several feet beneath the surface.

Along with Khlong Plu on the west coast, Than Mayom is one of only two waterfalls that the national park has set up as full-scale attractions. This is partly due to its accessibility, but probably more thanks to kings Rama V and Rama VII having left engravings here, which makes it a must for Thai visitors — expect busloads of them on weekends and holidays. Than Mayom is another good choice for families with small kids.

Than Mayom -- worth 200 baht?

Than Mayom — worth 200 baht?

Travel info: The entrance to Than Mayom is impossible to miss along the east coast road, just south of Dan Mai. You can park near the ticket booth for free, or pay 20 baht at the small shop closer to the falls. A short trail leads to the stream, from where it’s necessary to hop over some rocks with the help of well-placed ropes.

Khlong Nonsi
If you don’t feel like shelling out the 200 baht national park fee, Khlong Nonsi waterfall is a good alternative to nearby Than Mayom. The falls span a few different tiers, the largest of which gushes gently over a sloped rock face onto a jagged stone plain. During the dry season, the waterfall dries to a trickle and the shallow pools stagnate with fallen leaves. Even then, it’s a decent little hike and you’ll often have this quiet patch of forest all to yourself.

Travel info: Khlong Nonsi is located at the end of a side road just north of Than Mayom, marked along the main road by a small white-and-blue sign. Motorbike parking is available for 20 baht at the house nearest the falls. From here, the trail cuts through forest just above the stream before crossing it and then ending confusingly at a dirt road. You can walk along the road or the stream bed for another 50 metres to the waterfall.

Khlong Neung
Ko Chang’s tallest waterfall, Khlong Neung plummets in three connected sections down a 120-metre-high cliff punctuated by innumerable shades of green. At the waterfall’s base lies a long and narrow pool that’s darkened by depth and the shadowy cliffs that hang over it. Stretching downwards from walls of dirt and rock, snake-like roots of cliff-hanging trees dip into the water. The scene is so awe inspiring that we couldn’t help but to yell out loud when we reached it.

While Khlong Neung falls gently during dry season, it cascades with an earth-shaking crash in the rainy months. It’s worth a visit at any time of year, but reaching it can be harrowing in September and October thanks to strong currents, deep pools and huge, slippery rocks along the stream bed. At any time, only agile and confident hikers who don’t mind getting wet should attempt the journey. If you make it here, chances are you’ll have the falls all to yourself.

Khlong Neung -- the stuff that soap commercials are made of.

Khlong Neung — the stuff that soap commercials are made of.

Travel info: After passing signs for Salak Khok and Jek Bae along the main road into Salak Phet, take a right following signs for Salakphet Seafood, then the immediate first right down an unmarked paved lane. After passing the remains of a national park visitor centre, bear right and park where the road abruptly ends. (Bear left up the hill instead and you’ll reach a broken-down lookout with a decent view of Salak Phet.)

At this seemingly dead end, a steep trail takes you straight down to the stream, from where you’ll need to climb over a low cement wall and begin clambering up the stream bed. We found the left side to be easier than the right, but expect to do some trial and error while ascending the often slick boulders that are wedged between two steep walls of rock. Though it’s less than half a kilometre from the parking area to the falls, the hike takes a solid 30 minutes due to the rugged terrain. The last obstacle is a massive boulder that’s best skirted to the left. Entry is free.

Keeree Phet
Not far from Khlong Neung, but easier to reach, Keeree Phet waterfall is set in a serene patch of jungle with eye-popping old growth trees and abundant birdlife. The water cascades down a 10-metre-high sloped rock before spreading out and falling once again into a pool that’s suitable for a wade. Keeree Phet apparently conceals more tiers further up, but to reach them it’s necessary to climb the cliffs or bushwhack into the jungle then cut back towards the stream. Keeree Phet completely dries up during dry season.

Travel info: Follow the same directions for Khlong Neung, but take the second paved road on the right rather than the first. This narrow lane cuts through rubber and coconut groves before ending at a parking area. From here, take the wider path that leads slightly uphill to the right and eventually drops down into the stream bed. You’ll then need to hop some rocks for the final 200 metres to the waterfall. Be sure to keep an eye out for the trail on the way back; we missed it and had to double back.

Last updated: 3rd March, 2014

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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