I’ve seen more than a few of Thailand’s waterfalls. Some are disappointing, others live up to expectations, and still others surprise, but it will take something very special to upstage Chet Sao Noi waterfall north of the town of Muak Lek in the Khao Yai region as my favourite. It’s not Thailand’s tallest, widest, or most popular, but with its unique scenery, checkered past, and atmosphere right out of a fantasy novel, there’s just something mesmerising about Chet Sao Noi.
Chet Sao Noi is not a single waterfall to be exact, but rather a series of seven, each of which drops one to three metres into emerald pools. These natural pools are the stuff soap commercials are made of — just a glimpse and one automatically feels refreshed.
Up to 100 metres of stream separate one step from the next, and at some points the crystal clear water seems to come to a standstill, which is odd considering relatively sizable falls are just a stone’s throw downstream.
Adding to its mystical allure are numerous banyan trees, which seem to willingly dip their roots into the water as it passes. These distinct trees are considered sacred by many Thais, and an area filled with banyans is said to be a place where spirits dwell. In any case, the banyans contribute a definite spookiness to Chet Sao Noi — one gets the feeling they might wake up and stroll around after dark.
Chet Sao Noi’s troubling history also adds to its overall eerie vibe. A local legend states that the falls were named after seven child sisters who tragically drowned while swimming in one of the pools (chet means “seven” and sao noi, “little girls”). Although the falls may simply be named after its seven separate steps, the story doesn’t seem far-fetched. While some pools are safe, there’s a strict no-swimming policy on others due to powerful undercurrents that have (according to one local at least) caused a handful of drownings in more recent years. Particularly towards the middle and end of rainy season from July to October, swimming in the lower pools is not considered safe.
In many ways, Chet Sao Noi seems to be a place where the normal laws of nature don’t apply. Oddly gentle emerald waters cascade over long, broad stones that appear to have been smoothed by giants and draped in a deep green-brown moss. Haunting banyans mingle with enticing but deadly pools as bright red leaves scatter on the banks just so. Indeed, the experience of Chet Sao Noi feels like being in a surreal landscape created by some imaginative artist.
Chet Sao Noi waterfall — and the small national park that bears its name — is most definitely an out of the way destination, but this is one waterfall (well, seven actually) that’s worth the trip. Orange local buses run all day from the bus terminal in Saraburi to Muak Lek town before continuing directly to the national park. The area is popular with local tourists (if visiting on a weekend be prepared for a small crowd), and these orange buses were set up specifically to shuttle people to and from the park.
If coming from Pak Chong or Nakhon Ratchasima, catch a bus bound for Bangkok or Saraburi and hop off at Muak Lek, then jump on the orange bus to the park. You could also catch a train to Muak Lek and walk less than a kilometre to the bus stop.
If you’ve got your own wheels, follow the signs for Muak Lek off route 2 (it’s a left if coming from Bangkok), head straight on through town and then follow the signs for Namtok Chet Sao Noi national park. The falls are located along route 2224 some 10 kilometres due north of Muak Lek town. Admission is free, and if you find yourself entranced by the place enough to stick around, camping tents can be rented from a small national park visitor centre. A few local style restaurants operate out of the parking lot, but only during daylight hours. The park is open daily from 07:00 to 17:00.
How to get there
Orange local buses run all day from Saraburi bus station to Muak Lek town and onwards directly to the national park. If coming from Pak Chong or Nakhon Ratchasima, take a Bangkok bound bus and ask to be let off at Muak Lek, then catch the orange local bus from the bus stop in the centre of town. If coming by train, get off at Muak Lek station and the bus stop is right around the corner. If you have your own wheels, turn right off Mittraphap Road (you'll first need to perform a U turn) if heading away from Pak Chong on to Route 2224, which runs through the village of Muak Lek. The national park is a good 15 kilometres north along this road.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 10th December, 2014.