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Found in the more sparsely populated northeastern interior of Phuket, Bang Pae waterfall is among the more tranquil sights of the island. A cool alternative to the beach, this 16-metre cascade sits within Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, a protected virgin jungle covering about 22 square kilometres.
A popular weekend escape, Bang Pae usually teems with local families enjoying picnics and cool dips in the stream. Alcohol is apparently forbidden within the park grounds but we’ve spotted more than a few whiskey bottles being toted in with the big spreads of food. Even so, it’s all fairly relaxed; more about drinking and dozing than partying.
Just inside the park’s entrance is an open area with a few small restaurants and snack vendors, plus a scattering of concrete tables set close to the stream. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is also found near the entrance, where many stop to gawp at the caged gibbons rescued from the animal tourism trade before carrying on to the jungle path.
The path runs alongside the stream, and along the way are several pools to stop at to cool your feet or jump in for a swim and splash session. It continues on at a gentle incline up to the waterfall, which is best viewed from the rocks at the end of the path. The well-kept path might have a few slippery spots and branches to watch out for but is otherwise easily navigable with rubber flip-flops or sandals.
Young children will not have too much trouble making the 15-minute walk to the falls, though they’ll need to be watched closely with a steep drop from one side a potential hazard for mini scramblers.
Bang Pae is at its most majestic during the rainier months of May through October. On our most recent visit in early August, the falls were hammering down harder and in greater volume than we’ve ever seen before. Lovely, but our camera lens didn’t fare too well in the steam and spray! In dry January or February, visitors may find only a trickle.
The park is home to several species of wildlife and plants including the rare white back palm, barking deer, mouse deer, wild boar and gibbons that were reintroduced to the wild by the Gibbon Rehab centre, though visitors are unlikely to see any of these. You will certainly see bamboo shooting up at impressive heights and enough exotic-looking jungle plants that, along with the steamy humidity, will make you feel well immersed in the tropics. If visiting in the early morning or late afternoon, be sure to pack some mosquito repellent.
Bang Pae is easily explored within 40 minutes though most will want to linger on to swim or relax for a few hours or a whole afternoon.
Worth a stop before or after your visit to the waterfall is Peang Prai restaurant, which sits just outside the park entrance. Serving up authentic Thai food and fantastic seafood, the restaurant used to be a small affair set in a cute two-storey rotunda, but now it’s expanded with a covered platform extending out the back, housing several more tables and offering a better view of the placid pond and mountains. Dishes are mostly in the 80-200 baht range.
Tonsai waterfall, also within national park grounds, is about a 20-minute drive away or, for more fit and experienced hikers, reached via an eight-kilometre path from Bang Pae waterfall. Ask the park officials manning the entrance for a map.
To visit Bang Pae waterfall, foreigners – both tourists and foreign residents of Thailand – are charged a park entry fee of 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. Thai visitors are said to be charged 20 baht, but in our experience Thais are given free entry.
Irksome double pricing aside, Bang Pae waterfall is a peaceful and refreshing place to enjoy a more local slice of Phuket life.
By Lana Willocks
Last updated on 18th September, 2014.