Photo: Now that is a waterfall.

Introduction

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Isolated Umphang district stretches south from the rest of Tak province like a giant thumb resting on the border with Burma. Adventurers who are brave enough to take on the “Death Highway” will discover breathtaking mountain scenery, sedate villages and some of Thailand’s most impressive waterfalls, all in an area that foreign travellers tend to overlook.


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Covering 4,325 square kilometres of mountainous terrain, Umphang is the largest and least accessible of Thailand’s 885 districts -- it’s even larger than two-dozen of the 77 Thai provinces. As the crow flies, it lies due west of the Central Thai plains but can only be accessed from the north via a single road: Highway 1090. A dense wall of mountains cuts Umphang off from the rest of Thailand.

Did someone say waterfall? Photo taken in or around Umphang, Thailand by David Luekens.

Did someone say waterfall? Photo: David Luekens

Piercing deep into Thailand’s “wild west,” 1090 was nicknamed the Death Highway even before it opened in the 1980s. Drug smugglers, Thai Communist insurgents and Hmong rebels all vied for influence as Thai government forces and the Lisu mercenaries who they employed tried to tame the region. Armed soldiers weren’t enough to keep many construction workers from being attacked and killed. A slew of fatal car accidents ensured that the road’s nickname stuck long after the area was pacified. Even today, low-paid Thai rangers carry machine guns into the area’s wildlife sanctuaries to fight illegal loggers and poachers.

Umphang is a less-touristy alternative to Chiang Mai and Pai when it comes to trekking and whitewater rafting. The top attraction is Thi Lor Su, often cited as the “largest” waterfall in Thailand, which roars amid old-growth jungle at the end of a 26-kilometre dirt road accessible only by four-wheel-drive or seriously sturdy legs. The falls are nearly always included on tours that might include rafting and trekking to other waterfalls along with camping, elephant rides and homestays in Karen ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,200 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Umphang.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Umphang.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Umphang.
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