Published/Last edited or updated: 11th February, 2017
He hiked through thick bamboo forest to majestic falls cascading into pools painted emerald by the calcite deposits. After a long swim with no one else around, he returned to a tent and gazed at a mountain lake before dozing off to the sound of falling water. We heard this story several years ago when a friend from Kanchanaburi first told us about the remote Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall. Thanks to a newly sealed road, it’s a lot easier to reach than it used to be.
Getting to Huai Mae Khamin used to require navigating a dirt road for some 80 kilometres from Thong Pha Phum, or driving some 110 kilometres from Kanchanaburi town before catching a pair of slow car ferries. Only those with their own transport, considerable time and some Thai-language skills (or the cash to pay for a private car and driver) could make it here. Even today, most travellers never even hear about it.
Most “settle” for Erawan Waterfall, which is spectacular but often extremely crowded. Our friend noted that Huai Mae Khamin is “just like Erawan if you could have Erawan all to yourself“. It sounded incredible, but for years, we never found the time. Then, in 2014, a sealed road opened along the west side of Sri Nakarin Reservoir, connecting Erawan directly to Huai Mae Khamin and making it possible to hit both of them on a weekend trip from Bangkok.
The main draw of Khuean Srinagarindra National Park, Huai Mae Khamin is a seven-tier waterfall flowing down some 1.8 kilometres of hillside blanketed in bamboo and banyan trees. Between the main tiers are countless smaller rock shelves, smoothed by the flow over untold time. Hot-tub-size travertine pools emerge here and there, with larger swimming holes found at many of the main tiers (though not as large as the ones at Erawan). On a Sunday visit, we encountered no more than two dozen other people at the lower four tiers. The next day, we had the upper three tiers all to ourselves.
The most breathtaking tier is probably the fourth, Chat Kaew, which can be viewed from a platform that’s easily accessible, even for those with mobility issues. Steep cliffs make it next to impossible to climb on this part of the waterfall, but the platform puts you very close while offering a dazzling view upstream. We found it more photogenic than any of Erawan’s tiers.
From here, a stairway cuts downhill to the lower three tiers, all graceful sets of medium-size falls flowing into fairly wide and deep pools that are perfect for a dip. Shrouded in jungle and with few other people around, we spent hours simply sitting with our feet in the water, soaking up the serenity. The upper three tiers are spread out over a mostly flat 1.2 kilometre-long trail that rambles through some massive bamboo groves. Take a break to listen to the wind rustle the long and slender leaves, broad green trunks creaking like a hundred old houses.
After a good hike past the modest fifth tier and swim-worthy sixth tier, Huai Mae Khamin culminates at tier seven: Rom Kaew. Deep in the forest, water flows over a broad crescent of rock before branching out into various smaller streams shaded by abundant greenery. This tier alone would be worth the trip from Kanchanaburi town.
Even if putting numbers of visitors aside, we felt that Huai Mae Khamin does indeed stack up to Erawan. Aesthetically they’re similar, and while Erawan has a more dramatic upper tier, Huai Mae Khamin gets extra points for tranquility. It’s also easier to explore, with shorter distances, better walkways and more gradual inclines than at Erawan, where many visitors can’t handle the more demanding upper trail. Throw in the fact that Erawan is usually mobbed by hundreds of Speedo-clad tourists and, in our opinion, Huai Mae Khamin makes for a more pleasant experience. In fact, we’ll go out on a limb to call it our favourite waterfall in Kanchanaburi province of those we’ve been to, which we reckon makes it one of the best in Thailand.
Flowing down one of the mountains that rises from the western rim of the reservoir, Huai Mae Khamin is set in a pretty spot that would be worth visiting even if there were no waterfall. Tents can be rented for 225 baht per night and pitched on a broad sloping field with a great view of the lake, close enough to Tier 4 that the sound of flowing water will lull you to sleep. Basic cold-water bathroom facilities are shared among campers.
For 900 baht a night, you can opt for a simple concrete bungalow perched on stilts over a forested hillside that’s an easy five-minute walk to the waterfall and park facilities. These all come with hot-water bathrooms, three hard mattresses on raised platforms, fans and several screened windows. The best part: private balconies with picnic tables and lake views through the treetops. If seeking a peaceful place for an extended break from the real world, you could not do much better than this.
We were told that the park mainly runs on solar power; expect frequent lulls in the electricity. The internet signal on our cell phone worked well enough to send an email near park headquarters, though it was patchy along the road up. The park sees few foreign guests, but a friendly staffer at the visitor centre spoke a little English.
The park’s only restaurant — the only place to eat for miles — is set up like a Thai food court: diners must purchase a ticket and then show it to the vendors at a handful of stalls serving noodle soups, stir fries with rice, grilled chicken, som tam, fresh coffee and more — a decent selection given the remote location. There’s also a little shop selling snacks and bathroom items.
Huai Mae Khamin Waterfall is 47 km north of Erawan Waterfall; 110 km north of Kanchanaburi town; and 250 km northwest of Bangkok. There is no public transport to the waterfall. It could be hit fairly easily as a day trip if you're staying at Erawan and have your own wheels, but it would be a long haul from Kanchanaburi town if coming by motorbike. If you're willing to pay for it, most travel agenices in Kanchanaburi town should be able to arrange a private day trip to Huai Mae Khamin.
If coming from Kanchanaburi town with your own wheels, take Highway 3199 north (the same way to Erawan Waterfall). When you reach Erawan, follow a series of blue signs in English, passing the Erawan National Park gates, which will take you along the west side of Sri Nakarin Reservoir on the way to Huai Mae Khamin. North of Erawan the road leads through only remote terrain, so be sure to bring along whatever you need.
The other, longer option—and formerly the only option—is to stay on Highway 3199 along the east side of the reservoir. Around 35 km north of the Erawan turnoff, you'll either need to catch a car ferry across an inlet or take a steep switchback road around it. Continue 15 km and a left turn will take you to a ferry pier (the only sign we noticed was posted in Thai only). The ferry no longer runs regularly, so you'll most likely need to pay 300 baht for the ride across; the driver can be contacted at T: (092) 603 5171;(086) 162 2964; or (086) 166 0911. He does not speak English. It's a scenic hour-long ride across the lake. On the other side, take the first left (south) and you'll reach the park gates after seven km. When taking the ferry back across from the west side of the lake, we had to call the driver and then wait for 1.5 hours for the boat to arrive.
Just south of the ferry pier and north of Huai Mae Khamin on the west side of the lake, a dirt road winds west and arrives at Pha Tat waterfall after 72 kilometres, from where you can go a little further to Route 323 and Thong Pha Phum. We were told that this rugged road has no services of any kind; use it at your own risk.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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