Very popular among Thais
Look southeast from Chanthaburi town and you’ll likely spot the mountains of Nam Tok Phlio National Park, where the namesake waterfall joins a memorial to a 19th-century Thai queen to attract busloads of Thai visitors.
The road leading to the main gate usually bustles with crowds browsing the souvenir shops and food stalls. Look left after passing the ticket booth and you’ll immediately see the stream where visitors join the soro brook carp in clear pools of mountain water. On the way down we spotted an iguana honing in on a green tree viper (we think) as people passed a couple of metres away.
Visitors can head up to a viewing platform or down some steps to hit a pool at the foot of the falls. Either way you’re denied an unobstructed view because the water plummets down a rocky slope partially blocked by branches. The falls flows year round, roaring down and billowing mist into the air late in the rainy season. Though it’s certainly more than a glorified stream, we think Nam Tok Phlio is mediocre as waterfalls in Thailand go.
On a hill near the falls, two memorials to Queen Sunandha were built by order of her husband, King Rama V. They combine to tell a story of love and tragedy that make it easier—especially for the Thais—to humanise these towering figures of Thai history. They also help to explain why Nam Tok Phlio is one of the most widely visited waterfalls in Thailand.
Made of laterite and now covered in thick moss, the 1876-built Alongkorn Chedi marks a spot where the king courted the queen-to-be two years earlier. In 1881, Rama V put his heartbreak on display by adding a pyramid after Sunandha drowned when her royal barge sunk in the Chao Phraya River. The pyramid contains ashes of the queen and visitors should be as respectful at both sites as they would be in a royal cemetery.
A nature trail begins near the falls and runs uphill through the jungle for 1.2 kilometres before dropping hikers near the chedi. It joins the waterfall, the memorials, a visitor centre and a few bungalows in a compact area, which is the only part of the national park that most travellers see.
Another area that may be of interest is Nam Tok Trok Nong, a smaller three-tier waterfall set on an eastern slope of the park near Highway 3277, a 24-kilometre drive from Nam Tok Phlio. This quieter spot has a campground with tents available for 225 baht per night, or 30 baht if bringing your own.
There’s also the small Khlong Narai Waterfall located 11 kilometres north of Nam Tok Phlio on the way back to Chanthaburi town. We’ve not yet been to either of these, but both could be worth a visit if you seek more tranquil surrounds.
In total the park covers 135 square kilometres, most of it inaccessible, with the highest peak reaching 924 metres. The rainforest has been extensively logged in the past but what’s left, along with significant regrowth, still holds its share of wildlife, mainly birds including the Siamese fireback, silver pheasant, chestnut-headed partridge and the blue-rumped pitta. We reckon the two-kilometre trail near Nam Tok Trok Nong is the best bet for bird watching.
Camping is not allowed at Nam Tok Phlio and we wouldn’t want to stay there anyway due to the crowds. Reaching it from Chanthaburi town is fairly easy, but if you have the time, we think Nam Tok Krathing at Khao Kitchakut National Park offers a superior experience. Nam Tok Phlio was crowded when we last visited on a weekday and it gets busiest on weekends and holidays.
Before hitting Phlio Waterfall you could stop at Wat Mangkon Buppharam, an elaborate Chinese-style temple set 200 metres west of the turnoff for the park. Add in that along with one or two of the park’s other waterfalls, and this would be a fine way to spend a day outside of Chantaburi town.
Nam Tok Phlio and park headquarters are located two kilometres off the eastbound lanes of Sukhumvit Road (Route 3), 14 kilometres southeast of Chanthaburi town. A songthaew driver quoted us 500 baht for a private round trip from in front of Thetsaban Market; we’d expect the price to be higher if booking it through a hotel. Public songthaews also pass nearby but are difficult to find due to the many drivers pushing foreign travellers into private trips.
Address: Off Sukhumvit Rd, 14 km from Chanthaburi
T: (039) 434 528;
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º10'44.59" E, 12º31'40.51" N
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Admission: For foreigners: 200 baht for adults, 100 baht for children
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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