Thundering over a 150-metre-high cliff draped in jungle, Haew Narok is by far Khao Yai’s largest waterfall. We even rank it among the most impressive in Thailand, at least during the rainy months, but it does take some effort and prior planning to reach.
The experience begins at a car park with a shop and restaurant that’s only open at busy times of year. From here visitors embark on a one-kilometre sealed trail with a wooden footbridge fording a jungle-rimmed river. It might be tempting to jump in for a swim here, but the current is often stronger than it looks and you do not want to get swept downstream.
Take it slow and keep your eyes peeled as you hike: along with broad reaching palms, huge centipedes, an array of multi-coloured mushrooms and butterflies, we spotted a thumb-size insect with a body that looked exactly like a freshly fallen green leaf.
With the sound of crashing water looming closer, we passed through an old “life-saving fence” with pillars topped by elephant sculptures and colourful ribbons. Thais stop here to ask the terrestrial spirits for safe passage. A few steps further we could see the chocolate-milk-coloured river foaming swiftly towards the precipice that tops Haew Narok’s upper tier.
The trail then comes to a steep network of stairways piercing down through leaning bamboo. Keep a hand on the rails, as a tumble here would not be pretty. Towards the bottom of the stairs, mist from the violently crashing falls billowed through the air.
We then arrived at a pair of observation platforms with views covering the entire second level of the falls, which dwarfs the other two tiers. From here you can glimpse part of the upper tier but the smaller third tier is just out of sight down below.
During a July visit the falls were so powerful that we couldn’t stand on either of the platforms for longer than a minute without getting soaked by the spray. On a May visit, the falls were more angelic than powerful and it was possible to hike down the hill towards the pool that stretches between the second and third tiers, which becomes a dangerous swirl of whitewater in the rainy months.
Many budget Khao Yai tour companies skip Haew Narok on their standard group day tours due to the location 22 kilometres south of the visitor centre, so be sure to ask before booking if you’re keen to see it. Khao Yai Garden Lodge is one company that typically includes Haew Narok on its day tours.
While it’s worth visiting for most of the year, a ranger told us that Haew Narok sometimes dries up completely in March and April.
How to get there
Head straight south from the visitor centre and follow signs continuing south. After 22 km the car park is signposted on the right.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 18th September, 2016.