A haunting set of falls
Published/Last edited or updated: 28th March, 2017
Flowing to the north of Muak Lek in a far-flung corner of the Khao Yai region, Chet Sao Noi Waterfall usually gets overlooked by travellers. It's not Thailand’s tallest, widest, or most popular waterfall, but with a haunting backstory and scenery that's right out of a fantasy novel, there’s something mesmerising about Chet Sao Noi.
Chet Sao Noi consists of a series of seven tiers cascading one to three metres into emerald travertine pools that are the stuff soap commercials are made of — just a glimpse and one feels refreshed. While looking similar to falls like Erawan in Kanchanaburi, Chet Sao Noi is unique when compared to the waterfalls of Khao Yai National Park.
Up to 100 metres of stream separate one step from the next, and at some points the clear water seems to come to a standstill, which is odd considering relatively sizable falls are just a stone’s throw downstream.
Adding to its mystical allure are numerous banyan trees dipping their roots into the water. These distinctive trees with snake-like roots and broad hanging branches are considered sacred by many Thais, and an area filled with banyans is said to be a place where spirits dwell. In any case, the banyans contribute a sense of spookiness to Chet Sao Noi, as though they might wake up and stroll around after dark.
Chet Sao Noi’s troubling history adds to the eerie vibe. A local legend states that the falls were named after seven child sisters who tragically drowned while swimming in one of the pools (chet means “seven” and sao noi, “little girls”). Although the falls may simply be named after its seven separate steps, the story doesn’t seem far-fetched. While some pools are safe, there’s a strict no-swimming policy on others due to powerful undercurrents that have (according to one local at least) caused a handful of drownings in more recent years. Particularly towards the middle and end of rainy season from July to October, swimming in the lower pools is not considered safe.
Gentle emerald water cascades over long, broad stones that appear to have been smoothed by giants and draped in fuzzy moss. Banyans mingle with enticing but deadly pools as bright red leaves scatter on the banks. Indeed, the experience of Chet Sao Noi feels like being in a surreal landscape created by an imaginative artist.
Chet Sao Noi waterfall and the small national park that bears its name is definitely an out-of-the-way destination, but worth the trip. Orange local buses run all day from the bus terminal in Saraburi to Muak Lek town before continuing directly to the national park. The area is popular with local tourists (if visiting on a weekend be prepared for a small crowd), and these orange buses were set up specifically to shuttle people to and from the park.
If coming from Pak Chong or Nakhon Ratchasima, catch a bus bound for Bangkok or Saraburi and hop off at Muak Lek, then jump on the orange bus or a motorbike taxi to the park. You could also catch a train to Muak Lek and walk less than a kilometre to the bus stop.
If you’ve got your own wheels, follow the signs for Muak Lek off Route 2 (if coming from the east it's a clearly signposted left exit that loops you around to the north), head straight on through town and then follow the signs for Namtok Chet Sao Noi National Park. The falls are located along route 2224 some 10 kilometres due north of Muak Lek town. Admission is free, and if you find yourself entranced by the place enough to stick around, camping tents can be rented from a small national park visitor centre. A few local style restaurants operate out of the parking lot, but only during daylight hours. The park is open daily from 07:00 to 17:00.
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.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Khao Yai National Park