Photo: A sleepy riverside setting.

Tham Pla National Park

Our rating:

Tham Pla (Fish Cave) is around 17 kilometres out of Mae Hong Son on the Soppong and Pai road and is the most famous feature of the vast Tham Pla, Namtok Pha Sua National Park which covers much of this mountainous north-western corner of the province.

The shallow cave is set at the foot of some low cliffs, in attractive grounds conveniently located just off Highway 1095. It’s a pleasant enough spot with the pond in the cave feeding a creek that ripples through the well-tended park style grounds. The main attraction for local visitors is the cave itself—packed with phluang fish (a kind of carp) and these have to be some of the best-fed ones in Thailand. You can buy small bags of food for them, a popular activity for visitors wishing to earn some merit points.

Insatiable. Photo taken in or around Tham Pla National Park, Mae Hong Son, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Insatiable. Photo: Mark Ord

If you’re coming from Soppong them you’ve probably had your fill of caves for a while and there are a million and one spots in Thailand where you can fling stale bread at podgy fish, so for us the best part would be a stroll through the attractive gardens. That’s if you elect to buy a ticket since, as it is a national park, you’ll have to pay 100 baht for the privilege.

If you’d prefer not to pay up, there is a string of excellent car-park cafes where identikit eateries knock up barbeques, sticky rice and papaya salad with a choice of sizzling chicken, fish (not cave ones) or pork on offer. Pick your own from the grill for what for us is the tastiest lunch to be found between Soppong and Mae Hong Son. There’s also fine coffee to be had and though the cafe is actually beyond the ticket booth within the park itself ticket sellers happily waved us through when we explained we’d seen the fish several times before and were just after one of their reinvigorating brews.

Great for a bite to eat. Photo taken in or around Tham Pla National Park, Mae Hong Son, Thailand by Mark Ord.

Great for a bite to eat. Photo: Mark Ord

There is more to all this than a few fish—the cave is actually part of the huge Tham Pla, Namtok Pha Sua National Park stretching between the Burmese border and the Pai River. It seems a shame that this magnificent stretch of wilderness is trivialised by a bunch of overfed carp and frappuccinos although we guess it does generate park income. If you do go the coffee shop, stop by the small visitors’ centre next door.

Time permitting you could detour to the impressive and also easily accessed Pa Sua Waterfall which lies aside the road leading to Ban Rak Thai whose turn off is just a few kilometres past the Fish Cave. (Save them for later if you’re planning a subsequent day trip up that way.) These falls—especially picturesque in the rainy season—are part of the same national park although in this case come without accompanying ticket booth.

In wet season, Pa Sua Waterfall is great. Photo taken in or around Tham Pla National Park, Mae Hong Son, Thailand by Mark Ord.

In wet season, Pa Sua Waterfall is great. Photo: Mark Ord

The natural setting is a bonus and a short walk downhill from the roadside car-park takes affords spectacular views over the falls. For those with time and inclination you can follow trails around and past the falls into the adjacent forest. Nam Tok Pha Sua is definitely worth a visit and while we wouldn’t go out of our way to visit the fish, it does make a fine spot to break up the journey if you’re travelling from Pai or Soppong.

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Tham Pla National Park
17km from Mae Hong Son on road to Pai
Admission: 100 baht for adults, 50 baht for children

Location map for Tham Pla National Park

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