Having optimistically followed countless trails to signposted waterfalls only to see the road disintegrate into a muddy track or to arrive at a dribble of water trickling over a boulder, you can excuse an iota of cynicism as we set out for Champatong.
The sign from the junction of route 1193 heading north to Mae Chai and 1127 running between Phayao City and the falls, said 12 kilometres and, again unlike certain others we’ve visited that indicate 1 because the 2’s long dropped off, this really was 12 so - a good start. This waterfall however was a good one. Well at least the setting was beautiful and the photos looked good since, to be honest, we never made it to the top due to a minor technical problem. (i.e. inappropriate footwear.)
So: A, it’s well worth a visit and B, wear sensible shoes. The scenic country lane leads up to hills on the edge of Doi Luang National Park so there’s an admission fee to be paid and there’s park buildings scattered around the car-park at the entrance. The visitor’s centre wasn’t much to write home about but we’ve seen worse and the park HQ, car-park and start of the trail are set in a delightful narrow valley filled with lush jungle and surrounded by forested hill slopes. A stream ripples down the valley and following this up will lead you to several levels of cascades and falls.
We are not for concrete paths in national parks so it was good to see the trail was rough and natural though as it follows the stream it involves a considerable amount of clambering over slippery rocks. Park wardens said it takes around 30 minute’s climb to reach the main levels so these aren’t falls which are easily surrounded by picnicking Thai teenagers. The surrounding gallery forest is well watered and lush; – what we’d call jungle, rather than the dry dipterocarp forest common to lower elevations in these parts. We did spot a leech or two looking forward to meeting some visitors but that’s a sign of a healthy forest.
There are certainly longer trails in the area, and one continues from the upper level to a jagged peak, but as we said visitor’s centre wasn’t the most informative so you’d have to pay one of the rangers to guide you. This is a picturesque, natural, jungle setting only around 20 kilometres from town and well worth a trip if you have time.
You could either include this on our Kwam Phayao circumnavigation or if you’re heading straight from Phayao it’s signposted off the main route number 1 heading north out of town. You’ll reach a crossroads with the 1193 heading south to Wat Anoloya and north towards Mae Chai. Keep straight on. Signs are scarce once you’ve turned off so ignore any side roads and just keep heading for the hills.
By Mark Ord.