Cool off in the jungle
Published/Last edited or updated: 1st February, 2016
Wrapped in the pristine jungle of the Khao Phlai Dam mountains, Thong Yang Waterfall cascades over several rocky tiers on its way to the equally stunning Thong Yang Bay in the far northern reaches of Sichon district. These gorgeous falls are part of a little-known national park that charges no admission fees and doesn’t even have an English sign set up along the road. It’s as if they don’t want anyone to find the place.
Two and a half kilometres up a flower-lined road from Ao Thong Yang’s secluded beach, a brown sign with only Thai script points right into a driveway marked by Thai flags; it’s hard to miss since there’s virtually nothing else out here. A hundred metres further and you’ll notice another set of brown signs, this time posted in English, including one that points straight to “Nam Tok Nantoei” (nam tok is Thai for waterfall).
Head straight down into the car park and a pair of signs point in opposite directions: left to “Nan Toei Waterfall” and right to “Wang Sai Waterfall”. Confusingly, these labels are used for the upper (Nan Toei) and lower (Wang Sai) tiers of a single set of falls known as Thong Yang, which you won’t see on any English signs. Each with at least three notable tiers of their own, the upper and lower sections are accessed by fair-quality steps threaded through the jungle. Neither are more than a few hundred metres from the car park.
At the lower section, the steps ended at a cluster of broad rocks surrounding a few clear pools that were deep enough for a dip when we visited in mid-December. Fording the stream by hopping from rock to rock, we peered up the hill to a five-metre strip of white water splashing down a rugged slope.
Unlike some waterfalls that confine visitors to viewing platforms or can’t be fully seen, you can climb, slide and swim all over Thong Yang. Looking downhill from an outcrop of rocks perched above the most enticing swimming hole, we were treated to a magnficent view of mountain water flowing towards dense waves of tropical green.
Continuing down the slope, we stood above Thong Yang’s lowest two tiers as the sound of rushing water blended with exotic bird calls. A gentle sea breeze off the nearby Gulf of Thailand — out of view but close enough to sense — caused tall reaching palms to sway as if fanning invisible devas, who would no-doubt find the dark-emerald pools suitable for some angelic chill time.
Working our way down to the lowest tier, we nearly strolled right through an intricate web built by a five-inch-long spider that didn’t even flinch at the bumbling human.
The lowest tier is a wide, three-metre-high ledge where water churns into another swim-worthy hole. A steep incline rises on one side, engulfed in greenery and crowned by trees that stood several hundred metres above our vantage point. After taking some time to soak in this majestic landscape, we retraced our steps back to the car park and set out for the upper section.
This shorter trail emerged onto a massive rock face with ledges that come together to resemble a giant’s stairway. Water meanders through a system of gentle slopes, sharp turns and vertical drops, polishing the stone over untold time.
Gazing back towards the sea, we were met by an even more tremendous vista than the one visible from the lower section. Water bubbled past our feet. Vast trees draped in vines towered on either side. As if taunting us to try out a Superman-style jump, distant mountains gave a last upwards heave before reaching down to the Gulf of Thailand.
Surprising given how little is written about it in English, Thong Yang Waterfall far exceeded our expectations. The untamed jungle atmosphere combined with mountain vistas, clean pools and a remote yet easy-to-reach setting to make this one of our favourite waterfalls in Southern Thailand, if not the whole country. The falls become little more than a trickle from March to around July (perhaps longer), but even then, the scenery will make it worth the trip if you’re visiting Ao Thong Yang anyway.
The fact that Khao Phlai Dam National Park doesn’t charge admission fees left us scratching our heads. (Thai national parks are nearly always keen to charge foreigners an inflated rate.) When approaching the half-dozen rangers who lounged in the “visitor centre,” we were told that the park has no restaurant, accommodation or camping facilities, and no one speaks English. They appeared surprised to see a foreigner, and we got the sense that they just wanted to be left alone. We noticed some bungalows up on the hill, but apparently these were out of use or only available for school field trips and the like. If you want to stay in this area, the nearby Khoplyedum Resort is a decent option.
Even our TAT-issued brochure that supposedly covers all of Nakhon Si Thammarat province’s tourist attractions makes no mention of Thong Yang Waterfall, though it does include a brief paragraph on Khao Phlai Dam and Ao Thong Yang. This lack of recognition is a boon for travellers looking to steer clear of the crowds. We were the only visitors during a generally busy time of year for tourism in Southern Thailand, and the solitude made our experience all the more special.
Thong Yang Waterfall's two sections are a short walk from the visitor centre of Khao Phlai Dam National Park, a couple of kilometres east of Ao Thong Yang along the only inland road in the area. To reach Ao Thong Yang from Sichon, take a right off the main drag, adjacent to the hospital, and then hang a right on Route 4232 about a kilometre after the bridge over the Sichon River. From here it's another 12 kilometres north to Khao Phlai Dam, which is marked by a few faded English signs along the way. Google Maps pinpoints the trailheads to the falls at "National Park Khao Phlai Dam".
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.