Tonsai waterfall is a modest sized cascade found in the thick jungle setting of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park in Phuket’s northeastern interior. It’s the lesser known of the park’s two waterfalls, with far more people visiting Bang Pae waterfall and the attached Gibbon Rehabilitation Project on another side of the park.
It’s possible to reach Tonsai by walking the eight-kilometre path from Bang Pae, but most arrive by car or motorbike to its main entrance, found at the end of the road leading east from Thalang town centre. It’s just three kilometres away from the traffic mayhem of Thepkrassatri Road (the airport road) yet the park is completely lush and peaceful, giving you a glimpse of what Phuket might have been like before its jungles were cleared away for tin mining and tourism.
As you approach Tonsai the houses lining the road thin out and make way for rubber plantations and pineapple fields, and the park’s jungle-clad hills soon come into view. The entrance is found at the end of the road, manned on our visit by a grumpy semi-official looking man who collected the entry fee. Foreign adults are charged 200 baht for entry, while it’s 100 baht for foreign children.
Inside the entrance is a large parking area, two simple restaurants (one was closed on our visit) and a visitor information centre, which was also closed. Some small signs are attached to a few trees here and there with some basic information about the park’s flora and fauna. Unlike Bang Pae waterfall, which is reached by taking a path along the stream, Tonsai’s falls are found just a short walk away from the car park.
Most park visitors come to sit and relax at the base of the falls, where there’s a small pool, but wanting to get our 200 baht’s worth we decided to try one of the walking trails. At the start of the trail is a large sign with a map of the different paths. One is a 600-metre loop that takes you up to the top of the falls then down the other side back to the parking area. Another trail is a bigger loop about two kilometres in length.
With our kids (aged seven and nine) in tow we opted for the shorter trail, which was not difficult for them to navigate, though somewhat slippery and steep in places. We were all able to manage it in flip-flops though we’ll be sure to bring more sturdy sandals or walking shoes next time. And some mosquito repellent.
We had a few fallen tree trunks to scramble over but otherwise the trail was well tended. Aside from some spiders, small red crabs, ants, and a lone turtle swimming in the pond near the entrance, we didn’t see any wildlife, though we’ve been told it’s a good place for birdwatching.
The trees and plant life here are simply gorgeous and oversized in that jungly ‘Lost World’ kind of way – among the many trees in the tangle of jungle are towering bamboo trees and palms with gigantic leaves. Some colourful mushrooms and exotic looking flowers pop up here and there to add colour to the deep green scene. The park is also home to the rare white backed palm species (kerriodoxa elegans), which are easily spotted with their distinctive circular palm leaves.
Along the path are a number of stations with signs pointing out some aspect of the jungle’s eco-system including buttress trees and termite hills.
Tonsai waterfall should have at least a trickle year-round, though it’s best to visit during the rainier months of May through October. Those wanting to see a waterfall with a bit more whoosh to it are better off going to Bang Pae, which is larger, though we reckon the jungle trail is better at Tonsai, in part because there are so few people on it. On our visit on a weekend in August we had the trail all to ourselves.
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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