While on a boat heading towards Ranong town from Ko Phayam or Ko Chang Noi, you might notice a stripe of white across one of the steep inland cliffs several kilometres away. That would be the upper tiers of Ngao Waterfall, the namesake attraction of a national park that also includes hot springs, viewpoints and mangroves.
Turning off Route 4 at any point from May to December, you should see five of the waterfall’s upper tiers snaking down a steep rock face. After stopping at the ticket gate and perhaps popping into the visitor centre, it’s an easy five-minute stroll along a sealed walkway to the lower tiers draped in the branches of flowering trees. The nature is lush at any time of year, but the falls may dry up from January to April.
While you won’t find travertine pools worthy of a swim, a stream at the foot of the falls is full of fish wiggling through crystal-clear water. Look closer and you might see the white bodies and dark-purple mouths of an unusual crab known as pu chao fa in Thai. Among the abundant flowers, you also might spot a dendrodium formosum, a delicate orchid that is Ranong’s provincial flower.
Take the trail leading uphill from the waterfall’s lowest tier or head back towards headquarters and hang a left on the steep road, and you’ll come to a helicopter pad with good views of the hills across Route 4. From here you can see Phu Khao Ya, the “Bald Hill” that’s covered in grass and is locally famous, though we can’t quite figure out why. Close by sits Wat Ban Ngao, a temple with its own grassy hill and a striking Buddha image enshrined in a large hall. Both of these minor attractions can be easily visited on the same trip as the waterfall.
Also within walking distance of Route 4 some eight kilometres north of the waterfall, Pon Rang Hot Springs are also overseen by the park. Quieter, prettier and more elaborate than Raksawarin Hot Springs, these springs include more than a dozen different pools of varying temperatures, some human-made and others naturally carved into the rocks. Flowers and footbridges fill grounds resembling a Japanese garden.
Accessed by a side road shooting west off Route 4 on the way back towards town, a large coastal mangrove forest is also overseen by the park. We haven’t made it here but rangers told us that macaques often munch on the crabs that scurry beneath the mangroves. Visitors can explore the forest on a two-kilometre-long nature trail.
Back at headquarters, rangers rent out tents for 150 baht which can be set up in a shady field near the falls. Basic fan bungalows are also available for 600 baht and you can choose between a standard room at ground level or rundown treehouse-style bungalows built atop tall steel poles and reached by steps. Pon Rang Hot Springs boasts the park’s best accommodation in the form of cottages with large porches beneath trees with flowers resembling cherry blossoms.
How to get there
Blue songthaews with English signs for “Ngao Waterfall” depart frequently from the Municipal Market on Rueangrat; they drop passengers along the highway so you’ll have to walk a kilometre to the ticket booth.
If coming on your own, take Route 4 south for 13 kilometres and follow signs pointing left to the waterfall. Pon Rang Hot Springs is also reached by a sign-posted road that cuts east from Route 4 for some three kilometres. The mangrove forest is four kilometres west of Route 4 down a road marked by a sign that says “Ranong Biosphere Reserve”; you’ll pass it on the way back to town if coming from the waterfall.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 12th January, 2017.