If you’re up for a motorbiking adventure before or after a trip to the islands, the Ban That mountains in Trang province’s remote eastern reaches conceal some 10 waterfalls, many of them reachable on a single day trip. At least one — Ton Te — is worth the trip, but it will take some effort.
With so many options, it can take some time to figure out which waterfalls to hit. The locals we spoke to insisted that Nam Tok Ton Te (nam tok is Thai for ‘waterfall’) was the best of the bunch. Since Sai Rung, Lam Plok and Ton Tok waterfalls are all on the way, we figured on a motorbike excursion that would take us to all of these, saving Ton Yai, Ton Noi and Klai Sawan, among others, for another trip.
Avoiding the busy Highway 4 (aka Phetkasem Road), we rode south out of town and cut east on Highway 4015. Though bumpy in spots, it was a scenic cruise past rice fields and tiny villages where the old folks, including some of the women, still go bare-chested with only the traditional sarong wrapped around their waists. Framed by tall rubber trees and flower blossoms, the mountains soon appeared.
Turning right onto smooth Highway 4264, which runs north to south at the foot of the mountains and accesses all of the falls on our agenda, we sped south towards the turnoff for Nam Tok Sai Rung. A back road carried us to cooler air, and a local teenager tried to tell us something as he cruised by. A few minutes later, we arrived to find a ranger without many teeth who informed us that the falls were closed for safety reasons. We later learned that several people once drowned here in similar conditions. “Come back in December,” we were told.
We carried on south and barely caught the sign for Lam Plok Waterfall. Located at the end of another remote side lane, the parking area was deserted and signs posted only in Thai, but we could just make out a large waterfall crashing over a cliff through the trees. Quickly the trail became slippery, boulders sloping down to menacing rapids.
The falls weren’t far, that we could hear, and we tried to hop along the bank in search of a glimpse. But a very steep hill with no visible trails towered to our right, and the rushing water made it impossible to wade up the riverbed. Strike two, and this time the sound of the waterfall made it all the more tantalising. A sandy beach where a few more teenagers looked surprised to see us as they swam in the emerald water served as a minor consolation.
After a quick picnic at one of the tables overlooking the tiny visible bit of Lam Plok, we hopped back on the main road and sped towards Ton Te and Ton Tok, determined to actually see a waterfall. Passing through a village of dilapidated wooden houses that reminded us of the American Wild West, several blue signs pointed the way to Ton Te. Several kilometres further, we arrived at what looked like the gate to a small national park, though it was open and no fee was collected.
A large parking area with pavilions and public restrooms gave way to a decades-old brick and cement trail. Though it’s now overtaken in places by massive roots and fallen trees, we were happy to have a decent path to follow after our experience at Lam Plok. The tranquil half-kilometre hike led up steep stairways piercing through dense old-growth jungle. Side trails often veered to mini-waterfalls along the way.
Stepping between a last few boulders, we hopped down to a deep pool fed by whitewater. Hopping from rock to rock until we reached the centre of the stream, we were met by a jaw-dropping view of Ton Te Waterfall cascading down a vast collection of cliffs interspersed by greenery. This was only a partial glimpse of the lower half of the many-tiered waterfall, which stands well over 100 metres high with a pool suitable for swimming at its base.
On the way back, we followed a sign pointing left towards Ton Tok Waterfall, pulling over to gaze back over the river from atop a small bridge. As it turned out, this was a good place to stop. That top half of Ton Te that was hidden earlier could now be clearly viewed, hanging over the lush landscape like a picture on a wall.
A few kilometres later, we arrived to find the picturesque but small Ton Tok Waterfall splashing into a river that runs alongside a little house. The area had been recently flooded and we couldn’t get close enough to take a decent photo. Then it rained and we got our motorbike stuck, spending 20 minutes pulling it out of the mud in a downpour. Okay, so this wasn’t a perfect day of waterfall hopping, but views of limestone mountains on the way back made it a little better.
How to get there
Ton Te is 50 kilometres southeast of Trang town in Palian district, and all of the waterfalls are marked by English/Thai signs off Highway 4264. Motorbike or hired taxi are the only ways to go apart from hitchhiking; minibuses to Palian can drop you along 4264 but it’s a long walk from there to any of the falls. The 3G signal on our smartphone (AIS carrier) worked fine throughout the trip, and all of the falls were marked on our maps app. No admission was charged at any of them.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 7th February, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.