Known for heavy forests, mountains, and waterfalls, Kanchanaburi Province is a nature lovers paradise. Kanchanaburi is the western most region of Thailand, sharing a large section of its border with Myanmar. One of the largest attractions in the area is Erawan National Park and the seven-tiered waterfall that shares it’s name.
In Thai culture, Erawan is said to be a three headed Elephant. The waterfall, and subsequently the park, was named Erawan because the water flowing over the highest peak looks like three elephant trunks. The rainy season is over however, so the falls are not as voluminous as they could be and I wasn’t able to see the “elephant trunks”.
What I did see were beautiful forests and cascading waterfalls, along with lots of fish and clear blue water.
The day started with bus number 8170. This bus drives the route from Kanchanaburi town to Erawan National Park about once an hour. The hostess at my hostel made me take a photo of the times which the bus runs and its number before telling me to walk to the end of the street, turn left and wait at the gas station. “This isn’t a bus stop, there aren’t really bus stops. Just wave at the bus when you see it, they’ll stop”
Seemed easy enough. As I waited at the gas station though, I realized I had no idea what I was looking for. Where would the number be? What type of bus? How long should I wait after the supposed pick up time?
What actually happened was that I got there a half hour early (I didn’t look at the photo, woops), grabbed coffee, and waived at 3 buses that looked like they could be a public bus. Each of them kept going until a big blue one with a big 8170 sign on the front started honking at me and pulled over only 15 minutes after the supposed pick up time. The bus was packed but I managed to find a seat right next to the door, which was left open the whole ride, not atypical for a 2nd class bus as there is no air con.
The ride was smooth sailing, and I paid my 50 thb to the driver (about $1.50) and rode the 1.5 hours to the park. One of the things I’m consistently surprised by in Thailand is the cost of transportation and how much it varies. Somehow a 4 hour drive in an aircon minibus, a 400km ride on a 1st class bus including lunch, and 4 km songtuew all cost the same 150 thb. HOW?! I digress…
After reaching the park, the bus stopped at the gate and an attendant boarded to collect the entrance fee from each passenger. Following the King’s passing many entrance fees have been waived for parks and museums and I thought this might be one of them. I was told it was not, and after paying my fee I looked up the answer. “Admission to Historical Parks and National Museums will be waived through January 2017” I was surprised that National Parks were not included in this distinction but no matter, onward we went. The price of admission was 3oo thb for foreigners, while Thais pay 100 thb.
Once I arrived and after refilling my water bottle I began the trek, which started off as a casual stroll. The first waterfall is not far from the visitor center and there is no incline at all to reach this point. I began walking at around 10:40 and there were still very few people in the park. The only other visitors I saw for the next hour were other’s who were on my bus but it was a cloudy day so it may normally be busier at this time. There is a sign at the beginning of the trail that shows the distance between each waterfall and the signs within the park are easy enough to follow though and each of the falls well labelled.
There are 7 major waterfalls, but also many smaller falls as you follow the river up to the top. Some of these smaller ones are just as beautiful as the larger stops and a lot quieter for a rest. One of the other highlights on the way up is the plethora of fish in the water. In almost all the pools they can be seen swimming around, and if you decide to jump in they will surely start to nibble. These fish, called Dr. Fish, are the kind you often see in tanks at spas and salons in the larger cities. The idea is that they eat the dead skin off of your feet and its like a pedicure! I stuck my feet in for a little and let the fish go to work. It’s very creepy feeling and not totally unpleasant, if you’re extra ticklish though I wouldn’t recommend it. My initial reaction was a squeal and “They’re eating my toes!!”. The fish don’t actually have teeth and thankfully only the little ones are interested, but still, its weird.
Once the fish finished snacking, I kept going reaching the top of the falls around 12:30. Waterfalls 5, 6, and 7 are the farthest apart from each other, and the hike was the most taxing getting to these last few. Well worth it though, because the 7th waterfall and its teal blue pool was one of the most beautiful stops of the day.
By this point I was starting to get hungry and began to make my way back down. I arrived back at the bottom of the trail around 2 o’clock and enjoyed a Pad Thai while waiting for the 3 pm bus. There are a handful of restaurants and coffee shops at the bottom of the trail, I stopped at the first one that served food. The Pad Thai was good enough to hold me over on the bus ride home. I managed to get the driver’s attention when we passed the gas station I was picked up at and he slowed down to let me jump out.
Overall it was a lovely day and I enjoyed the freedom of doing the hike on my own time. There are many options for tours to the Erawan Waterfall from Kanchanaburi and even from Bangkok but I’d recommend finding your own way as it is way cheaper and I suspect a lot more pleasant.