The Erawan Waterfalls is one of Thailand’s best natural attractions and a must-visit for any aficionado of natural beauty. Widely regarded as the most beautiful waterfall in the country, it’s located in Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi Province. This is one of dozens of national parks throughout Thailand, all of which have gorgeous attractions to visit of their own. But Erawan Waterfalls stands out amongst them, so here’s a guide on how to get there and what makes it so special.
There are seven tiers to the waterfall, each with their own name and each of which you can visit. The 1st tier is called Lai Keun Rang, or “Flowing Nest”, and it’s easily accessible from the park’s visitor center. The pools here usually contain lots of fish that will approach you and nibble at you if you take a dip. Yes, just like a fish spa! Feel free to wade in and get a free foot spa treatment.
The second tier is called Wang Matcha or “Fish Palace”, and it’s an impressively picturesque spot due to the rounded limestone over which the water flows. The deep basin also makes it a popular spot for swimming, and the small cave behind the falls is also worth exploring. It’s only a short hike from the first tier, and this is why you’re most likely to encounter other people here – most of them are content to swim and relax and picnic at this tier rather than go any further. But go further you definitely should!
The third tier is called Pha Nam Tok or “Cliff Falls”, and the trail there from the second tier isn’t far, but it is steep. Along the way, there’s a checkpoint where you’ll be prohibited from carrying any food and beverages except for a personal bottle of water. The waterfall itself, once you reach it, is the tallest of the seven tiers at 20-25 meters in height, and the view from the top is gorgeous. This is another lovely spot to take a dip in and swim with the fish.
The fourth tier is called Ok Phi Suea or “Butterfly Chest”. This spot will be fun for thrill-seekers – the water flows over rounded rocks that you can slide down into the pool below. The “chest” in its name doesn’t refer to any secret hidden treasure chests, but rather to the rocks that look like a pair of woman’s breasts. The “butterfly”, on the other hand, is probably a reference to the “phi suea samut” – a water demon who can transform into a beautiful (and big-breasted) woman!
The fifth tier is called Buea Mai Long, which translates curiously to “Unboring” or “Cannot Be Bored”. The name certainly isn’t inappropriate, since it’s a wide area well-shaded with trees and filled with short cascades and small pools. It’s lovely for swimming or simply to relax and take in natural beauty. It’s also a good idea to take a rest here since the hiking trail will get steeper and more difficult from here on out.
The sixth tier is called “Dong Prueksa” or “Flower Grove”, although strangely you’re not likely to find any flowers here. This is another short multi-tiered cascade falling into a large pool. It’s a lovely enough spot, but there’s nothing you haven’t seen already and nothing particularly unique about it. But if you’ve made it this far, there’s just one more tier to go!
The seventh and final tier is simply called “Phu Pha Erawan” or “Erawan Mountain”. If you’ve made it here, pat yourself on the back – this last stretch of the hike is perhaps the most challenging and adventurous. The water in the pool here is the most beautiful, with its emerald green color. Looking up, you can see the cliff that gives the waterfalls and the park its name, resembling the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology known as “Erawan”. Definitely a sight worth the trip!
If you haven’t guessed by now, you’ll be doing a lot of jungle hiking to make it up to the higher tiers. So be prepared with hiking shoes or trainers, because you’ll be walking through streams and climbing rope ladders. Don’t forget your swimming gear too if you plan on taking a dip. The total length of the hike is 1.6 kilometers and 4,987 feet in elevation, which depending on your hiking experience should take you between 1-1.5 hours one way. Aside from the waterfalls, there are also some sights to see along the way, such as prayer shrines and trees wrapped with colorful strips of cloth.
Admission for foreigners is 400THB for adults and 200THB for children. The park closes at 4 pm, so best to get there early in the morning. There are food stalls, shops and restaurants near the visitor center where you can get cheap and tasty Thai meals and snacks – useful to carb-load before your hike, and sate your hunger when you come back down!
Kanchanaburi is about 200 kilometers from Bangkok. There are buses to Kanchanaburi from Khao San Road, as well as a train from Thonburi station. From the main Kanchanaburi bus station, you can take the number 8170 bus to the park, or hire a songthaew for the not-inconsiderate sum of 1,000THB per person. Kanchanaburi is a resort town, so there’ll be no shortage of hotels and guesthouses to stay at.
One thing to bear in mind is which time of the year to visit. The best is between September and December, after the rainy season (when the mud might make the trail dangerous) and before the summer season (when the waterfalls might dry up). Try to avoid weekends or long holiday periods too, if you prefer not to encounter large crowds.
The waterfalls might be Erawan National Park’s main attraction, but in fact, there’s a lot more to see! Other trails are leading to caves within the park, and the rest of the province is also a popular tourist destination. There are historic sites around the area that date back to World War II, and several museums that commemorate these sites. Perhaps the most famous is the Bridge over the River Kwai, built by British prisoners of war for the Imperial Japanese Army. So stay a few days and enjoy all that Kanchanaburi has to offer besides waterfalls – even though the waterfalls alone are worth the trip!