M.A. Van Wey Travel & Photo

Waterfalls, Glorious Waterfalls

As our train bound for Kanchanaburi rattled through the Bangkok suburbs and emerged at last into the Thai countryside, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scenery.  We passed little villages built on stilts and wooden plank walkways to keep above the monsoon floods.  We passed lotus ponds and rice paddies where huge flocks of Asian cranes would erupt and soar alongside the train.  Beautiful white egrets gathered en masse in the small trees surrounding the ponds and lakes, like odd feathery fruit trees.  I turned to Jennifer, sitting across from me also enthralled with the scenery, and said “I’ve got a pretty good feeling about this, like, I think we could live here.”

We pulled into Kanchanaburi through the back door, as trains often seem to do, avoiding the congestion and bustle of the main roads.  We had arranged to stay at a small B&B style place outside of town, a quiet base of operations for exploring the area by motorbike and bicycle.  Stuart, a Canadian burn-out from the 60’s generation, was the proprietor.  Not exactly the savviest host, he was nonetheless a colorful and entertaining character.  We bunked up at his place in an open air bamboo loft and relaxed into a much slower, quieter pace of life since we arrived in Thailand.  Stuart had a couple bicycles and a motorbike on hand so we explored our surroundings dutifully.  An afternoon of peddling took us winding through a couple small villages, through farmland and along the beautiful River Kwai.  At one point we lost ourselves in a university campus, passing dormitories, athletic fields, classrooms and college kids chatting in little groups: A familiar scene yet still strange to see in Thailand.

The following day we opted for motorized transport and extended our exploration much farther up the river valley towards Burma.  We heard of a national park with beautiful waterfalls about 50km up the valley, so we packed our swim suits, towels, and camera and zipped along the highway shoulder at a blistering pace.  Avoiding massive trucks overladen with sugarcane and trying to keep the little put-put engine from overheating, we climbed higher into the hills and into lush jungle and canopy.  The river, on our left for the duration of the drive, was stunningly beautiful.  We watched it as it wound and braided its way through the hills, slicing into banks and then widening again into an immense green plane.  The trees started to lean into the river from the banks as they grew larger, the river now offered only brief snatches of its deep green mystery.  The road became windier and steeper, the temperature cooler, and the clouds more substantial as we climbed into this hill country.  Too soon we arrived at the gate to the park and found the trails to take us to the waterfalls.

Erawan National Park is a popular attraction for both Thai and foreign tourists alike.  Despite the popularity it’s easy to find your own quiet spot by a waterfall here, as there are seven of them.  Rather, there are seven major waterfalls and dozens of smaller ones between them.  The trail climbs high into the hills, passing one series of cascades after another until you come to the seventh and final cascade.  The majority of visitors stay down at the first couple cascades, so the farther you climb the more seclusion you’re rewarded with.  As I made my way towards the first set of falls I tried to clear my mind of all the waterfalls I’ve seen over the years and the doubts that these wouldn’t compare.  As it turns out I wouldn’t have been disappointed either way.  The falls here are in fact the most beautiful I’ve seen in my life.  As I climbed the trail higher I felt my jaw dropping lower.  Unlike waterfalls I’ve seen before, these ones are created from limestone deposits.  Like stalactites in a cave, the dissolved limestone in the water slowly accumulated in massive cascading formations of solid rock.  The rocks appear as waterfalls in their own way, and combined with the turquoise water flowing over them the picture is surreal.

Determined to obtain a little seclusion, Jennifer and I set our course for the top.  At the bottom we passed a Thai movie set and crew in the midst of filming in the falls.  We stopped and gawked at the scene: A bunch of African’s dressed in loincloths holding spears and bows, faces painted and dancing (or fighting).  As if this place wasn’t surreal enough, we just shook our heads in confusion as we continued up towards the top.  On our way up we passed every imaginable form of waterfall: Fat ones, tall ones, big ones, little ones, round ones, sharp ones, ones stacked on top of each other, and ones hidden under dense canopy.  At the top we were hassled by “fierce monkeys”, as the sign declared.  Unaware that food is forbidden after the second set of falls (for obvious reasons now), we had a group of macaques snarl and lunge after our little packet of crackers.  At one point I even had a monkey jump on my back to get at the cracker I was hiding.  Still I hold a prejudice against macaques because of this, and I’m seriously planning on bringing a sling-shot or a pellet-gun next time I enter “fierce monkey” territory.

Fierce monkey showing his stuff

On our way back down, determined to shake that strange sense of humiliation by monkey, I found a lovely waterfall and went swimming.  Apparently the fish at Erawan like to nibble on your feet (harmless I’m told, they like the dead skin), however I wasn’t aware of this so as I waded into the water and felt little nips and pinches I freaked out and screamed like a girl.  After watching my escapades, it took a good 15 minutes of convincing before Jennifer followed me in.  It was a lovely swim, a big, deep blue pool to paddle in and a huge waterfall to climb behind.  Standing under the waterfall, letting it pound into my head and shoulders with tremendous force, I felt exhilarated and completely aware of how alive I am.  By this time the sun was starting to get low and we still had a good hike and drive ahead of us.  Shivering the whole way back on the motorbike in wet clothes, I still felt alive but not quite as exhilarated any more.

The longer we stayed at Stuart’s place, and the more we talked to him, the shadier he appeared to be.  Besides being the only people staying at his place, which could easily house 20, many other little things started to pile up.  Conversations seemed to steer in the direction of why he can’t enter the US, his connections with Thai mafia, and other topics you don’t want your host to be talking about.  When we mentioned his name to people around town, there seemed to be a unanimous response of an awkward nod and shifty eyes, and something like “yeah he’s interesting…oh yeah I know Stuart, haha…” etc.  The final straw was a night out drinking with him, where he insisted taking us to a girly bar.  After about 30 minutes he disappeared. Waiting for him awkwardly, surrounded by older guys trying to hit on young Thai women, we decided to mosey on down the road to a bar that doesn’t revolve around sex tourism.  We had a good night, met a couple backpackers from Australia and the States, and eventually had to get home.  Stuart’s place was about 15km outside of town, and although he said he would give us a ride home, he was nowhere to be seen.  After trying his phone for a while with no luck, we took a taxi.  Alas, the gate was locked and he never gave us a key, so we had to climb the fence to get in.  Finally settled in and ready for sleep, we hear Stuart pull up in his car, plastered, and with a prostitute in tow.  In the middle of the night we hear some shouting, confusion, a car with a Thai guy pulls up and walks inside Stuart’s, more commotion, and the guy and girl both leave.  The next day, as we’re trying to decide what to do, his caretaker/maid quits without warning.  At this point our unanimous decision is to move to a guest house in town.

After such an awkward ordeal we were relieved to finally be amongst other backpackers in a central location in Kanchanaburi.  It was here at the Jolly Frog guest house we would spend the next 12 days setting our roots in the city.  Soon enough we would have a job offer, a house of our own, and our own means of transportation.


2 Comments so far
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You are living the dream Matt. Wish I were there.

Comment by Aimee


Comment by Brean

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