January 2017 – When I started planning our month-long trip to Thailand, I wanted to be sure we saw some truly spectacular places. After doing many image searches for things like “the most beautiful places in Thailand,” I came across a photo of a waterfall that took my breath away.
I found out it was Erawan Waterfall which is located in Erawan National Park in Thailand’s province of Kanchanaburi. Not only did this waterfall look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the name sounded like it too!
Wondering if there were other gems like this in the province of Kanchanaburi, I found an image of Huay Maekhamin Waterfall in Khuean Srinagarindra National Park. If it was possible, that waterfall seemed even more stunning but was even more remote.
I wanted to be sure we would see these exotic waterfalls without any crowds, at our own pace and on our own terms, and I quickly realized it would not only be more efficient but would be more fun and we’d get more out of our experience if we worked with a professional and personal tour guide service.
Mellow Adventures, a company that has achieved TripAdvisor’s highest standard — the Certificate of Excellence — offers fully customized, private tours in Kanchanaburi that are designed to meet whatever unusual plans a traveler might have. When I emailed them that we wanted to be at Erawan Waterfall long before any of the commercial tour groups showed up, I got an email back saying: “We’ll pick you up at your hotel at 6:30 a.m.”
Not every vacationer wants to have an appointment at that hour, but we were on a mission to hike alongside these cascades without encountering anyone else on the trail, and we were thrilled at the prospect of photographing the many tiers of Erawan Falls for a few hours in total solitude.
The owner of Mellow Adventures, Steffen, is Norwegian and he is fluent in English and German and speaks Thai as well. He responded to my emails from the US very quickly, and in no time we devised a plan for two days of custom tours that would take us to both Erawan Waterfall and Huay Maekhamin Waterfall and also include a tour of a remote cave, kayaking on a river in the jungle and even sampling some good Thai food which he felt was critical to appreciating Thai culture.
When we finally met in person (rather bleary eyed) at 6:30 a.m. on the appointed morning, he introduced us to Mai, a young woman who had been a tour guide in Kanchanburi and at Erawan National Park for seven years before she joined the Mellow Adventures team last year.
As we drove to Erawan National Park together, we passed through an area that has several elephant encounter sanctuaries. Even though an elephant encounter wasn’t on our itinerary, it was fun to see the signs for these places on the road!
Elephants are very important and much beloved in Thailand, and we saw many creative elephant decorations along the way, including elephant street lights!
Mai explained to us that the elephant is an integral part of Erawan National Park. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the god of thunder, lightning and rainstorms, Indra, rides a huge white elephant across the sky. This elephant has three heads and is known as “Erawan” in Thai.
At Erawan Falls, the highest of the waterfall’s seven tiers has three parallel cascades that resemble the trunks of three elephant heads.
In no time we reached the entrance to Erawan National Park and the Visitors Center.
Our guide, Mai, has hiked to the top of Erawan Falls many dozens of times, and she described what we would see at each level as we hiked in. Erawan Waterfall is an extremely popular place to swim, as the waterfalls have many shallow pools filled with warm, turquoise water. There are posted guidelines for swimwear, but we found out later they aren’t strictly enforced.
The beginning of the trail is a wide, paved path, and it wandered through the jungle.
Soon, we heard the sounds of rushing water, and then suddenly we saw the lowest part of the falls in front of us. The water was cascading from one flat slab of rock down onto the next.
We ran to the water in glee, quickly scouting out the best angles to frame this tropical jewel.
The pools of aquamarine water were so inviting, it seemed like a fairy land.
Erawan Falls is actually a series of seven waterfalls, each with its own personality and flair. The hike begins at the lowest level and gradually climbs to the top, passing by each level on the way.
As we hiked from one level up to the next, we found ourselves in the most deliciously thick jungle. The leaves of one plant were absolutely enormous!
We just loved the shapes of the rocks along these falls. There were so many places where the water formed a shallow pool on a flat rock and then fell over the edge, like Nature’s most perfect infinity pool.
The hiking trail wandered alongside the stream as we climbed higher and higher, and we got glimpses between the trees of the water spilling over the rocks here and there.
At one point on the trail we came to a tree that was completely adorned in brightly colored women’s dresses. Mai explained to us that these dresses had been placed there as a token of thanks to the tree spirit Ta Kien Tong.
She told us that many Thai people ask this goddess for help or for blessings in their lives. When she responds by giving them what they requested, they show their appreciation by bringing her a beautiful dress.
The trees in the jungle are wonderfully gnarled with lots of exposed roots, and one had a fabulously twisted vine growing up its trunk.
Some vines are so strong they make a natural swing.
As we ascended the hiking trail from one level of Erawan Waterfall to the next, we found beautiful surprises at every turn.
The water was so clear in some places that we could see fish swimming just below the surface.
The aquamarine pools were so inviting…
The jungle was filled with unusual plants that we didn’t recognize and we saw some magnificent flowers too.
Perhaps the most wonderful surprise for me came as I turned a corner in the trail and looked up to see this image right in front of me:
We crept closer, tip-toeing between the exposed and curving tree roots.
Again, we saw fish swimming near the edges of the turquoise pool.
This was just too gorgeous — time for a selfie!
The trail had switched from pavement to well packed dirt a while ago, and we were glad to have sturdy trail running shoes rather than flip-flops to hike in. Now the trail suddenly headed straight up a long set of stairs.
And at the top was another stunning pool surrounded by ancient trees with wonderful claw-like roots.
I moved a little to one side, and again, I was blown away by the beauty of Erawan Falls.
We were now at Level 6 of the seven levels of the waterfall, and we paused to take stock. We had more hiking planned for the afternoon, and it was already very late in the morning.
It had taken us over three hours just to get this far, because we were so busy taking photos.
The seventh level of Erawan Waterfall is where the three namesake falls — the trunks of the three headed elephant — can be seen. However, because there hadn’t been much rain lately, Mai said they didn’t have much water.
Our cameras were already bursting at the seams with all the photos we’d taken, and the hike to the seventh level would involve some scrambling to reach, so we opted to turn around at this point and head back down.
What a shock it was to see how crowded the trail had become at the lower levels and to see all the people swimming in the pools. The gentle spirit of stillness and solitude we had savored all morning was gone. But the pools sure looked refreshing!
As we hiked back towards the parking lot, we were surprised to see a warning sign for a cobra!!
We didn’t see any snakes, but the flowers were lovely.
At this point, we had completed only half of our first day of tours with Mellow Adventures, and we had a lot more in store!
There’s more info and more links for Erawan National Park, Kanchanaburi and Mellow Adventures below…
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More info and links:
- Erawan National Park – Official website for the home of Erawan Waterfall
- Mellow Adventures – Personalized, custom tours of Kanchanaburi, Thailand
(email Mellow Adventures here and see Tripadvisor reviews of Mellow Adventures here)
- Train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi – Our experience and a fun way to make the trip
- Bure Homestay – Where we stayed in Kanchanaburi
- Location of Erawan Waterfall and Mellow Adventures in the town of Kanchanaburi – Interactive Google Maps
Other blog posts from our travels in Thailand:
- Snorkeling Ko Rok with Dive & Relax – Underwater Magic in Thailand!
- Cheow Lan Lake Tour in Khao Sok with Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House
- Greenery Panvaree Floating Raft House – Khao Sok National Park… Wow!
- Kanchanaburi, Thailand – History, Caves, Monkeys & Exotic Fruit!
- Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures
- Train from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi – A Ride Through Thailand’s Countryside
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Bangkok or Disney’s Epcot Center?
- One Day in Bangkok – A trip on the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat!
Waterfalls we have seen in our travels:
- Fossil Creek Waterfall – A Pretty Hike to a Scenic Cascade 04/14/23
- Waterfalls in Michigan’s U.P. – Tahquamenon, Bond Falls & Black River Jewels 10/05/18
- Huay Mae Khamin – Thailand’s Most Beautiful Waterfall – Mellow Adventures 02/15/17
- Grand Staircase Escalante Nat’l Monument – Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike 11/11/16
- Bryce Canyon National Park – “Mossy Cave” – Mystery Waterfall! 10/18/16
- Jasper National Park – Columbia Icefields & Athabasca Falls 07/12/16
- Watkins Glen State Park NY – Absolutely Breathtaking! 09/10/15
- Waterfalls, Wildlife & Wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes 08/30/15
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls! 06/20/15
- Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons 06/18/15
- Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) 06/10/15
- A Jewel of a Waterfall – Great Smoky Mountains National Park 05/12/15
- Agua Azul & Misol-Ha – Waterfall Adventures in Mexico 03/30/12
National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Blog posts from our visits to these majestic places
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Incredible – exotic, other-worldy, breath-taking…THANK YOU for taking me along !
It was all those things and it was so much fun for photography too. We’re happy to share our experience in this special place!!
Beautiful photos for sure…..but I saw several bamboo vipers, cobras and anacondas in the photos…youmust have missed them….they were there….I’m pretty sure!
Very funny. It’s thick jungle out there… maybe they were lurking in the underbrush!!
Loved the waterfall pictures! I’m so glad you made this trip… We are now in Tucson, perhaps we will meet up again soon
Thanks, Elaine, Erawan is a beautiful spot and Thailand is an interesting country to visit. I hope we’ll catch up with you in AZ!!
Beautiful photos! Curious what time of year were you there? I’m thinking of going but here it may not be worth it during the dry season. I will be there in April.
Thank you, Jenn. We were there in January. I would contact the folks at Mellow Adventures and ask them what it’s like in April as they know the area extremely well and have given tours there for many years.
The photos are so nice and the article is very descriptive and informative. Thank you for sharing! One kind suggestion, if you love nature, especially in Thailand, try google Elephant Hills. They do tented camp and jungle elephant interacting activity and so on. Their website is https://www.elephanthills.com/. I’d love to see your future article writing on this place in such cheerful way like this one 🙂
I’m glad you enjoyed this article, Ann. I’m not sure if or when we will return to Thailand, but in the meantime, I’m sure our readers will appreciate your info about Elephant Hills.