Mae Ya Waterfall was definitely one of the better waterfalls we saw in Thailand, and it seemed to us to be the pride of the Chiang Mai province. It certainly surprised Julie and I with its enormous size, which our guide said was about 260m tall and up to 100m wide (though I've seen more modest claims that its height was more like 40m).
And while Thi Lo Su tended to get a good deal of votes for Thailand's most beautiful waterfall, Julie and I actually thought Mae Ya was every bit as good. Our guide, who happened to be from nearby Chom Thong Village, thought this was better than Thi Lo Su, but there might be a little bit of a local bias. Nonetheless, we thought highly enough of this waterfall that we put it into our Top 10 List of Best Asian Waterfalls.
We've been told that this was supposedly the tallest waterfall in the country (we're not sure about that assertion), but it definitely held its own in terms of size. However, what really made this waterfall stand out was the massive triangular fan shape and the multitude of stepping drops that gave it character and texture (especially if photographed in long exposure). We saw plenty of people who came with big cameras so I think it was safe to say this was also a photographer's favorite.
In addition to photographers, we saw many other people simply content to bring their families and play in the water further downstream of the falls. Given that it was mid-afternoon when we showed up (around 2:15pm) and there were lots of people here, the best viewing spots at the end of the trail had limited space. Thus, in order to avoid having people inadvertently photobombing your shot, some patience was required in order to get that desired photograph, especially for those long exposures would require a tripod to be set up.
The walk was a mere 600m from the car park though we easily spent nearly an hour here for the hiking and relaxing. Part of the reason why we stayed as long as we did was to wait for the sun to hide behind the mountain so we would be able to take that long exposure photograph without washing out any part of the photo that the sun was still shining on. That probably didn't happen until some time close to 3pm during our December 30, 2008 visit.
As for the path itself, it pretty much followed the river so we could see from its size that the waterfall probably had year-round flow. Meanwhile, the car park was decked out with a large row of tented cantines and markets. The top part of Mae Ya Waterfall was visible from here, which suggested to us that there was some merit to our belief that it was big. Of course, it also hastened us to get onto the walk with plenty of excitement.
The falls is about 14km from Chom Thong Village at the end of a scenic road that teased us with distant views of the summit of Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest point. Note that the road to Mae Ya was different than the road leading up to the summit of the Doi Inthanon summit (both split from each other around the Chom Thong Village).
Since we were on an escorted tour, we noted that it was also about a 50km (30-minute car ride) from the Mae Klang Waterfall, which was the attraction we came from to get here. It took us about 90 minutes to ride back to Chiang Mai from this waterfall.
For geographical context, Chiang Mai was in Northern Thailand roughly 700km north of Bangkok. It would take around 9 hours to drive or a little over an hour to fly between the cities.
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