Pha Charoen Waterfall (Namtok Pha Charoen)

Mae Sot District / Phop Phra District, Tak Province, Thailand

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 1.5
The Pha Charoen Waterfall
The Pha Charoen Waterfall (pronounced "PAH chah-RDOHN" [note the "r" is rolled]) was a lovely 97-level stair-stepping waterfall that was really photo friendly thanks to its combination of texture, size, and jungle setting. Needless to say, we really enjoyed photographing it with a tripod when the timing was right, which I'll explain below.

Julie and I noticed that it was a fairly popular spot with the locals, and it was pretty easy to explore given that it was well-signed and had a very developed walkway to the viewing area at its base. But I guess it was its apparent popularity that did present photo challenges as many people would try to walk partway up the waterfall (right in front of the camera I might add) and linger in its cool waters.

It was possible that our visit coincided with a time when many Thais were on holiday, which might have amped up our perception of its popularity, but in general, the best time to photograph the falls would have to be early in the morning before the crowds arrive and before the sun would start creating bright and dark zones.

We went up a steep path that climbed alongside the waterfall allowing us to examine some of its 97 tiers more closely In addition to enjoying the falls at its base, we also hiked up a steep trail that went alongside its stream (the difficulty rating above reflected this added effort though it wasn't necessary to see just the falls from its base). Some parts were a bit worn and slippery but given the relatively dry weather we had, it wasn't as difficult as it could've been had it been rainier like in the Wet Season. And during the steep climb, we did notice some sections of the falls had a bit of man-modification, which we weren't quite sure why.

Once Julie and I (along with our guide Udon) got to the top of the falls, the trail flattened out and we witnessed a few more smaller cascades. We weren't sure where this trail went nor how much further it went. Thus, when we thought the scenic allure diminished the further we went, we turned back not too far beyond the end of the steep climb. In total, we spent almost an hour for both the hiking and the photographing.

It was a welcome stop as we visited this waterfall while we were doing the long drive from Mae Sot to Umphang along the Death Highway (Hwy 1090). The Pha Charoen Waterfall was roughly 40 minutes south of Mae Sot. The waterfall actually sat in its own National Park, which featured other waterfalls and attractions. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to explore this park more.

It turned out that there were also other attractions along the Death Highway, but we had only planned on visiting this waterfall and the Thararak Waterfall nearby.

Incidentally, we learned that the Death Highway earned its name from its completion which was said to have pacified frequent conflicts that had taken place up until the 1980s. Then, it kept its notoriety by becoming one of the most statistically accident-prone roads in the country thanks to its steep hills and winding roads. I recalled that we even had to help out a pair of ladies whose car had rolled backwards luckily into a ditch instead of into a dropoff!

Directions: From the town of Mae Sot (near the Burmese border), we drove south along the so-called "Death Highway" for about 40 minutes before reaching the signposted turnoff to the left for the Pha Charoen Waterfall.

Beyond this waterfall, the Death Highway continues through a relentlessly winding, steep, and narrow mountain road. This was where we saw Burmese refugee camps as well as some depressingly rampant slash and burn deforestation. It eventually reaches Umphang, which was the administrative center for the Umphang Wildlife Center and the Thi Lo Su Waterfall.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Another look at the impressive Namtok Pha Charoen
Burmese Refugee Camp at Umpiam further south of the Pha Charoen Waterfall along the Death Highway
Just on the other side of this river and bridge in the city of Mae Sot was the country of Myanmar (also known as Burma)
Walking towards the falls from the car parkWalking towards the falls from the car park

The walking path to the falls was actually more of a semi-developed park complete with picnic tables and campgroundsThe walking path to the falls was actually more of a semi-developed park complete with picnic tables and campgrounds

We probably didn't come early enough to enjoy the Pha Charoen Waterfall without people obliviously photobombing, but at least they could be used to provide a sense of scale in the photographWe probably didn't come early enough to enjoy the Pha Charoen Waterfall without people obliviously photobombing, but at least they could be used to provide a sense of scale in the photograph

We went up a steep path that climbed alongside Namtok Pha Charoen allowing us to examine some of its 97 tiers more closelyWe went up a steep path that climbed alongside Namtok Pha Charoen allowing us to examine some of its 97 tiers more closely

Julie continuing on the trail to see what else was beyond the main waterfallJulie continuing on the trail to see what else was beyond the main waterfall

A potentially slippery and dangerous part of the steep climbA potentially slippery and dangerous part of the steep climb

One our way back down, we noticed this section of the falls looking like it had a manmade obstructionOne our way back down, we noticed this section of the falls looking like it had a manmade obstruction

Looking across yet another one of the 97 tiers of Namtok Pha CharoenLooking across yet another one of the 97 tiers of Namtok Pha Charoen

One of the upper leaps of the Pha Charoen Waterfall that's pretty easy to accessOne of the upper leaps of the Pha Charoen Waterfall that's pretty easy to access

When we returned to the bottom of the Pha Charoen Waterfall, that was when the crowds really showed upWhen we returned to the bottom of the Pha Charoen Waterfall, that was when the crowds really showed up

Namtok Pha Charoen was one of several stops along the twisty Death Highway between Mae Sot and UmphangNamtok Pha Charoen was one of several stops along the twisty Death Highway between Mae Sot and Umphang


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS

Sweep from bottom to top of the picturesque multi-level cascade


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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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