Thi Lo Su Waterfall (Namtok Tee Lor Su)

Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, Tak Province, Thailand

Rating: 4     Difficulty: 2.5
Thi Lo Su Waterfall (Namtok Thilawsu or Namtok Tee Lor Su)

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

The Thi Lo Su Waterfall was probably Thailand's biggest waterfall in terms of the cumulative amount of space containing falling water. I've also seen claims that it was the tallest waterfall in Thailand though we weren't sure if that was accurate. In any case, the signs here said there were three distinctive waterfalls comprising the overall waterfall ensemble dropping a total of some 200m, 300m, and 400m, respectively. Again, we couldn't vouch for the lofty 300m and 400m height estimates though.

Julie and I thought the best of the three waterfall segments was the series of distinctive plunging leaps to the left as we were facing the falls. The lowest leaps of the leftmost watercourse had pools where we saw many people swimming, bathing, or just cooling off in general. The middle drops of that leftmost course had much taller and thinner appearances, which might have also acted as barriers for most people in terms of trying to climb up or alongside the vegetated cliff face responsible for these waterfalls.

Many holiday-makers enjoying one of Thi Lo Su Waterfall's many swimming holes As for the other two waterfall segments falling in parallel more or less, the middle segment consisted of thinner yet taller drops. These weren't conducive to swimming like the leftmost series of drops. Similarly, the rightmost drop was perhaps the most ephemeral (i.e. temporary) as it fell far off to the right of the middle segment. Given how spread apart these waterfalls were from each other, there was no way I was able to reasonably compose a singular photo that encompassed all of them from any of the sanctioned lookouts.

Speaking of which, photographing the Thi Lo Su Waterfall was indeed difficult for us. That was because we were constantly tempted to try to capture it all in one shot, but it was simply too wide to fit it all in. All of our attempts at doing this resulted in awkward and unbalanced photos that ended up being candidates for the recycle bin or at least to be overlooked and ignored.

Another one of lower tiers of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall allowing for swimming It turned out that the best photos we took of this falls involved just focusing on the more concentrated series of cascades on the left side while ignoring the thinner and somewhat separated cascades on the far right. That would at least help you get the intended effect of focusing on the most interesting parts of the waterfall instead of being distracted by the quantity and grandeur of it all.

Other factors that conspired to mess with our photos were the sun and the crowds. Around midday or early afternoon (when we arrived at the falls), we were looking directly at the sun as we tried to view and photograph the waterfall (see photo at the top of this page). In order to take better photos, we had to wait until late in the afternoon when the sun hid behind the cliffs. It was a good thing that we camped here for the evening so we could stay very late.

And as for the crowds, we had to really exercise our patience as there were heaps of people walking in and out of our line-of-sight while other groups would take some of the choice viewing spots hostage. Again, it was a good thing we were camping on the night of our visit because it wasn't until later in the afternoon when the day-trippers had to leave that were we able to have a few moments to enjoy the falls in relative peace.

This was one of the plunging middle tiers of Thi Lo Su Waterfall that marked the end of our ascent up the waterfall Speaking of the crowds, that was real surprising to us given how remote the Thi Lo Su Waterfall was and how much trouble we had to go through to even get here (see directions below). But we've observed that many Thais love waterfalls and that Thi Lo Su seemed to be known by just about every Thai person. In fact, they not only knew about it, they actually made it a point to come here. And this was further exemplified by the main campground complex containing a ticket office, park office, a cantine, a very busy camping area, and even a tent providing Thailand Post!

So what we did to mitigate the crowd and suboptimal lighting situations was to explore the trails leading higher up the waterfalls. In addition to finding more swimming holes and getting up close to some of the individual tiers that made up the overall Thi Lo Su Waterfall, we also found that it got much quieter and more secluded the higher up we went. We eventually went as far as one of the tall middle-tiered waterfalls where further progress was not possible, but we were able to enjoy staring at the plunging water across from a very wide plunge pool that was empty of people.

From the car park and campground complex, we walked across a wide open grassy area towards an entrance gate with kiosk where the grassy area started giving way to trees again. Once we paid the admission to continue, we were then walking along a trail that was mostly a mix of concrete and boardwalk for about 40 minutes. Like the campground, the walk was quite busy with large groups. And given that the trail was somewhat narrow relative to the amount of traffic on it, we probably went slower than normal due to the limited opportunities to pass while remaining on the developed paths.

Finally, because there was not a standard way of romanizing Thai pronunciations to English text, there were many spellings of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall. Excluding the way we've been spelling it, we've seen Namtok Tee Lor Su (also as one word "Teelorsu"), Namtok Thilawsu, Namtok Ti Lo Su, Namtok Ti Lor Su, Namtok Thi Lor Su, etc. Indeed, the spelling permutations could easily get out of hand without that standard romanization method (at least not one standard method that we're aware of).




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Focusing on the waterfalls comprising the leftmost tiers of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall with some people standing by one of the lower plunge pools for scaleFocusing on the waterfalls comprising the leftmost tiers of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall with some people standing by one of the lower plunge pools for scale
This was what we meant by focusing our photos on the leftmost section of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall, which was the most photogenic partThis was what we meant by focusing our photos on the leftmost section of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall, which was the most photogenic part
This might have been the one non-awkward photo we have of Thi Lo Su where we tried to get it all in one shot, but you can see here that it still didn't do this waterfall justiceThis might have been the one non-awkward photo we have of Thi Lo Su where we tried to get it all in one shot, but you can see here that it still didn't do this waterfall justice
Just to even get to Umphang (before continuing further into the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary to see Thi Lo Su), we had to drive several hours on the mountainous Death Highway from Mae SotJust to even get to Umphang (before continuing further into the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary to see Thi Lo Su), we had to be driven several hours on the mountainous Death Highway from Mae Sot
This was the road and turnoff leading to the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and the Thi Lo Su Waterfall from the village of UmphangThis was the road and turnoff leading to the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and Thi Lo Su Waterfall from the village of Umphang

The songthaew that we had to ride in for the bumpy 4wd stretch of road leading us to the campgroundThe songthaew that we had to ride in for the bumpy 4wd stretch of road leading us to the campground

The road we had to take while riding the songthaewThe road we had to take while riding the songthaew

A big rut on the roadA big rut on the road

It was definitely high clearance vehicles only on this roadIt was definitely high clearance vehicles only on this road

We finally arrived at the entrance for the Thi Lo Su ComplexWe finally arrived at the entrance for the Thi Lo Su Complex

Campground at Thi Lo SuCampground at Thi Lo Su

Thailand Post at the remote Thi Lo Su Campground!  I kid you not!Thailand Post at the remote Thi Lo Su Campground! I kid you not!

Walking towards the check pointWalking towards the check point

The check point and entrance for the footpath leading to Thi Lo Su WaterfallThe check point and entrance for the footpath leading to Thi Lo Su Waterfall

On the boardwalk to the Thi Lo Su WaterfallOn the boardwalk to the falls

Our first look at the Thi Lo Su Waterfall, but it was too early in the afternoon as the lighting was harsh and we were somewhat looking against the sunOur first look at the Thi Lo Su Waterfall, but it was too early in the afternoon as the lighting was harsh and we were somewhat looking against the sun

One of the thinner waterfalls to the right of the more pictureseque leftmost tier of the Thi Lo Su WaterfallOne of the thinner waterfalls to the right of the more picturesque leftmost tier of the main falls

Getting higher up on the Thi Lo Su Waterfall providing a different look at its constituent partsGetting higher up on the waterfall providing a different look at its constituent parts

Thinner, taller plume of water comprising one of the smaller but taller segments of the fallsThinner, taller plume of water comprising one of the smaller but taller segments of the falls

The uppermost tier of the Thi Lo Su Waterfall that we could safely get close toThe uppermost tier of the falls that we could safely get close to

After having climbed up to the middle tiers of Thi Lo Su Waterfall, Julie and I now had to carefully scramble back downAfter having climbed up to the middle tiers of the waterfall, Julie and I now had to carefully scramble back down

With the sun mostly hidden behind the hills, we could now explore a bit more of the base of Thi Lo Su to see if there were other ways of composing a photo of itWith the sun mostly hidden behind the hills, we could now explore a bit more of the base of Thi Lo Su to see if there were other ways of composing a photo of it

Our last look at the Thi Lo Su Waterfall before heading back to campOur last look at the Thi Lo Su Waterfall before heading back to camp

Our camp at the Thi Lo Su CampgroundOur camp at the Thi Lo Su Campground


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Sweep from bottom to top of the main part of Thailand's "biggest" waterfall


Sweep throughout one of the lower cascades and plunge pool and ending towards the misty top against the sun


Sweep from bottom to top of the uppermost cascade we could "safely" get close to


Comprehensive sweep from bottom to top of the waterfall (including the thinner waterfall to the right of the main one) in the late afternoon


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

We did this waterfall as an all-day escorted tour from the village of Umphang, but before this, we were driven from Mae Sot to Umphang along the so-called Death Highway (this took us about 6.5 hours with a few waterfall stops and breaks along the way). The escorted tour from Umphang began with a morning raft along the Mae Klang River (which apparently continues on to Kanchanaburi ["kahn-CHAHN-uh-bur-ee"]), which took about 2.5 hours. Along the way, we saw the Thi Lor Jor Waterfall.

Then, we took a songthaew (basically a pick-up truck with a cover used as a 4wd taxi; pronounced "SOHNG-tauw") for the next hour. Since it was on a rugged 4wd road, this ride was quite bumpy. This car ride ended at the car park and campground for the waterfall, which was also the trailhead for the roughly 40- to 60-minute walk to access the Thi Lo Su Waterfall itself.

Finally, even though we ended up going with a tour based in Umphang that organized an overnight tour, there were other options. We knew there were day tours out of Umphang, and from what we could tell, there was certainly no one to stop you from going there yourself assuming you're properly equipped, have the admission fees ready, and arrange for transportation. We saw a group of hardy Europeans actually walk the road that we took the songthaew on.

Speaking of which, in the wet season, the roads become too muddy and flooded for vehicular traffic so that would mean that you'll have to walk that road by foot to get there under such conditions.

For geographical context, Mae Sot was 351km (5 hours drive) south of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was 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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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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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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