About Pha Charoen Waterfall (Nam tok Pha Charoen)
The Pha Charoen Waterfall (Nam tok Pha Charoen; 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.
Perhaps that had something to do with how we found it 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 this apparent popularity that did present photo challenges as many people would walk partway up the waterfall and linger in its cool waters without letting others get a chance to take photos.
That said, 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.
However, 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.
Hiking Up Alongside the Pha Charoen Waterfall
In addition to enjoying the falls at its base, we also hiked up a steep trail that went alongside its stream.
The difficulty rating given to the Pha Charoen Waterfall reflected this added effort though this extended excursion didn’t add to the overall viewing experience.
Some parts of this trail were a bit worn and slippery, which would have made the path very difficult had it been rainier like in the Wet Season (our visit happened during the Dry Season and we enjoyed good weather).
Nevertheless, 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 Pha Charoen Waterfall, the trail flattened out as we witnessed a few more smaller cascades.
We weren’t sure where this trail went nor how much further it went so we can’t say more about it.
However, when we thought the scenic allure diminished the further upstream from the end of the steep climb that we went, then we ultimately turned back.
By the time we carefully descended back down to the bottom of the falls and returned to the car park, we had spent almost an hour away from the car for both the hiking and the photographing.
The Death Highway and the Pha Charoen Waterfall
The Pha Charoen Waterfall was a welcome stop as we visited it while we were doing the long drive from Mae Sot to Umphang along the Death Highway (Hwy 1090).
The waterfall actually sat in its own reserve called the Namtok Pha Charoen National Park, which featured other waterfalls and attractions.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to explore this park more so we can’t say more about the park’s other features.
Nevertheless, it turned out that there were also other attractions along the Death Highway not necessarily in this reserve, and that included a visit to the Thararak Waterfall nearby.
Incidentally, we learned that the Death Highway earned its name from its completion, which was said to have pacified the frequent border-related conflicts that had taken place up until the 1980s.
Recently, it kept its notoriety by becoming one of the most statistically accident-prone roads in Thailand 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 into a ditch, which was fortunate for them as they easily could have rolled into a dropoff!
The Pha Charoen Waterfall resides in Namtok Pha Charoen National Park near Mae Sot in the Tak Province, Thailand. It is administered by the National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
From the town of Mae Sot (near the border with Burma or Myanmar), 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.
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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