Pha Charoen Waterfall (Nam tok Pha Charoen)

Mae Sot District / Phop Phra District, Tak, Thailand

About Pha Charoen Waterfall (Nam tok Pha Charoen)


Hiking Distance: 500m round trip
Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2009-01-02
Date last visited: 2009-01-02

Waterfall Latitude: 16.50291
Waterfall Longitude: 98.75324

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.

Pha_Charoen_030_01012009 - The Pha Charoen Waterfall
The Pha Charoen Waterfall

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

Pha_Charoen_050_01012009 - The steep and eroded path climbing alongside the Pha Charoen Waterfall
The steep and eroded path climbing 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.

Pha_Charoen_033_01012009 - We went up a steep path that climbed alongside the waterfall allowing us to examine some of its 97 tiers more closely
We went up a steep path that climbed alongside the waterfall allowing us to examine some of its 97 tiers more closely

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 Pha Charoen Waterfall was roughly 40 minutes drive south of Mae Sot (see directions below).

Pha_Charoen_074_01012009 - Because of how easy it was to stop for the Pha Charoen Waterfall along the Death Highway, it wasn't surprising that it was also quite popular
Because of how easy it was to stop for the Pha Charoen Waterfall along the Death Highway, it wasn’t surprising that it was also quite popular

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.

Death_Hwy_to_Umphang_003_01012009 - The so-called Death Highway between Mae Sot and Umphang
The so-called Death Highway between Mae Sot and Umphang

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!

Authorities

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.

Pha_Charoen_002_01012009 - Walking towards the Pha Charoen Waterfall from the car park
Pha_Charoen_004_01012009 - The walking path to the Pha Charoen Waterfall was actually more of a semi-developed park complete with picnic tables and campgrounds
Pha_Charoen_006_01012009 - Context of our first look at the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_012_01012009 - Satisfying look at the Pha Charoen Waterfall with one guy standing high up near the top of it for a sense of scale
Pha_Charoen_017_01012009 - 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 photograph
Pha_Charoen_036_01012009 - Close-up look at some of the intermediate steps while walking up along the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_038_01012009 - Looking down over some of the cascading tiers of the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_042_01012009 - Looking sideways at one of the upper tiers of the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_044_01012009 - Continuing to examine some of the Pha Charoen Waterfall's 97 tiers more closely
Pha_Charoen_045_01012009 - Julie continuing on the trail to see what else was beyond the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_046_01012009 - A potentially slippery and dangerous part of the steep climb alongside the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_049_01012009 - One our way back down, we noticed this section of the Pha Charoen Waterfall looking like it had a manmade obstruction
Pha_Charoen_053_01012009 - An attractive look across one of the upper tiers of the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_055_01012009 - Looking across a different middle tier of the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_063_01012009 - One of the upper leaps of the Pha Charoen Waterfall that's pretty easy to access so quite a few people scrambled towards this part
Pha_Charoen_001_jx_01012009 - Back at the bottom of the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Pha_Charoen_002_jx_01012009 - The popular sign fronting the Pha Charoen Waterfall
Death_Hwy_to_Umphang_003_01012009 - Namtok Pha Charoen was one of several stops along the twisty Death Highway between Mae Sot and Umphang

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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.

Death_Hwy_to_Umphang_017_01012009 - Evidence of slash-and-burn deforestation that resulted in this denuded jungle seen along the Death Highway
Evidence of slash-and-burn deforestation that resulted in this denuded jungle seen along the Death Highway

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 Sanctuary and the Thi Lo Su Waterfall.

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.

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

Trip Planning Resources


Tagged with: mae sot, phop phra, tak, death highway, death hwy, burmese refugees, burma, central thailand, thailand, waterfall



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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