When those fancy travel agencies try to entice you to buy a package to Thailand, they usually use pictures similar to this:
Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not fake, that’s really what it looks like, and not too far from the city, either! We have had a few days lately where we’ve been able to explore the area. Here are some stories and pictures from our waterfall hopping:
Mae Sa Waterfall
This waterfall is just outside of Chiang Mai. It took about 20 minutes to drive there, it was an easy parking lot and soon we were on our way. This hike has 10 levels. Since we were there on a weekday the parking lots at the lower levels were empty and we were able to park at level 5 and start there. It didn’t seem like we missed much from levels 1-4. The water pooled in some places where it was easy to swim. There were lots of cats, it was warm and we didn’t experience too many bugs once we put bug spray on. Once we got to level 7 we felt like we’d be quitters if we stopped there, so we kept going. Turns out there’s not much more after that, but at least we can say we climbed to the top.
On weekends it looks like there are a lot more food vendors and of course people ready to sell you anything you might need. We did not partake but the meat on a stick did look tasty. This was an easy waterfall hop, just a short distance from our home.
I think Dan and the girls felt like this was the best kind of waterfall hike: it was close to the house, had an easy and convenient parking lot, a well marked trail, a nice swimming hole and meat on a stick if you needed it. But I felt like we needed to dig deeper into our waterfall options here in Thailand.
Maewin Guest House
For more waterfall hopping, we decided to get out of the town a little bit more. We learned about an area from a friend from language class. Dan suggested we should stay the night up there so we can get an early start to our day. Shermans are not early start kind of people, so I think Dan felt like we needed to be as close to the action (read: get up as late as possible but still see stuff). So he booked us at this adorable little jungle hotel.
I admit that when we were driving there, I was watching the GPS. The closer we got, the less there was to see. We had left Chiang Mai, gone through some smallish towns but the road was getting rougher and the towns were more like smatterings of small stores with a house or two. So when the GPS said we were 1 minute away and there was pretty much nothing but rice fields, I was pretty sure this was going to go poorly.
Let’s take a moment to bring our newer readers up to snuff on the Sherman family. We don’t camp. We really don’t even like roughing it much at all. Dan hates to be hot. Zoe hates bugs. Allison (me!) is pretty sure “adventure” is a code word for “danger”. So although we do these things, let’s just be honest here that not everyone is fully on board. But we do it anyway. Back to the story.
We found a little sign that said Maewin Guest House and we pulled in to a nice little area to park. We were met at our car by an adorable and sweet Thai woman who spoke awesome English. She walked us up the hill about 50 feet to our bungalow, even carrying Zoe’s backpack. The bungalow was a really big room with a fridge, a sitting desk, two chairs, and a big bed. There was a small bedroom behind that room with two beds for the girls. On the other side, after you exit the room, is a bathroom with two showers and two toilets. It was a private bathroom, but you kind of went outside to get to it. Although, at all times, you were covered from the elements and trees shielded you from any onlookers. The hotel even provided two pairs of shoes (one for children) to use when you go from the sleeping room to the bathroom. The room was surrounded by jungle and had no A/C, but it had screens on all the windows and 3 fans that worked well enough. It was clean and pleasant. And since we were at a slightly higher altitude, although it was still warm, not quite as warm as Chiang Mai. So we were okay with no A/C.
When Lovely Thai Hotel Woman returned with our paperwork, she brought a tray of orange juice and dragon fruit. It was soo good. And I’m not just saying that because Dan and I have been doing the potato diet for 5 days and this was my first meal other than potatoes. Although that probably had something to do with it.
After we checked in, we went down to the restaurant/front desk area and asked Sweet Thai Lady about things to do in the area. She gave us a map of a one day trek that would take us around to various waterfalls. She said it was a little late at that time to do any hiking since it was getting dark, but if we wanted to walk around the area to see the rice fields and water buffalo, we could do that while the chef was cooking our dinner. OK! Let’s go!
And so begins World’s Most Awkward Hike. First, we tried to go where we thought the Thai lady said, which involved walking along the road (that no one else was doing and cars were swerving for us like we were stray dogs), then onto a muddy path that I was convinced was not a path. Haley was wearing a dress for some reason and Zoe was wearing flip flops. Like I said, this is not something that the Shermanos do a lot. We aren’t real big on hiking. We were prepared to hike… but the next day. That day we did not dress for hiking. So there was some degree of frustration. Dan was propping us all up. “Come on! Let’s go see the water buffalo!” which is probably the first and only time he’ll ever say that in his life. Everybody, but Dan, wants a water buffalo. #veggietales #lookitup
Dan finally conceded we were on the wrong path (when it, like, ENDED) and we went back toward our hotel. We ran into Lovely Hotel Lady and she showed us the right path to go on. Yeah, there’s a reason why we missed it. It really looked like you were going through the bushes into someone’s backyard.
Well, not quite. It was more like someone’s front yard. Because this path took us past some very dilapidated but still lived-in houses, with trash and personal items strewn for about 20 feet in all directions. We had to step over their stuff to continue on our path. Kind of awkward since we probably spent more on our overnight trip than they spent on their house.
Anyway, we kept walking and passed a few people hanging out in a pickup. They looked at us quizzically but did a small smile. We kept trudging along. We finally ended up in someone’s driveway with no where else to go so FINALLY Dan gives up and says “let’s just go back to the hotel”. Somehow the walk back was a heck of a lot faster than the walk there. We walked back the same way we came. Dan said that he put up his force field that made him invisible when we walked past the house with all the trash and stuff around it. It was super awkward. I stared at the ground and made no eye contact.
Our compliments to the chef
We hung out in the hammocks for awhile, which was quite nice, and then our dinner was ready. We had ordered before we left for the Awkward Hike and the chef truly took his job to heart. It was delicious. I had an omelet with rice, which I have determined is my new favorite food (or maybe tied with mango sticky rice!). It was awesome. OK, again that might be the potato diet talking but I doubt it. Everyone else loved their meal too. I confirmed there would be coffee in the morning and off we went to our room. This was an earlier turn-in time than 3/4 of the Shermans are used to, so thank you, Netflix and Samsung Galaxy Phones and AIS cell phone data plans. (Dan measured 50Mbps download speed and 30Mbps upload on his mobile phone service. Out here in the jungle! It was amazing.)
The next morning we had a beautiful breakfast spread and super yummy coffee and off we went with our trusty map in hand. We had a plan for how we would structure our waterfall route and we were dressed for a day of adventuring (no dresses, Haley! jungle shoes for Zoe!).
Map? What map?
We ventured out with enthusiasm, a plan and a map. We began our hunt for one waterfall but ended up at another one entirely (Mae Sapok), but not before following the road until literally it ended in someone’s driveway. Again! Time to turn around! We saw a small pull-out that looked like a place for cars to park, a sign hidden in the bushes, a small path to the left and we decided to explore. Waterfalls are pretty noisy so we knew we were at least close by.
Our hike was short and successful. We ended up at the river and we had a good time exploring around the rocks. Some of the rocks were really slippery and we all had different strategies for how to navigate them. (Dan’s strategy: don’t walk on them but be sure to video the family in case you need it for insurance/viral YouTube purposes).
A good time was had, and off we went to waterfall #2. This time we were looking for Palad Waterfall and after
a few many false attempts to navigate a very muddy road with a very low rental car, we decided to walk in the direction we thought it was (read: other people who had a guide were walking). We thought we were finding Palad Waterfall but once we got there we discovered it was an entirely different one (do you see a trend?). This one was called Maowang Waterfall and we crossed the rickety bridge, paid 5 baht to use the bathroom and enjoyed the view.
Somehow I failed to get a picture of the actual waterfall. Or maybe I did and I just can’t tell which waterfall is which. Honestly they all started to blend together at that point. Clearly the map maker felt the same way.
But we still had to find Palad Waterfall, which is where we heard there was a swimming hole. Zoe was desperate to swim so we knew we had to track it down. This one was pretty elusive. Now that we realized the map was not to scale (understatement of the year) we thought we knew where it was. We turned down one road, went down/up it for a very long time until we decided that the road was getting too bad and the aforementioned low rental car was not doing well on the hills and we just were in the wrong place. So we went back somewhere we saw a lot of vans parked and asked for directions. They told us to go back kind of near where we came. We did and didn’t find it.
Then we asked someone else and he said to go back the way we just came THAT time so we started that direction. A kind local man on a motorcycle took pity on us and said he would lead us. Turns out the path to the waterfall swimming hole is literally next to his house. There is no way we would have ever found this place in a million years, without this guy. So we gave him 100 THB ($3), he showed us his pet pig and then led us to the water.
We changed our clothes and Dan cleared up some confusion for us on how to use a squat toilet. You know, the ones with an oblong porcelain bowl inset into the ground. Turns out those things are surprisingly simple to use and get the job done nicely. Then we finally got to swim. The water was pretty cold at first but we got used to it.
Life Risking 101
There is one part of this swimming area where the water flows pretty quickly over some big rocks, then it pools and swirls, flows some more and then ends up in a clearing again. We saw some families sliding down the rocks like slides and our Lovely Hotel Lady had said we could do the same thing. Haley swam/floated nonchalantly in that direction and pretty soon she was going down it sooner than she had expected. We had to ask someone close to her if she was still among the living because we couldn’t see her after it sucked her down the rock slide. She was good, but not overly happy with the results. Dan headed that direction to do the rock/slide move and he did fine.
When Haley emerged she gave Zoe and I the finger wag, saying, “don’t do it”. I needed no more warning from my usually-physically-adventurous daughter. If Haley says not to do it, we aren’t doing it. So as Zoe and I were swimming in that direction, we veered off to the right and I told Zoe to get out before the slide area. Well, I was too close to the swirl and pretty soon I was going ass over teakettle through that slide. You really aren’t supposed to enter it head-first but you didn’t really have a choice once you got close. So it tumbled me over and eventually spit me out. I got up and gave Zoe the finger waggle that she was not to do it. She didn’t need convincing. She does not like strong water currents. The whole process lasted about 2 seconds but it’s long enough for your life to flash before your eyes. Strong, swirling water, plus large rocks that you can’t see, plus tumbling ass over teakettle. Yeah, this is not a recipe for success. But alas 3/4 of the Shermans did it, willingly or unwillingly, and we escaped injury-free.
So the rest of the time we just relaxed in and out of the water, I hovered over Zoe like a helicopter parent, we watched all the dogs beg for chips, we avoided the pair of dogs that couldn’t decide if they wanted pups, a local lady bathed her baby’s butt in the river (we stayed up river after that) and we watched some local kids play in the water. I noticed their game was to jump in upriver, but frantically avoid the slide part. Smart boys. At one point the lady who had the little store selling pop and chips asked us where our guide was. We said we had no guide. She was visibly surprised. I get that now.
Our day was topped off by a stop at a roadside restaurant on our way home. I was dreaming about another Thai omelet with rice all day long and I just had to get another one before Dan dragged me back onto this freaking potato diet. So we enjoyed another fantastic Thai meal for 4 at the equally fantastic price of $12.
We were back in our comfy home by 5 p.m., happy to shower and disappear into our own activities for the evening. We aren’t jungle people but we enjoyed our outing. Now we can sell our pictures to the travel agencies and maybe next time we can pay for a guide.