Kanchanaburi - The Erawan Falls and The Death Railway (Pt 1)
Updated: Mar 28
Part One: The Erawan Falls
So last year for my birthday I requested a meeting of the brain trust known as my friends. We all usually try and do something nice for our special day. It often takes a series of meetings to try and find out what would be possible for everyone to join in on. That year, we decided that we should try a long weekend trip to the beautiful area of Kanchanaburi which is around 3 hours south-west of Chainat. After a bit of research, we had managed to come up with an ideal inventory for the trip, including a personal party bus for the whole time.
So, Friday came around. We jumped on the party bus and headed off, equipped with loud music, strobe lights and a substantial amount of spirits. Three drunken hours later we arrived and headed to the pool. Our itinerary included a trip to Erawan Waterfalls on the Saturday and then to go and visit the Death Railway on the Sunday. Now people who know me, know that I am a substantial history fan. Anyone thinking that it might be a little morbid to visit such a place for a birthday weekend could definitely be permitted to think this! The problem here is that it can be a little difficult to juggle travel and time and find opportunities to have a mooch around the country. When this opportunity cropped up, I was going to take it as we might not be able to come again.
The hotel that we stayed at was lovely. It was in rainy season so Kanchanaburi was steeped in a rain-induced mist and was so atmospheric that it could have been on set in an Oliver Stone movie. We were staying right on the riverbank of the River Kwai (some interesting info about this river in part two of this blog). Couldn't have picked a nicer setting.
Our first day there, the consensus was divided. Half wanted to stay in and nurse a bit of a hangover, and the other half, including me, wanted to visit Erawan. This, was probably not the best of ideas. Trying to traverse a vertical path into the jungle while running off spent alcohol is a BAD idea. I was also reliably informed that the path on the way up to the falls was a rather easy promenade...this advice was completely and criminally erroneous. I went off like a little happy camper with my hangover and my flipflops doing my best to harness to the spirit of Bear Grylls. Jumping out of the bus with my friends I was off into the jungle to find the beautiful falls.
The whole area around the Erawan Falls is spectacular and when you start trekking inside the jungle of that area, you do develop an air of the explorer about you. The path, to my utter astonishment, was tarmacked! I sighed a sigh of relief, as even the walk through the car park had taken it out of me (please remember, hangover). This relief was short-lived. There was a slight gradient to start. There are several waterfalls here, that start at the top of a mountain and cascade down into large pools that people like to swim in. There are helpful little maps throughout the vicinity that show you the path. You can look at these maps and they show you the various waterfalls and gives you snippets of info about the intensity of the hike to the one of your choosing. Again, this map really does not do the trek justice.
The Falls is a seven-tiered waterfall with a corresponding amount of emerald green pools. It is named after a Hindu mythological three-headed white elephant. As you can imagine, with the pool being layered up the side of the mountain, whichever pool you want to ascend to will increase the intensity of the trek. It's a pretty simple concept but this was pretty difficult for me to fathom with my addled brain and, when discussing the days fun activities, we decided that we would walk to the top. Spoiler - I didn't make it.
As we started to walk up the tarmacked path, I noticed the gradient began to change, just a little - no biggy. Keep going and it becomes more inclined. Then the tarmac turned to a dirt path. I say dirt, but as my birthday is right in the midst of the rainy season, it was more accurately described as mud, slippery as ice, and I had flip-flops on. The gradient at this point was still easy. We passed the first couple of pools and they were stunning. So inviting, green and sparkling in the sun that was scattered through the trees. This was not enough for our intrepid explorers and on we went.
As we progressed, the jungle started to become dense, the trees interlocking and dimming the sunlight, yet the pools always seemed to be gleaming oases. The path started to get slippery and more intense, then to my absolute horror, the path started to become a bit more... vertical? Dodgy steps hacked into the slopes: greased up trails finding their way up and around the roots of the trees, I could sense the peril due to my chosen foot attire. Now the thing with flip-flops is, the generic flip-floppy primary problem is they have little to no grip and do not come in any tried and tested explorer editions. Remarkably, they are not the first choice of footwear for sojourns into the jungle.
Finally, the inevitable happened. One particular hillock finished me off. I had been walking a fine line for a little while already by this point, precariously gripping on to things to stop both of my legs from falling out with each other and storming off in opposite directions. The people behind me were doing a sterling job at not surrendering to hysterics watching me ice skate up and down the mountain path. But this last one had me, and it was unstoppable. I slipped so violently that I think my feet may have flew above my head for a moment and when I landed, due to the mud, I didn't stop. I slid downwards and came to a halt, a big, mud-covered, greased up mess, at the bottom of the previous climb I had just made.
After being helped up by people who were nobly trying to stifle their laughter, I decided it was probably best for all concerned that I turned back, as the hero that I am, didn't want to delay my comrades. Going back down was just as or even more embarrassing as going up. People were looking upon me in shock - this bedraggled muddy mess wandering, defeated, past them, wondering just what befell them on the road up ahead. Then some of them saw the flip-flops and gave me a knowing, sympathetic look.
Finally, after a lot of slipping and sliding downwards, I found a gorgeous pool that I could take myself away to for a little while. It was beautiful. I found my own little spot, set up my little camp and headed into the awaiting pool. I had seen this whole thing before on movies, exotic TV series and some strange shampoo adverts too, but, when seeing them, I didn't really think that I would experience this myself. Getting into the emerald water offered a surge of relief. Kanchanaburi is hot and humid and that water was like stepping into a cooling, therapeutic tub. There was an alarming moment when entering as I suddenly felt tiny little nips on my feet. I nearly jumped out of the water in a state of panic, but on closer inspection, I realised they were tiny little fish, doing the job a pedicurist would charge a fortune for.
If you stay stationary, they will feed off you with abating. It was a little disconcerting at first but you soon get used to the odd sensation. I wandered and paddled around that pool for nearly an hour and really did not have any desire to leave. I splashed about under the waterfall, swam around the deep crevices formed by the turmoil of the water and pictured myself as a member of the Swiss Family Robinson...it was great. Eventually, my compatriots arrived from their meanderings.
I think after all of the trauma I went through; I got the better deal to be honest. My friends had been gone a while but it transpired that they had spent most of that period trekking and only managed to spend a paltry amount of time in the actual waterfall and pool! We had probably started the trek too late in the day. The while spent in that lovely, clear water had made up for the slip 'n' slide antics I had endured earlier. It also transpired that waterfall powered hydro-spas are pretty good for hangovers.
We eventually returned to our awaiting party-bus to take us back to the resort. The trip back was significantly quieter than the trip there. We were all bushed. By the time we got back, there was just enough time for a rest before the second night of birthday frivolities and the notorious Death Railway on the morrow. Tune in to part two!
Erawan Falls is a national park founded in 1975 in the Western Thailand Tenasserim Hills. It is a very popular destination and is busy throughout the week and even busier on weekends. Please be aware that if anyone is planning on travelling to the park on dates that fall on public holidays, it is extremely tricky to get into the falls with queues up to a kilometre long and no parking. Food is not permitted above the second-tier waterfall and there is a refundable charge of 20 baht for any bottle of water to reduce rubbish that might be left behind.
As mentioned in the previous story, please wear appropriate footwear as the rainy season runs from May until October and the paths can be very precarious!
The second part to this blog will cover our trip on the notorious Death Railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai.