My most recent adventure in Chiang Mai was accidentally stumbling upon the Huay Kaew Waterfall in Doi Suthep National Park. The only problem was I had planned to do something completely different.
My original plan was to hike the Monk’s Trail to Doi Suthep temple, as detailed in my friends’ website Tieland to Thailand. Unfortunately I didn’t make it out of my condo until noon, and halfway to where I thought the trail started, I saw on the map I was nearly two miles away from where the trail began. Not wanting to add an extra half an hour to my hike, I decided to continue in the direction I had started.
I passed by a night market that sells really good sushi, the Chiang Mai university where I watched a soccer game longingly, and the Chiang Mai Zoo which I have yet to visit. From there I had no idea where I was going to walk.
To the right of the zoo entrance was a small residential road which had probably never seen a farang (foreigner) walk down it. The curious adventurer in me won out, and I decided to explore.
The road dropped down to the bottom of a gully where a creek with fish meandered. On the other side, the road rose steeply with barking dogs behind fences on either side. I walked up while Thais in their yards looked at me curiously. They probably thought I was hopelessly lost. In a sense I was, but I believe you’re never really lost. You always know what planet, country and city you’re in!
At the end of the street, a quasi-trail lead over some rocks. After a couple minutes, I came to a large area of flat boulders where locals were having picnics with their kids. This was my kind of place, as it makes you feel like you’ve left the city far behind, despite it being just a couple minutes away.
Then I saw the sign to the Huay Kaew waterfall. First of all, why didn’t I know there was a waterfall so close to where I lived? Second, it wasn’t until a couple days after my hike when I realized Huay Kaew was the name of the street I lived on! The falls are literally just up the street from me.
From there, the path got steeper. I had to scramble up a couple steep slopes. I found later there was an easier path nearby but I preferred the challenge; this was an adventure after all.
Finally I stumbled upon a group of young monks bathing in the water. There is a small spot where the water falls a few feet into a deep pool, where the monks could dive and escape the Thailand heat. Another foreigner was there taking photos. He mentioned that in the rainy season there is a lot more water and local kids will come up to use the rocks as a natural slide. From that I got the idea that the best time to visit the Huay Kaew waterfall is October, after the heavy rains.
I hadn’t expected to find a waterfall in my hike, and I had neither my hiking boots nor my swimming suit. Not only could I not go swimming, my shoes were also very slippery. The one time I was unable to keep my footing, I toppled down into a spot which had shattered beer bottles. Somehow my hand found the only spot on the rocks without broken glass! So my advice: wear shoes with a grip and watch where you’re walking – or falling.
Finally, you come upon the actual Huay Kaew waterfall. It tumbles down the rocks about 10 meters into a series of pools. Several foreigners were sunbathing there, one with his playful pug dog. There is just enough shade for those who want less heat, and other spots for those who want a tan.
Just a little bit further up the trail, you come upon the road again leading up to Doi Suthep. This is where most people park to visit the Huay Kaew waterfall. The parking spot is also known as the Wang Bua Ban lookout. It seems my way was simply a shortcut, skipping the 2 km walk along the road with traffic whizzing by.
Instead of retracing my steps, I went down the other side of the river, where the path is more rocky. On one side of you is a several-meter cliff down to the falls. The other side affords you with an excellent view of Chiang Mai. I never really realized how big the city was before seeing it from this vantage. From Doi Suthep temple several kilometers higher up on the mountain where I’ve been several times, the city looks much smaller.
And that was the Huay Kaew waterfall. I’ll be back another day with better shoes and a bathing suit, especially now that I know it’s so close to my condo. Perhaps I’ll see you there.