For my last Thailand post, I wanted to talk about something important here…that is falling in love. And yes, I fell in love hard with 2 things -one earthly and the other man-made, and both which can be found in the dozens in Thailand. I’m talking about waterfalls and songthaews.
When you think of Thailand, the most common “things to do” are easily visiting temples, seeing the elephants, and eating the food, but one of the most underrated experiences I found was to hike your way into the heart of Mother Nature and witness the beauty of vertical water movement that is waterfalls.
Another Side of Thailand
My brother and I ended up visiting 2 waterfalls near Chiang Mai -Bua Tong Waterfalls (90 minutes away from Old City) and Huay Keaw Waterfalls (located within the Nimman District). I think visiting these two waterfalls ended up being my favourite part of the trip because they are not as well-known and therefore, when we went, the falls were practically empty of tourists and we had the whole place to ourselves. One of the best decisions we made was to skip all the touristy “day-long packages” that are heavily advertised on the streets and decided to book our own songthaew (red taxi) and head over to the falls ourselves.
The pros to doing so were that we could go and do things at our own pace without following a schedule, we were able to go at a low-peak time, and the cost ended up being a little cheaper because we didn’t have to pay for the extra filler activities they try to stuff into those group packages.
Bua Tong “Sticky” Waterfalls
When my brother and I look back at our trip to Thailand, something we strongly agree on is how Bua Tong Waterfalls was THE most incredible part of the trip. It also somehow ended up being one of the few things we decided on very spontaneously. I remember we had just finished visiting Doi Suthep temple in the morning and had returned back to the Old City to grab some lunch. Neither of us had planned anything else to do the rest of the day and decided to casually stroll through the streets to have a look around.
It was a rather hot day and my brother commented, “Wouldn’t it be so nice to go to a waterfall on a humid day like today?” And I thought, it really would be..and I remember doing some last minute research about things to do in Chiang Mai, and Bua Tong “Sticky” Waterfalls had popped up in my research. And just like that, we decided right then and there we were going. We walked around the streets and were able to book our own songthaew (red taxi) for 1000baht that would take us all the way there and back.
You know that phrase, “the journey becomes the destination”? Those words never felt so true as we made our way there. As I sat inside the songthaew, I can recall the humid, sticky air blowing through the open windows past my face, the bumpy roads, the sounds of motorbikes whirring past us, and the sight of urban infrastructure and buildings transforming into green, rural fields, crops, and the air becoming so fresh and quiet. What was a 2 hr ride there ended up feeling both so long yet short as I stared out the window taking it all for the entire ride.
When we arrived at Bua Tong Waterfalls (nicknamed “Sticky Waterfalls”), we were amazed at how much grip the stones had that we were able to easily walk up and down the falls.
DISCLAIMER: Don’t try this back at home with your local waterfalls! The reason why Bua Tong Waterfalls is unique in this way is because the stones have special mineral deposits that create a sticky texture that allow for you to climb up the waterfalls without any hesitation. It was probably one of the most surreal and pleasantly terrifying experiences we both encountered. My last post mentioned cooking Thai food and using your hands…well, using our bare feet to climb up these waterfalls made us feel connected to the earth, literally!
The two hours we spent there is something I’ll never forget. We went at around 3pm on an excruciatingly hot day, so the place was completely empty and I was able to appreciate the fullness and loudness of the waterfalls itself for all it was. Because this was a very last-minute decision and we came on a whim, neither of us wore swimsuits underneath, so it’s safe to say all our clothes inevitably got soaked. The memories that fill my mind and heart of this day is the continual laughing as I tried not to get wet or make a wrong step, the mist splashing against my face, and feeling the water rush through my toes as I made my way up the 5 tiers of the falls. As the afternoon turned into sunset, the noise of the waterfalls soon became accompanied with the quietness of the forest surrounding it, bringing this day to a beautiful close.
Huay Keaw Waterfalls
On our last day in Chiang Mai -it also happened to be an extremely hot day -we ventured out to Huay Keaw Waterfalls, which is only a 15 minute drive from Old City. Like Bua Tong Waterfalls, this one is lesser-known so when we went, there were little to no people. But different to Bua Tong which was a loud and exhilarating experience, I found Huay Kaew to be a lot quieter in a good way. You can’t climb the rocks here, so people end up laying on the large rocks beside the water, some reading a book, others sleeping under the coolness of the forest surrounding the falls.
With essentially “nothing to do”, you would think you could quickly become bored here. Instead, I remember watching the waterfalls for a good hour, mesmerized, almost like in a daze. If there was ever some sort of magical healing power that came from water, I don’t doubt it now. My brother and I sat in the stillness, in reflection and deep awe of both the vastness of the forest and waterfalls surrounding us and also the small details of each rock carved out by erosion, each leaf and branch blowing against the wind, and the mist from the waterfall splashing our face every now and then. I now understand why some spas and homes install water fountains…the sound of water flowing through rocks and trees is therapeutic like no other. I felt like I was in a secret oasis tucked away in the forest, hidden from the loud, busy city that was just a few steps away. In a world of constant movement…to suddenly be surrounded by nature’s movement and stillness was like a breath of fresh air.
The Songthaew (Red Truck)
Ah, the songthaew. Even uploading these pictures of this wonderful red truck onto this blog post brings back the fondest memories and makes me chuckle a little. It sounds quite silly, doesn’t it? Out of all the things that make up the rich culture of Thailand, that one of the most prominent aspects that stood out to me is a form of transportation.
Songthaews are great because they can be found at every corner of any street in Thailand and are the cheapest way to get around To get the full, authentic experience when you visit Thailand, don’t take a standard taxi but opt for a songthaew instead! I promise you, it will be one of your favourite experiences through your trip!
I briefly spoke about the songthaew earlier in this post, but I’ll elaborate a little more here. There are so many things I love about this darn red truck. First, it works on a “hop on, hop off” basis. As you can see in the picture above, there really is no door, no seat belts, and you sit facing sideways..which means that when the songthaew makes a very abrupt stop, you momentarily see a montage of your life flash before your eyes as you feel like you may very well fly right out of the door. If the Bua Tong waterfalls is not exhilarating enough for you, just take a ride in a songthaew to get that adrenaline rush!
Second, I loved how songthaews are designed to fit several people -I counted, 10 people can fit in 1 songthaew if we’re sitting cozy knee-to-knee. If there’s really high demand, you won’t be surprised to see people casually standing and holding onto the silver railing attached at the back of the truck as it moves along. Think of it as some next-level carpooling, ridesharing, or the Thailand version of UberPool. It’s great because we ended up taking a songthaew for the longer rides and you will without a doubt end up riding one with complete strangers.
This scenario actually helped cultivate great conversation as I got to learn more about other travelers as we all exchanged stories of how we ended up in Thailand and even went pretty deep into sharing about our entire lives. If you ever wanted to turn complete strangers into friends quickly, riding in a cramped songthaew for 2 hrs together will do that for you! Experiencing all the bumpy rides, humid air, and near-death experiences as the songthaew would stop was a definite bonding experience.
Lastly, what I loved so dearly about songthaews was the very strong bargaining culture surrounding it. I was only starting to get the hang of bargaining for little trinkets and souvenirs in the night markets, but bargaining for a ride was an experience I won’t forget.
While songthaews in certain locations have set prices to get on, the majority you’ll find on the street are open to some sort of bargaining. It was a great learning experience because in the first few days, we were quite naive and unaware that you could bargain so some drivers easily overcharged without us even knowing. But as we started learning the ropes a bit better and could estimate how much certain routes should cost, we started bargaining with more confidence and were able to bring down the price to half its original cost at times! Who would have thought that this little red truck could produce so much joy and learning in my time in Thailand?
And with that, this concludes my Thailand posts! Thanks for following me along in my travels through the northern parts of this beautiful country and all it has to offer. This was one for the books and I’m sure that when I look back at my year in 2018, this will be an obvious stand-out. Not so much because it’s traveling to a foreign country and seeing all these wonderful, exotic places, but more so because of the things I’ve learned about this distinct culture. From the little mannerisms and demeanor these people have, their life stories that they’ve shared, how religion and food can make up the very core of who they are, to the importance of keeping an open mind and perspective and what it means to respect the earth and its resources…Northern Thailand, you have my heart. I have a feeling I’ll be back sooner or later…maybe to discover the southern regions?