This 11-tier scenic waterfall, some 60 kilometers west of Hua Hin, is located within a yearlong verdant forest where various kinds of birds and butterflies are found, especially in the morning.
Pala U Waterfall is in the southern end of the massive Kaeng Krachan National Park – the largest National Park in Thailand. Established in 1981, Kaeng Krachan covers 2,915 square kilometres and straddles two Provinces: Petchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan. Fortunately for tourists and residents alike, the falls are located just 64 kilometres west of Hua Hin City. Pala U Waterfall is actually a series of waterfalls, or steps.
Comprised of 15 levels, the trek becomes more arduous the higher one climbs. The first 3 stages are pretty manageable for most people, but beyond that the trail becomes much more challenging. Between the falls are cool pools of water where soro brook carp (a fresh water fish) flourish. Feel free to take a dip with them – they might brush against your body due to their massive numbers, but they are harmless.
It is illegal to fish in the park, so the numbers continue to grow. The falls vary in their water flow depending on the time of year. In theory, the rainy season (July to October) is the best time to visit. The water flow is higher, but the trails become slicker and the overall hiking is more challenging. The best time to visit is from November to February. During these months the water level, and therefore the falls, remain active yet the outside temperature is much cooler.
The trails are drier and easier to traverse, and the lush mountainside surrounding the falls is a vibrant green and full of life. Even if you visit between March and June, the falls are still worth the trip. The jungle maintains a lot of its lushness and the water continues to flow, it just tends to be hotter and stickier. Besides hiking the trail, many people bring a picnic lunch and relax in the tranquil setting. If a picnic is not your thing, there is an open-air restaurant at the base of the falls serving traditional Thai fare as well as ice cold drinks.
Amongst the spectacular scenery is a plethora of wildlife. You thankfully won’t encounter the majority of animals in the park (leopards, bears, wild dogs, golden jackals, porcupines, tigers and many species of snakes), but you will spot many harmless birds and butterflies.
For avid bird watchers, 420 different species have been identified in the National Park. Following close behind, with 300 species, are butterflies, which at some parts of the trail will envelop you in a cloud of gently flapping wings. As one enters the Kaeng Krachan National Park near the falls, there are warnings of elephant encounters, and for good reason. The area around the waterfalls has high levels of wild elephant activity. It is easier to spot wild elephants along the road here than in the central parts of the park. In fact, elephants are seen on the roads every day.
If you are not lucky enough to see an elephant, you are guaranteed to see piles of dung along the road. From the clock tower in Hua Hin the distance to the entrance gate at Pala U Waterfall is 60.2 kilometres. Once inside the gate, it is an additional 4 kilometres to the parking lot and the base of the falls.
The current entrance fee for foreigners is 300 THB per adult and 200 THB per child. For Thai nationals, the entrance fee is 100 THB per adult and 40 THB per child. There is also a fee for your mode of transportation: motorcycles 20 THB, cars 30 THB, small bus/vans 100 THB and large buses 200 THB. The falls are open from 8:30am to 5pm, with the last ticketed entry at 4:30pm.
Do’s and Don’ts when encountering a wild elephant in your car:
1. DO stop your vehicle at least 30 metres away if possible.
If the elephant walks closer, shift your car to reverse and drive off slowly.
2. DON’T blow your horn or make loud noises.
This could enrage the elephant which may charge.
3. DON’T photograph the elephant with your flash on – the flash can frighten the elephant.
4. DO keep the car engine running in case you need to turn back.
5. DO keep your headlights on when driving at night – just don’t flash the lights as this could enrage the animal.