We went on this little day trip ages ago but I didn’t realise that I never made a post about it. I have to share how amazing this place is and right on our doorstep too!
Ton Nga Chang waterfall is about 20 minutes out of Hat Yai. We went there on the motorbike so I’m not sure what the public transport situation is to get there – I expect you would need to take a tuk tuk or taxi. Annoyingly, as the area is designated a national park we had to pay 200 baht entry fee. This entry fee is only 30 baht if you are Thai, they really hike the price up for foreigners. It’s frustrating when they do that because having lived her for a short while now I am able to read a little Thai; enough to see clearly that on one side of the board it says 30 บาท (baht) and on the other it says 200 baht. I didn’t have my work permit to hand so I wasn’t able to try and get in for cheaper but someone that we had spoken to who can speak a lot of Thai wasn’t able to get in for the Thai price even with his work permit so I think it would be impossible for us to either. I understand the concept of having to make money out of tourists, especially in areas of natural beauty that are no doubt damaged by the tourist trail, but a little recognition that we are actually working over here, teaching the future generations of the country, would be nice sometimes.
After begrudgingly paying the inflated entrance fee (which is only equivalent to around £4.50 but would cover food for 2 days!!) we drove along the meandering road that curled around the base of the mountain. It was peaceful and the air smelt so fresh you could taste the oxygen that the blanket of trees covering the mountain side was kicking out. We parked up (which was free, thankfully) and packed a small bag with a few essentials and made our way towards the information board. Despite being in Thai we were able to make out that they had quite the set up; souvenir shops and food stalls, a homestay area for people wanting to make a full weekend of it, a few marked out footpaths and seven tiers of waterfall scaling the side of the mountain.
The base tier of the waterfall is a short walk away, and consists of a babbling brook (ooh, alliterative) with boulders for scrambling and pools for relaxing. As is usual at a Thai waterfall, the base tier is always the busiest, chocka with families with plenty of kids. Thai people love to visit the waterfalls (as would I considering they get in for so much cheaper – can you tell that it’s annoyed me?!) and take along a picnic and make a real day of it, picking a shaded spot to set up camp while the kids splash about in the shallow water. I guess it’s safer and it doesn’t require walking too far; which, anyone who has spent any time in Thailand will tell you is not a favourite past time of Thai people! So, as usual, we bypassed the base tier and headed for a handy sign that lead the way to the next. After a short and mildly strenuous walk on quite uneven ground (NB: wear proper shoes and NOT flip flops like I did) we reached the second tier, which is wider than the base and has an actual waterfall at the rear. This was pretty busy too, but it had a bridge leading across so I took the opportunity to grab a few pictures. A couple of my students spotted me and came over the say hello; as I was dressed in a very un-teacher-like outfit of Levi cut offs and a crop top this cemented for me that if we were going to de-clothe and have a dip it would have to be at the next level. Another handy sign lead the way, this time pointing towards a steep incline of hardened mud, boulders and tree roots. Using the tree roots as footholds and the vines hanging overhead for stability, we scrambled up around the side of the waterfall. It was steep, and slippy and hot work, but it was so worth it to emerge at the top to a beautiful, calm plateau with a number of pools and two big waterfalls feeding them with fresh water. This was the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen, and my hot and sweaty state was soon to be cured. There were a few people, but no children, so it was pretty quiet. A section of rock to the far side had been smoothed out by the constant stream of water and served as a waterslide for the more adventurous. There were a number of pools to choose from so we found one in the sun near the edge of the cliff, overlooking the stunning view beneath us. You wouldn’t know that there were hundreds of screaming kids below at all. I found a crevice where I could lean and feel the water massage my neck as it flowed from pool to pool. It would have been perfect until I raised my hand and saw that it was covered in the one downside of taking a dip – leeches! Luckily they were really tiny and were easily shaken off – I think we know why this wonderful pool has been left alone by the people.
There was another deep pool that had ledges of rock all around to sit on – a bit like a jaccuzi. There were a few people in there so we deemed it to be a leech-free-zone. I realized that everyone was staring at me, and then it struck me that no other girls were in their swim suits. Some of the men were in swim shorts but the majority of people were wearing shorts and t-shirts, some even wearing skinny jeans, even when in the water. I don’t know if it’s a modesty thing or a leech thing or both, but as I was in bikini bottoms and a crop top, my white skin was out for all to see, and they certainly had a good look! I quickly got in and covered my exposed self with water. We had a lovely relax, taking in the view and the beautiful surroundings. Our peace was momentarily interrupted when some screaming Thai girls alerted us to the fact that we were also being joined by a water lizard, but the quick reactions and impressive lizard-catching skills of their male friends quickly rid the pool of its reptilian inhabitant.
Ahhh, just writing about this place makes me want to go there again. I would even pay the 200 baht fee. We never made it past the third tier because our time was running out and we didn’t think that any of the next levels could top what we found at tier three, so another visit is in order to explore what lies above. A lot of people who visit Thailand never venture down as far south as Hat Yai but if you ever find yourself stopping over in the area (in transit to/from Malaysia, for example) I would really recommend visiting Tong Nga Chang waterfall – it will be 200 baht well spent!