Home to the dreamy Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park is one of the most beautiful National Parks in Thailand. Imagine a river flowing down a 2100-meter-tall jungle-covered mountain, collecting calcite from the limestone caves that colours its water milky-blue. As the waterfall cascades over 7 tiers, it creates terraces of light turquoise pools. It is those milky-turquoise pools that land Erawan the prime stop on every other Thailand bucket list.
I lived in Kanchanaburi for several years and visited the park numerous times. And each time the waterfalls and the plunge pools look a little different. If you are trying to figure out the best time to visit Erawan Waterfall, I’d recommend January or February, first thing in the morning midweek.
You can swim at each of these pools, and nowadays you have to rent a life vest if you want to go for a sweep.
If you are wondering about the name – Erawan is the name of the three-headed white elephant deity from Hindu mythology. And tradition has it that the rocks at the top tier of Erawan waterfall look like a white elephant’s trunk, hence the name.
Located in Kanchanaburi Province, just under 70 kilometres from Kanchanaburi town, Erawan National Park is also quite easy to visit, which is great if you are visiting Thailand on a budget. You can either take a minivan shuttle from Bangkok or a local bus from Kanchanaburi (more details on how to get to Erawan at the end of the post).
To showcase Erawan Waterfall in its full glory, I’m including several stock images in this post, which are much more evocative than my own images. One thing you really don’t want to do is to carry a tripod up a trail in Thailand’s heat and humidity.
Erawan Waterfall Trail
- Distance: 4km return
- Grade: Moderate. After level 4 the trail becomes quite steep and slippery
- Elevation: 229 m
- Facilities: shop, bathrooms, picnic benches at the visitor centre
The Erawan Waterfall trail is very picturesque, even when you walk between the waterfalls. You’ll walk over wooden bridges, up the stairs, around massive moss-covered boulders, and cross the river a few times.
If you power through it, you can make it to the top in under an hour. But allow at least three hours for the walk, so you can linger at each of the pools, play with different angles if you are taking photos, soak your feet, or go for a dip at the top. A place as dreamy as Erawan Waterfall should be savoured, not ticked off.
A word about the crowds. Erawan is one of Thailand’s most popular national parks, and it gets super busy on weekends and public holidays, especially during the hotter months.
The first two tiers of the waterfall are busy with day trippers and locals picnicking by the water and splashing in the pools. Thai people love to gather and socialize, but they are not typically into hiking. So once you pass the second tier of the falls, there will be considerably fewer people. And if you visit first thing in the morning, you are unlikely to see many people at all.
Once, we walked this trail early in the morning, and we were the only people on the trail from the third tier up. And I knew we were the first people of the day to walk this trail when we came across a cobra snoozing in the middle of the trail. It hasn’t been disturbed by the hikers yet.
Before you get excited, let me assure you that you are VERY unlikely to come across a cobra, or other venomous snakes on the Erawan Waterfall trail, unless, like us, you are the first person through the gate on a weekday. I’ve walked this trail half a dozen times over the years and never saw another venomous snake. There are plenty of whip snakes and green tree snakes, but they are harmless and gorgeous.
But if you do come across one, don’t panic; it has no more interest in confronting you than you are in confronting it. Give it time and space, and it will go its own way.
You are much more likely to see the Variable and Grey-bellied squirrels, Northern tree shrews, lizards, and some chirping birds. As well as the cheekiest of Thailand’s animals – the macaques.
Not to mention the butterflies. The butterflies in Thailand are amazingly diverse and superbly colourful.
The one reptile you are quite likely to encounter is the water monitor. They grow quite big and become accustomed to people who tend to leave all sorts of edible bits and pieces around the pools, particularly at the lower tiers of the falls.
The Seven Levels of Erawan Waterfall
The trail starts at the visitor centre (where you buy your 300 baht ticket). There are shops here selling food and souvenirs, so it’s a buzzing area.
One thing to consider while you are here is that it is essential to carry water with you if you are planning the hike to the top of the falls. If you didn’t bring your water bottle, pick one up at the shops. You’ll need to pay a 20 deposit to take your water bottle beyond the second tier of the falls, but you’ll get it back when you bring your empty bottle back.
If you are feeling peckish, this is the best spot to indulge in delicious Thai street food or a proper meal. If you are planning to take snacks on the hike, you’ll be disappointed to learn that no food is allowed beyond the second tier of the waterfall.
Level 1 – Lai Keun Rang
From the visitor centre, it’s only 500 meters to the first (bottom) level of the waterfall – Lai Keun Rang. The first level is not the prettiest waterfall – but as it is your first view of the milky blue pools, it’s a pleasant surprise.
You’ll notice that most of the pools are home to large fish – Mahseer barb. You’ll get well acquainted with them when you go for a dip (higher up the trail). These fish have an unnerving habit of feeding on the dead skin around your feet. It doesn’t hurt, of course, if anything it tickles, it’s just an unexpected behaviour from a fish.
Level 2 – Wang Mai Cha
Another 100 meters up the trail you come to the second level of the falls – Wang Mai Cha. This is the largest and arguably the prettiest pool at Erawan. The colour of the water here is absolutely amazing. If you’ve seen Rio Celeste in Costa Rica, you’ll know what to expect.
This level is also the busiest. This is where most of the local families will be. Thais are generally not huge fans of swimming, but kids do love to splash around and they can be quite a raucous bunch.
Before you continue to the next level, you will have to leave all your food and water bottles behind at a checkpoint. If you do wish to take your water bottle with you, you can pay a 20 Baht deposit, which you collect on your way back when you show that the bottle is still with you. This is done to reduce the amount of rubbish left in the park.
A place as popular as Erawan Waterfall can easily get overwhelmed with rubbish left by tourists. So on the upside, you’ll get to walk through the rubbish-free forest.
Level 3 – Pha Namtok
Past the checkpoint, it’s another 100 meters to the third level – Pha Namtok, where the river flows over a large rock and drops into the beautiful plunge pool below.
From here on up, the crowds start to thin out and you start to feel like you are walking through unspoiled jungle.
Level 4 – Ok Nang Phee Suae
After another 350 meters you arrive at the fourth level – Ok Nang Phee Suae. Here, people like to use a rock with a flat surface as a waterslide.
By now you are just over 1 kilometre from the start of the trail and so far the trail has been quite easy.
After level four the trail is unpaved and begins to get steep and slippery. And the next three waterfalls are further apart from one another than the first four were.
Consider carefully if you wish to continue to the top of the falls. Unlike the first half of the trail, the second half is steep, slippery, and involves some scrambling. If you are a habitual hiker, you won’t have any trouble. But if walking on steep uneven ground is not your thing, you might like to spend more time exploring the lower levels instead.
Level 5 – Buar Mai Long
If you decided to push on, it’s a fairly steep 500-meter hike to Level 5 waterfall that has the best name in the park – Buar Mai Long which translates roughly as ‘You can’t get bored’. True to its name, there are a few waterfalls at this level. And it happens to be one of the best swimming spots at Erawan Waterfall. So you definitely won’t be bored here.
Don’t be surprised to see some Assamese macaques as you hike to the higher waterfalls. But keep in mind that they are habituated to people and won’t think twice about demanding food from you. Much like coatis do at Iguazu Falls.
Level 6 – Dong Pruk Sa
The 300-meter hike to the level 6 waterfall, called Dong Pruk Sa, is more challenging still. You’ll have to cross the river and the water level can be quite high, depending on the season. Be prepared for a steep, rocky, and slippery trail.
At level six you’ll have a choice – swim here or push on to the very top of Erawan Waterfall and have a much-deserved swim there.
Level 7 – Phu Pha
Level 7 waterfall, Phu Pha is for the most adventurous hikers. It’s a steep 250-meter climb that involves some scrambling over large rocks. If you don’t mind a bit of a scramble, the climb is not that difficult.
Your reward is a heavenly-aquamarine pool – ideal for a nice long swim to cool off and soak up the ambience.
The entire hike should take you about an hour and a half, plus the swimming or photo-taking time. The return hike is a little quicker. Keep in mind that while the park is open from 8 am until around 4:30 pm, the rangers start clearing the upper levels of the falls from 3 pm onwards.
About Erawan National Park
Beyond being home to the magnificent Erawan Waterfall, Erawan National Park is part of the expansive Western Forest Complex (WFC) – one of the largest protected areas in Southeast Asia. The complex protects 18,730 square kilometres of continuous wildlife habitats, straddles two countries, Thailand and Burma, and contains 19 National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, including Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary with its stunning Thi Lo Su Waterfall.
Because it is such a large continuous tract of protected habitat, WFC is home to the world’s largest single population of Indochinese tigers and the world’s second-largest population of any tiger species (the largest tiger population is in Siberia). According to the 2008 census, the tiger population in WFC numbered over 200 individuals.
You don’t have to worry about coming across a tiger on your hike in Erawan, but it’s good to know that you are walking through the tiger’s world. And Western Forest Complex is not all about the tigers, of course. It is also home to the Indochinese leopard, Clouded leopard, Sun bear, Asiatic black bear, Malayan tapir, Indian elephant, Gaur and White-handed gibbon.
Best time to visit Erawan National Park
I’ve been to Erawan during each season and I find it at its best at the start of the year. During the rainy season (May to October) the waterfalls are in full flow, but the colour of the water is not as dreamy because rainwater brings a bit of silt with it as it runs down the mountain.
November to January is the cool season and it is the best time to see the falls. They are still in full flow after the rainy season, and the pools are more tranquil and milky blue. Plus the cool weather makes the hike much easier. It’s hard work labouring up the side of the mountain in almost 100 per cent humidity in the summer months.
If you are not a huge fan of crowds, keep in mind that during Songkran Festival from 13 to 15th April, the park is incredibly busy (and splashy).
Other Attractions near Erawan Waterfall
If you drove or rode a scooter to the park, you can check out an impressive cave after you finished at the falls. Phra That Cave is located about 12km from the main park entrance. When you navigate towards the cave, you first come past Wat Thum Phra That temple. It is the temple of Phra That cave. Caves are generally considered spiritual places in Thailand, and many caves have dedicated temples. So don’t get confused and look for the cave in the temple. The entrance to the cave is about 1 kilometre further up the road.
It is a huge cave, particularly the first chamber, filled with stalactites and stalagmites. And as an added bonus, it’s a cool reprieve from the heat and humidity outside.
Beyond the stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is also home to a couple of species of bats. If you are not a fan of bats, don’t worry, they roost on the ceiling pretty high up. But if you do like bats, you might like to stick around in the park until the late afternoon.
Once the sun is low in the sky, you might see the tiny Kitti’s hog-nosed bats flying above the tree crowns. These cool creatures are arguably the smallest mammals on earth, growing to all of 3 centimetres in length and weighing 2 grams. And they live only in the limestone caves in this part of Thailand and in a few caves on the other side of the Thai/Burmese border.
If however, you visit the park on public transport, keep in mind that the last bus back to Kanchanaburi leaves at 4.30 pm. It could even be earlier – the bus schedules are less reliable during covid outbreaks.
How to get to Erawan National Park
By car: If you are driving from Bangkok, take Route 4 (Phetkasem Road) to Nakhon Pathom. From there, take Route 323 to Ban Khao Bin. From Ban Khao Bin, follow the signs to Erawan National Park. The drive from Bangkok to the park takes about 3-4 hours.
By tour: There are many tour companies that offer day trips to Erawan Waterfall from Bangkok. These tours typically include transportation, a guide, and entrance fees to the park.
By bus: If you wish to visit Erawan National Park by public transport, you’ll need to spend the night in Kanchanaburi. Take the bus or minibus from Mochit terminal in Bangkok to Kanchanaburi. The ride takes about 3hrs and 20 minutes. Spend the night in town and the following day catch the local bus to Erawan National Park. The journey is about 1.5hrs
By bus: The bus to Erawan National Park leaves from the main bus terminal in Kanchanaburi. The journey takes 1.5hrs
By car or scooter: Driving or riding to Erawan from Kanchanaburi is very straightforward. Get onto Route 3199 and it will take you all the way to the National Park. It takes just over an hour.
By tour: You can also take a day tour to Erawan from Kanchanaburi. These tours usually include a visit to the Bridge over the River Khwae and Hellfire Pass. Or you can take a shorter, half-day tour to Erawan only
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