HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL YOU LOVELY PEOPLE OUT THERE!!
Ok, so its about a week late. Close enough.
The last New Year celebration found me in Bangkok receiving pity drinks from strangers because I was squeezed in next to my friend and her boyfriend at the time on a tiny couch, awkwardly trying to ignore their furious making out. The year before that I was in Chiang Mai with an anonymous crowd, crammed together in the street like sardines for the countdown. I decided to get away from it all this year. I’ve done the big cities, been in the big crowds; it’s beginning to feel a little overrated.
So this year I went on a trip to the mountains with some friends for an overnight trek to a waterfall. You guys, this place is untouched Thailand. It seems to be a fairly popular travel destination for other Thais, but the foreign tourism industry either chose to bypass it or simply hasn’t found it yet. I only saw two other foreigners at the resort we stayed at when we weren’t trekking. The small town has a tiny little walking street with local, handmade products. This place is a hidden gem, an absolute treasure, and because of that I am somewhat reluctant to even disclose it’s location. But because you, dear readers, are but a few I think it is safe to share the secret with you. 🙂
This dusty town at the end of the road is Umphang (อุ้มผาง), found in Tak Province. And it literally is at the end of the road. From Mae Sot you have an approximately 165km, 4 hour journey of perilously steep twists and turns through the mountains along the “Death Highway” (there are exactly 1219 curves to conquer) before ending at Umphang. There is literally nowhere else to go, the road ends here. This is the only road in and out of Umphang; this lack of accessibility could also potentially explain the lack of foreigners. The area is host to an abundance of natural beauty, including waterfalls! In fact, Thi Lo Su, found in this province, is meant to be the biggest and tallest waterfall in Thailand! Its a wonder more people don’t make it out here.
Our group woke up a the crack of dawn on the 30th to eat breakfast, assemble, and head to the river. We spent most of the day rafting down the river, enjoying each others company, the scenery, and the occasional series of rapids. After spending maybe 5 hours on the river, we made it to base camp and blazed through the jungle for another 20 minutes or so to see Thi Lo Le waterfall (น้ำตกทีลอเล). Unlike the larger Thi Lo Su waterfall this one, nicknamed the adventure waterfall, is smaller and hidden deep in the jungle.
That night we enjoyed some good camp food and, later, the local home brewed white whiskey clocking it at only 30 baht a bag. I can tell you via firsthand experience that if you have to do any activity the following day you will regret every shot. It should go without saying: don’t play last man standing when you have a hike the following day (but I could have done with a reminder anyway…..)!
As you can guess, the next morning we had to walk ourselves out of the jungle. This trek through the mountains took about 6 hours, it was not an easy start haha. However it was beautiful, and a bit easier because we had elephants that carried all of our stuff so we were backpack free! I am not used to this type of hiking, but I like it. I could get used to it. 😉 To be honest if I was not hungover it would have been a fairly easy hike, humidity aside. Yet headache or not I was still able to enjoy the beauty of the jungle! I LOVE this sort of thing- some of the Thai girls we were with were not keen to ever do anything like that ever again, but I find it exhilarating. I’m definitely more of a mountain girl than a beach bum.
Tired but happy, we decided to stay another day and go see Thi Lo Sue waterfall. Why not? The next morning we were up and at it early again (I think this trip could be themed ‘you can sleep when your dead’) to jump back into a raft for the first half of our journey. This day was much more
relaxed, no rapids and just floating along. At first I was reminded of the Boise River, but then we turned a corner to face small waterfalls and towering cliffs and then I remembered where I was.
After maybe 3 or 4 hours of floating along, we hopped into our songthaews and drove another hour along a very bumpy dirt road to the trail head of Thi Lo Su (น้ำตกทีลอฃู). Following the pattern of the day, the trail was short and sweet (and flat!). Because it was New Years Day, there were many people there, but that did not take away from it’s beauty. It’s impressive, even now in the dry season. I can only imagine what its like in rainy season!
We woke up again the following morning at 5am to go to a lookout above the clouds to watch the sunrise. I am not much of a morning person, but I was able to appreciate the beauty anyway. 🙂 After briefly re-grouping at the resort, our group split and went our separate ways to do some shopping and grab breakfast before the long drive back home.
Umphang is such a highlight and, even though I am leaving Thailand this year, I am already scheming ways to get back there for another trip someday. I even have
an itinerary some ideas for next time I make it back! This has been my favorite New Year celebration in a long time. Happy heart and a great start to the new year!