Bua Thong Waterfalls aka Sticky Waterfalls was probably the coolest looking day-trip away from Chiang Mai when we were researching the area. It was a no-brainer. We had to go.
Driving to Bua Thong Waterfalls
It was hard to leave Pai after a wonderful week that could’ve turned into years and a new life living as backpacking nomads in search of a faraway forest. I recently read an eloquent piece of writing about how touristy that place felt but our offseason visit was peaceful and quiet, and just about everything in that mountain retreat seemed perfect. In lieu of forgetting the world and forsaking our lives, Christina and I returned to Chiang Mai for a variety of reasons that partially included a flight to Phnom Penh taking off in a few days. Some wonderful people had written about Chiang Mai and a day at the Bua Thong Waterfalls that are about an hour’s drive away from Chiang Mai. We couldn’t leave without having a look.
Here’s how the story begins.
Chiang Mai and The Drive
Chiang Mai has so many wonderful things that deserve a minute or two of my time but and after booking a hotel in the cozy Nimman Hyemin area; my wife and I have the Bua Thong Waterfalls on our mind. I feel bad for the guy who’s arrived with the scooter at such an early hour but he probably doesn’t care, considering I’m paying more than research said was a proper rate. Whatever. I test the Honda Scoopy’s limits for a few around the block and get things moving towards our destination. The drive starts out with a mix of city streets before we get to the main highway that’ll take us to the Bua Thong Waterfalls.
The people at the reception warned us against this ride and I really can’t figure out why. Just stick to the left sides of the road and keep away from the traffic and this is an easy ride. All 50ccs of the motorbike handles the trip very well. Compared to some of the bikes I’ve rented, this one handles like a Cadillac and has the added bonus of two mirrors. Traffic picks up from time to time and the ride gets noisy for the parts that run along the busy highways surrounding Chiang Mai but we eventually reach quiet and green surroundings that occasionally run into small towns and beautiful open spaces.
Arrival at Bua Thong Waterfalls
After a missed turn or two, we pull onto the forest road that leads to Bua Thong Waterfalls. The drive in reminds me of national parks throughout the world that I’ve visited and makes me sentimental for a minute. Man, this feels familiar! Switch out those coconut palms for some pines and some oak trees and one could easily confuse this with the Appalachians or even Korean parks that we visited so many times. I start to consider how long it’s been since we’ve been home but remember that it won’t be long. I’ll be back soon, I mumble quietly so my also-homesick wife doesn’t catch wind of my thoughts.
The bike is parked along with the others that have made it here before us and we stretch out those tired backs and glutes that suffered during the hour-plus drive. Times likes these remind me that scooters are definitely for those with tight buns and strong backs. Lucky bastards! For a moment I ignore the pain and start worrying about the waterfalls being crowded. Having a look by some school-aged kids hanging out at the entrance, it’s 9 A.M. and not too busy to have some fun. Thank you, off-season and this spot not yet making the organized tour list but things always change.
From a distance, one might think the water chugs down a series of muddy canals similar to the Mekong or other brown rivers. I’m skeptical that one can walk on the travertine limestone that’s taken millions of years to form. That is until I see some kids gracefully running up and down them like they’ve been doing it forever. Stairs lead all the way down to the bottom and 3rd level, which is where we go in search of a spot to put our stuff. The sounds of rushing water take and scattered chatter take over as we scan around. A few people are sitting around having a family day out and aside from some Germans we meet; there are hardly any Western tourists here.
Take it further and I have to say there’s hardly anybody here and that’s hard to believe after looking at these truly unique waterfalls. I regret bringing shoes as Christina gets her feet right in the water with those handy Teva sandals that she’s been wearing the whole time. Putting my mud-stained Adidas sneakers in a dry nook, I walk up to the base of these curiosity-inspiring wonders. There’s some green algae on the outside and even those common sense says not to test it, I do anyway and slip a bit. My feet stick to the middle and climb around for a bit. The water rushes right on down the rock steps and doesn’t threaten to knock me over at any point.
Can We Live Here?
It’s at a nice cool temperature that’s working against the sun that’ll bake us back in Chiang Mai. I almost regret not bringing a warm change of clothes but after a few minutes sitting underneath the rapidly flowing water, all worries splash away along with my sunglasses. The sounds of water never go away on this hot day and for a minute; I daydream about the possibilities of living here and making a real go at a life in Thailand. All this time we’ve been raving about Pai and I can’t shake the fact that Chiang Mai is a much more inviting and convenient place to live. We’ve only been here a week and found this awesome thing that I’m sitting on.
What else would be possible if we gave it more time? A family comes along and shakes me out of my Walter Mitty daydream. They are a bit scared and no matter how many times I tell them it’s safe, they insist that I move out of the way. I grumble for a minute and try to get back to that wonderful idea of moving to Chiang Mai when other more prominent sitting spots appear. There are so many places one can carve out for him or herself and that’s what I try to do with so much limited time at Bua Thong. It’s crazy to think that we’ve been here for a couple of hours and my hands and fingers are getting pruny. Next time.
Driving Back and Drying Off
The first part of the return trip is much better than the one we started on today. It’s those wonderful forest roads that we came on and only occasional meetings with other drivers. Before we get back to the big and busy city, Christina gets creative with the GoPro and snaps a couple of shots over my head that we’ll hopefully place on a wall someday. I love her drive to take photos from interesting angles and have to admit, she’s a keeper! Like all drives back and forth go, coming back is just as fun for the contrasting perspective it presents. Our bodies and t-shirts dry off against the warm wind and by the time we reach that busy highway, the sun is on its way down.
Something I’m starting to notice is that Chiang Mai is surrounded by beautiful places in all corners. There’s the massive Doi Suthep-Pui Hill and National Park that overlooks the city and is worth a drive around along its series mountainous, dangerous, and beautiful roads. Chiang Rai’s White Temple is off in the distance and better seen alone and not during an exhausting 14-hour tour like we experienced. These are just a few things that I love about Chiang Mai’s surroundings that include today’s trip to Bua Thong Waterfalls. The idea of living here really sounds like a possibility but for now, we’ve got a flight to catch in a few days and won’t be able to settle in this wonderful city.
Have you ever been to Chiang Mai? How about Bua Thong? I’d love to read about your thoughts in the comments section!
Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls Directions
Thanks in Part to JohnnyFD.com
Follow these directions and you should get there in about 1 1/2 hours depending on how fast you drive.
Drive on the superhighway towards the Central Festival Mall in Chiang Mai and follow exits towards the 1001 highway that goes towards Phrao. Stay on 1001 the whole way and ignore any business route distractions. Mae Jo University was a good landmark and hint that we were going the right way. Just don’t veer away at this point. At some point you might get confused and think you’re lost but a sign will tell you that you’re 18km away. Keep on truckin’ and you’ll see something that resembles a police checkpoint that was unmanned when we came through. Turn right before that and you’ll be on the forest road that leads to Bua Thong. Park at the Bua Thong Waterfalls entrance and have fun!