Pala U Waterfall Walk
If you find yourself in Hua Hin, you’re in luck. Because just a short drive from the city is a tasty little hike, through the lush jungle to Pala-U Waterfall.
(Don’t worry, this isn’t a multiday jungle expedition. You’ll get all the experience of being lost in the wilderness while only being an hour away from beach cocktails. Yay!)
The waterfall is located in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand’s largest – so in addition to Pala-U having sixteen levels of splishy splashy waterfall action, it has everything you would expect in terms of foliage and fauna.
Spend a few hours exploring the waterfalls in the company of fish, monkeys, several species of pretty butterflies, and, if you’re very lucky, a wild elephant or two. Do it!
How to get to Pala-U Waterfall
Pala-U Waterfall (also spelt Pa La U Waterfall or Pa Lu U Waterfall) is located about 65km (40 miles) west of Hua Hin city, at the southern tip of Kaeng Krachan National Park.
The park is popular with both local and international tourists alike. With good reason. It’s hella pretty!
There are 3 main ways to tackle the two-hour round trip to the waterfall.
- An organised mini-van tour. Fear not, you’ll find them advertised all over Hua Hin.
- A scooter ride. Easily rented from your hotel for 300 baht (or less, if you haggle better than we did)
- Private taxi. For those who have too much money.
We opted for a scooter as we be crazy like that.
The private car option was a bit too expensive and boring-sounding. Mini-vans are good value – but they mean you’re on somebody else’s clock and potentially trapped in a sealed vehicle with strangers’ farts. So, no.
With the scooter, we could stop as we pleased. See a pretty tree. Stop. Need a pee. Stop. And the only farts were our own, released into the wind with wild abandon.
What to bring with you to Pala-U Waterfall
Don’t go crazy in terms of what to pack. It’s a short hike like Bukit Guling Ayam 1km over rough ground. I’d recommend:
- Trainers or hiking boots (leave the flip-flops at home)
- Swimming togs
- Sun hat
- 300 baht in cash, as that is what you’ll need to get into the park
- A bit of extra cash for your nibs, bevvies and fish food
It’s up to you whether to bring food with you (as there’s a nice picnic area at the entrance). But note, you’re not supposed to bring any outside food or drink into the park itself.
There is a little shop and small restaurant at the park entrance, where you can stock up on snackies and get yourself some tasty, yet unnecessarily spicy, Thai dishes.
You can also load your pockets with fish food (which we didn’t, and regretted later).
When is the best time to visit Pala-U? Slippy When Wet!
Well, opening hours are 8:30 am to 4:30 pm…so I’d suggest that’s the best time.
In terms of the best season: the wetter the better!
While the National Park and nearby attractions close for the rainy season, the falls stays open year-round. And it’s much more impressive after heavy rain when the river swells; as opposed to the peak of the dry season, when the waters get a little trickily and lame.
But note, if you do go in the rainy season, it can get mega slippy when wet. So be wary as you walk.
Uninspiring Wind Inspires Adventure
We woke to another windless day. For the fourth day in a row, the Thai flag hanging limply outside the hotel was as flaccid and limp as a depressed sea cucumber. Not good.
In the UK, windless days are great. But in Hua Hin, when you’re in town specifically to learn to kitesurf, then having no wind is a bit megashit.
We’d read all our books, sunbathed until crispy, and even (shock, horror) done some work. But the idea of another wind-free day was disheartening.
Then a voice in my head said, “If you’re bored, go for a walk.” One of my mum’s classic lines from growing up. OK ma, I will. Thanks.
And that’s how we found ourselves bezzing through the outskirts of Hua Hin on a nifty automatic scooter, out onto the highway and into the countryside. The jungle, here we come!
Leaving Hua Hin: Getting Pumped
You can catch a taxi services or a minibus to Pala-U but where’s the fun in that?
One of the joys of travelling in Southeast Asia is motorbiking (also one of the main risks for newbies: go careful now, my children, and watch those overheated exhaust pipes on your delicate calf skin).
Going by two wheels turns even the smallest journey to the closest location into an adventure. And we couldn’t wait to see where it took us.
Our rental bike was waiting for us just outside the hotel lobby; but appeared to be running on fumes. Job one, fill up.
We found a little pay-as-you-go pump but not reading Thai, it was incomprehensible to us. Fortunately, some friendly locals spotted our confused faces and helped us out.
Unfortunately, we discovered a few minutes later, that gas wasn’t as cheap as we thought. So we hadn’t topped up much at all. Doh!
So it was on to the next pump. Which was the exact opposite of the futuristic first one: this was a rusty barrel at the side of the road hand-pumped by a smiley old woman. But it did the job.
The Road West to Pala-U: Look out for Wild Elephants
Fuelled up, we hit the road. The romantically titled “Road 3218”, in fact.
The route to Pala-U Waterfall is pretty straightforward. Just drive west as if you were fleeing the Thai authorities and escaping to Myanmar. You can’t go (too) wrong!
Along the way, we were treated to vignettes of Thai life. Stupas on hilltops. Shops selling Thai shrines. Trucks full of orange-robed monks, always quick with a smile and a wave.
We didn’t see any wild elephants in the hills but apparently, they are there, so keep your eyes peeled.
Entering Kaeng Krachan National Park
By the time we arrived at Kaeng Krachan National Park, we were in great spirits. Getting on the bike and out of the city had cheered us right up.
It had also toasted our weak British skin a little too. Time to slather on the trusty Factor 50 suncream I think.
Forking over a hefty 300-baht-per-person to enter the park. As admission prices go, that initially felt a bit steep, considering the amount of upkeep the trail ahead seemed to get.
Although later, I reassessed this opinion: the lack of upkeep meant the climb was a little wild and more fun…so maybe the higher cost meant keeping people out and maintaining the wilderness.
This is in contrast to Erawan falls we’ve been to Thailand, which are merely manicured tourist attractions. While Pala-U is more like: “here’s a waterfall, explore at your own risk” kinda vibe. So we immediately preferred it. Waterfalls in general should always be a bit wild.
The Hike: Our Own Private Jungle
The hike up from the national park checkpoint to the waterfalls was, in two words, wells good!
Lush tropical foliage lined the route, full of all that fun jungle stuff you’d expect: like giant flippy flappy butterflies, sexy-looking tropical birds and playful monkeys. Even better, we were the only ones there.
We arrived at the park at 10 am and left around 1 pm – and didn’t see anyone apart from a handful of the park staff. Including a chap whose main job was making sure tourists didn’t hit their heads as they ducked through his shack. (His job could’ve been eliminated by having a slightly higher doorframe. But he was nice so I say, keep the doorframe as it is!)
Trail Report: Time to Rock Out!
“Be a little boulder” – Hilarious Rock Pun
Now if you know me, you’ll know one of my very favourite things to do in the whole world is to jump from rock to rock. It’s like catnip to me. I always called it “rocking out” – but apparently, in true hiking parlance, it’s known as scrambling. Who knew?
I’m slowly learning that hiker lingo. And I confess, I’m an absolute scramblerholic. I don’t care who knows it. I love it.
Anyway, the climb up to the pools of Palu U is great for scrambling. It’s all big boulders to climb on, or giant tree roots to step over.
(But don’t worry if you don’t like rocking out as much as I do; there are more gentle paths at the side of the waterfalls that will get you up to where you need to be.)
The Waterfalls: Time to Level Up
“Don’t spoil a cool place under the hospitable tree.” – Old Thai Proverb
The falls have a total of sixteen levels or stages. But visitors are only allowed up to Level 5. Not that there’s a bouncer stopping you from climbing further – just a very big and very scary warning sign blocking the route.
From what I read afterwards, to get to the higher points you have to wade through pools and take on some proper rocks. Too much effort for us on such a pleasant and carefree morning.
To be honest, I was super happy with Level 5. I was able to get a great scramble on; and I’d impressed my missus by leaping from rock to rock like an excitable mountain goat.
The sounds of the jungle were our constant companion as we lept around. And apart from the creatures we encountered, we had the entire hike to ourselves, which heightened the whole experience.
Sure, we were only 30 mins from the park entrance (with its surprisingly well-maintained toilet block and a little restaurant). But we still felt a little bit like explorers at the end of the world.
To Swim or Not to Swim?
Now, one regret I still have is that we didn’t go for a plunge into the inviting waters.
I’m pretty sure each pool was swimmable there – but you see, there were great big flocks of fish in them. And as we were there alone, and we hadn’t seen any locals jumping in, we were slightly worried those fish were a bit suspicious.
I’m not a fish expert. But I thought they looked like big versions of those scaly bastards that you see in British shopping centres, which weirdos with too much time like to let nibble their dead foot skin away.
So my concern was, what else would would they nibble on, if I submerged my entire body?
Had I done a tiny bit more research, or even thought about it harder, I would’ve realised they were just catfish and perfectly harmless. Shame. The water did look inviting.
Final Thoughts: Pala-Oooooh Yeah or Pala Poo?
If in doubt, get out of the city and into the country. This is fast becoming my new life motto.
We couldn’t have been happier with our little adventure to Pala-U Waterfall. It is an altogether great place. We had a fabulous half-day: frolicking under the cool of the jungle canopy, scrambling over rocks and chasing lizards.
Add to that the one-hour trip back to Hua Hin and we were home a little after 2 pm. A brief afternoon nap and then out on the beach for a sundowner. (Still no wind but we didn’t care; we were sunburned but happy.)
My advice is this: If you find yourself in South Thailand and you are bored of beaches, leave the sea behind you and head to the hills.
Until next time, you beautiful hiker heroes.