The Journey to Heaven aka The Sticky Waterfall
I began my morning walking around the Old City searching for a Thai breakfast. I settled upon a nice hostel Issara Guest House that served rice soup. It wasn’t something I would typically eat for breakfast but it was quite hearty and enjoyable despite a much more subdued flavor than most of my Thai meals. Then my wonderful friend picked me up his neon green car and we drove North on a 48-mile, 1.5 hour drive to the Sticky Waterfall (also known as Buatong Waterfall). I loved the drive as it took us through several surprisingly lively small towns with outdoor markets, agricultural countryside, and green tree-covered hills. When we arrived, there was a parking area with a few songthaews, a donation box (optional), and a restroom with squat toilets at which I marveled. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend to drive you, sharing a songthaew with others is the most cost-effective way to make the journey.
2 Amazing Hours of Stickiness: Buatong Waterfall
From the parking area, we walked a short distance down a set of stairs to the main waterfall. We set our stuff down, changed, and walked into the pool of water below the falls. There were literally butterflies flying all around the area which contributed to the magical setting. Some of the rocks in this area were a bit slippery, but once we got onto the waterfall our feet stuck very well to the rocks and we were able to climb up to the top easily. There are ropes to grasp onto as you climb up, but once we got more comfortable with the climb, there was no need for them. There are several different routes you can take to the top and then a few feet below this waterfall is another set of falls which is even more beautiful. That area ends in a beautiful light blue swimming hole surrounded by rock formations – a very tranquil place to relax! After a couple hours of playing around and feeling epic being able to climb on waterfalls (usually a no-no at other falls due to death concerns), we walked back to the car and drove back to Chiang Mai.
Why was The Sticky Waterfall so amazing and why is it a MUST if you’re in Chiang Mai?
- Despite its awesomeness, it’s not a tourist trap! There were less than ten other people at the falls the whole time we were there. I imagine its remote location contributes to this but it’s only 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai so it’s easy to fit into your plans. The other reason it probably isn’t as well-known is because it’s free and tourism companies want you to spend $$$ on more expensive activities elsewhere.
- It’s the only waterfall I’ve heard of which you can climb up, play around, and chillax in without hurting yourself! I’ve seen countless beautiful waterfalls in my life but usually avoid coming into close contact with them to avoid being swept away and dying. As I got used to climbing on Buatong Waterfall, I started to lose my completely rational fear of waterfalls – hopefully it returns the next time I go to a “real” waterfall.
- The surrounding area is a peaceful jungle haven and gives you a glimpse of “real Thailand.” The drive takes you through very non-touristy towns and countryside and once you’re there, you’re in a vibrant green forest with huge trees, quirky vines, and no noise pollution – and you have it almost to yourself.
- It’s unique AF – I don’t know of anywhere else on earth like it. It was absolutely my favorite place I went in Thailand and possibly even reigns as my favorite spot on the planet. It’s possible there’s other Sticky Waterfalls hiding elsewhere in the world, but it’s the only one I know of and I love that 🙂
More Wats with a Fellow Bruin
Back in Chiang Mai, I met up with a student from my alma meter UCLA who I had met the prior day (Bruins are everywhere!) and we hopped in a songthaew to go to Wat Umong, a large 700-year-old temple on the outskirts of the city. The temple used for worship was average-sized and didn’t have any especially distinctive architecture or décor, but the surrounding grounds were huge and really fun to explore. We walked over to a large lake and watched people throw scraps of bread into the water to feed tons of hungry fish (Shame! Shame! Shame!). Dozens and dozens of birds congregated around the lake, seeking bread crumbs of their own and just chillin. We found the historic temple and wandered down a hallway through a narrow cave opening to find several mini prayer spots and statues. We walked out the back and took a stairway to the top where a large bell-shaped sculpture marked the spot of the original temple.
We hopped back in our songthaew which had thankfully offered to wait for us (it’s a bit of a remote area) and went back near the Old City to see Wat Sri Siobhan, an exquisite silver temple. We were greeted by monks who tried to get us to buy a “talk to a monk” package which would have been cool if we had more time / if they were less aggressive 😉 Several of the temples across Chiang Mai offer a similar service – would be cool to ask a monk some deep questions about life. We walked into a larger, more typical temple before wandering over to the Silver Temple and seeing a sign that it was for men only (how sad for female tourists). Thankful at that moment for our genitalia/gender performance, we walked into the temple and beheld beautiful architecture, statues, and murals. It was definitely one of my favorite temples and it’s really close by (and free) so don’t miss it if you’re in Chiang Mai!
We took a short walk to the Chiang Mai Gate, a partly preserved gate on the south end of the moat with dozens of food vendors. I got a basic smoothie just because it was hella cheap and sounded good – I really enjoyed the Canadian woman behind me in line who asked for the vendor to surprise her and make her anything 😉 I’m very paranoid about getting traveler’s sickness so I got mine without ice – I only allowed myself to drink things with ice if I was at a fairly upscale restaurant or venue. We walked back toward our hotels and I was thrilled to finally find a food I’d been searching for – nam sao too, Thai donuts with warm soy milk. It seems like a breakfast food and is supposedly served in both the morning and the evening but I hadn’t been able to find it on my morning walks. Yet here it finally was at 6pm – hooray! Sadly it wasn’t as delicious as I’d hoped but at least I satisfied my curiosity.
Last Evening in Chiang Mai
I met up with a friend at an outdoor cafe – as he and his friend smoked and drank vodka sodas, I just chatted, chilled, and observed the beautiful surroundings. The cafe was family-run and a 14(ish)-year-old boy seemed to be running a lot of it – impressive! Another customer had a young granddaughter at her side and my (apparently artistic) friend walked over and offered to make her a cute silver paper hat – adorbz! It was a beautiful warm evening on one of Chiang Mai’s many pleasant streets.
My friend picked me up on his motorbike and at my request took me to a local spot for my second helping of Khao Soi, the amazing specialty dish of Chiang Mai – chicken leg in yellow curry. There was not a tourist in sight, it was the equivalent of one dollar, and it was damn good so I deemed the meal a great success!
Upon hearing that Chiang Mai had a Chinatown, I asked my friend to take me there. Turns out it was right next to the night market and I just hadn’t noticed it. There wasn’t too much to see it at night aside from some large colorful Chinese signs and the tranquil river flowing nearby. Exhausted and with an early alarm set for my flight back to Bangkok the next day, I called it a night.
That’s it for Chiang Mai! Click here to go on to my Bangkok Day 3 blog where I walk through their incredible Chinatown and check out Unicorn Cafe.
Click here for a travel guide to Chiang Mai outlining cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to see, eat, and drink.