Erawan National Park

Erawan is one of Thailand’s most famous national parks, famed for what everyone describes as it’s seven ’emerald green’ waterfalls. The topmost waterfall, it’s said, resembles an elephant head, thus giving it it’s name – Erawan being what the Thai people call the mythological white elephant that carries the Hindu god Indra.

Bea was the one who’d heard about Erawan and wanted to visit – not that I needed much convincing. A quick Google promised excellent hiking, breathtaking scenery, the possibility of monkeys, and schools of skin-eating fish, all of which were totally my cup of tea. I was particularly intrigued by the idea of swimming in a lake full of skin-eating fish – that’s not the kind of experience you have every day!

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Getting to Erawan was super easy – the bus leaves from the main Kanch bus stop (you can ask at the information desk where to go), and it costs 50 baht, takes about an hour and a half, and leaves every 90 minutes from 8am to 5.20pm. Pro-tip: bring a fan and get a window seat, because you’ll feel like you’re in a moving oven otherwise.

When you get there the bus driver grabs the entrance fee from each of you – 300B for foreigners – gives you a little ticket, and lets you off. If you’re staying there overnight, don’t lose that ticket, because they’ll ask to see it every time you set off on the path into the actual park.

Being the high season, we figured we’d better book in advance to stay at one of the bungalows in the park. The way it works is that you do the booking at the Department of National Parks website,  transfer money over through Western Union, and then email them to let them know that you’ve booked and paid.

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The confusing part is that they don’t get back to you. You get no confirmation email, no idea of check-in or check-out times, and you more or less have no way of knowing whether it’s been done successfully or not. Travelling really makes you appreciate just how smoothly things like this run at home – I’d never thought that I should be grateful for confirmation emails before this.

We bolstered ourselves with some lunch first before trying to figure out our accommodation. Talking to the woman in charge was a bit tense; she reminded me of a prison guard, all hard and stoic and interrogatory. And then after finishing with her, finding our bungalow was yet another challenge. The signposts in the park are terribly misleading, and  it was a long winding path to get to our bungalow – with the heat and humidity so oppressive that every step felt like a Herculean feat.

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It’s no wonder, then, that when we got there we ended up collapsing on the bed – for what was meant to be just a few minutes but ended up being a few hours.

When we finally managed to rouse ourselves and head up the path, however, we were rewarded with the inviting sight of a clean, trickling river, surrounded by lush greenery and full of craggy, almost step-like rocks creating a myriad of mini-waterfalls, more turquoise, I thought, than emerald. It was one of those picture-perfect scenes, the type you’d find on a postcard or that your friend who’s annoyingly obsessed with panorama’s would try to capture on their iPhone.

The first waterfall we came up to was full of friendly young Thai people messing about joyfully. The fish were a little intimidating – in all the markets they’d had baby fish at the foot spas, just a few centimetres long. The ones here were huge, full grown and bigger than my feet.

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You could climb partway up the waterfall before you had to switch back to using the path, and after we’d had a good cooling down session frolicking about, we decided to blaze our way up to the top….and were subsequently stopped after the third waterfall, the guards closing it up for the day.

Oh well, I wasn’t too disappointed. We’d splashed around nicely and seen the first three waterfalls, and we could save the long hike to the top for early the next morning, before the sun made the walk torturous.

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Plus, on the way back I found a tamarind tree and went scouting for seeds to eat. Wild tamarind is so perfectly tart and sweet, it just made me perfectly content.

We woke up early the next day, the allure of avoiding the midday sun providing us with the motivation to speed walk our way up the trail. It was beautiful, with hardly a soul around and only the sounds of birdsong and our laboured breathing to be heard. Although, every so far along the trail we’d find a tree with traditional Thai costumes wrapped around it and tied there. No idea why.

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The park doesn’t let you take food beyond the 2nd waterfall, and if you want to take a water bottle up you have to leave a 20B deposit to be collected again on the way down, which meant that there was hardly any litter along the paths. It was good morning exercise too, with lots of steps and slopes and bridges.

Each waterfall was so distinct too, and they just looked magical at that time of the morning. My favourite was the 6th tier, where there were an abundance of smaller fish, and where I reclined across a hanging tree branch with my feet in the water for a good little while, letting them nibble away at my toes.

The last walk up to the top was badly maintained and required a bit of clambering through the river and terrain. Getting to the top was worth it – the water up here was a deep, luminous blue in parts, and white in others. We peeled off our sweaty clothes and sank happily in…. only to be interrupted by a trio of middle aged Thai men.

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It’s not that I don’t appreciate people being friendly, and I usually like talking to locals, but we were in a really conservative part of Thailand, with signs at the park telling visitors to cover up their shoulders and thighs, and given that Bea and I were in our bikinis and these men were just a little too friendly, I was put off and soon wanted to head back down.

We meandered down somewhat more languorously, although I was a little more eager than Bea because of the promise of breakfast at the end. I had a slightly uncomfortable experience at the 3rd tier, where the fish were really brave, and after ending up in the middle of the lake alone, they surrounded me. I know they don’t want to actually bite you, but they were all nibbling up against me incessantly and these were the biggest fish in the whole waterfall. I only lasted a few minutes before I found it too ticklish and uncomfortable and retreated to the shallows, where the little ones hung out.

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We caught sight of a couple of monkeys in the last quiet section of the walk, then packed our things, checked out, grabbed some barbecued chicken for brunch, and sat to wait for the bus.

We’d been told there would be long lines and that we should come early, but in actuality we just sat there waiting needlessly since there were only about four other people, and the group of us were the only ones who got on the near-empty bus. It wasn’t really time wasted though, or at least not for Bea, who used the opportunity to try out all the different ice creams you could buy there. A fitting way to prepare for the bus ride back, I thought.

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