Cheap and Free in Pai, Thailand
When you find yourself in Northern Thailand, Pai, consider a hike through the jungle to reach one of its hidden gems. Hua Chang waterfall is a relatively unknown and refreshing waterfall that you can enjoy in peace. As reaching the falls takes a bit of a hike, not may make the journey. Best of all, unlike the others, it's free! An peaceful hour and a half hike journey through the jungles gets you to a nice roaring falls with little pools at different levels. It's free, secluded and refreshing! Doesn't get much better.
As my friend who's been living in Pai for the past 10 years puts it
That's my favourite waterfall in Pai"
You''ll be navigating flat dirt terrain and crossing the low running stream multiple times. Even on a hot day, with that intense Pai sun in the sky, the trek is pleasant due to the dense jungle blocking out the heat. The path is straight forward and well defined so you won't likely get lost.
The start of the hike starts quite far out of town. Luckily I met an Indian man(Pradeep) who arrived from India on bicycle. One of the many interesting characters you'll encounter in Pai. He was restless and ask what I wanted to do. Right away he was keen on joining me to the Hua Chang. After a few detours and distractions, we finally took to the North. rossing the East Pai Bridge going towards Paradise we took a steep left up right after the famous Don't Cry Bar.
The last of Pai city life went by as we passed the Bom Bowls vegan restaurant on the left. A few secluded guesthouses lined the streets before we caught glimpse of a sun faded sign on our right. The faint outlines, barely read Hua Chang. Unsure if it was still the way, we took the turn anyways. This road soon turned to dirt and we were riding in farmland. Lush green Pai mountains stood tall in the background as we passed by freshly cut crops. Once we hit our first stream I knew we were on the right track. The water level was very low and we made it over, no dramas. The road lead us to a T with a tree. A small sign with Hua Chang pointed to the right, this was the last turn on the route. Smooth sailing ahead.
I told Pradeep
"You know we're going to have to cross a few more times right? Like more than 10 times."
He wasn't phased. "No problem" He laughed and sped up as we rounded the dirt track around a mountain.
We ran into the occasional Thai farmers who greeted us with big smiles. The second stream presented itself. Again the water was low so we sped through without much trouble.
We were soon leaving farmland and entering jungle area. The road was still wide and easy to navigate with a deeper stream at the end. A scooter was parked here. The unofficial Official start of the hike.
We paused. We could have easily parked the bike and continue on foot but Pradeep had other plans. Again, the water was quite low and rolled through without much drama.
Any sense of a road disappeared. It was more of a path. This excited Pradeep more and again we were up to speed. Rushing through the jungle track. Leaves whizzes by our faces.
"Don't worry" He assured me "
"In India we ride these all the time."
He continued to giggle and I continued to dodge branches as best I could.
Crossing number three gave us a slight pause again. We exchanged glances. Our eyes agreed again, the water level was not too high. I'm not going to lie. There was some doubt in my mind. We made it, not so smoothly, but we made it. After a few more questionable crossings, we arrived at a tiny mini fall where obviously the scooter couldn't cross.
Halfway to the falls, abandoning our Scoopy, we continued on foot. I crossed the stream while Pradeep unwilling to remove his boots moved back. At full sprint he hit the water bank an leapt to the other side.
"See I'm from India man!"
Whatever that meant.
The next crossing however was wide. Quite a bit deeper. That was the end of our journey. Pradeep could not make the leap despite being Indian nor did he want to take off his boats.
A scooter gets you halfway. The rest must be by foot.
I met a new Indian friend whos shoes were stolen. I kicked off my flip flops and we took off from Bom Bowls to attempt Hua Chang again. A dog found us and decided to lead us to the sign as dogs do in Asia. We took the same route but left a little late. After the first stream we took a left at the tree as we wouldn't make it on time. Shoes you can take off is recommended if you're to go all the way on foot. Walking back our feet were quite tender and sore. Leave before noon if you take this option.
By Mountain Bike
By far the most recommended method would be by mountain bike. The bike rental centre on walking street should get you sorted for 100 baht. Once you test the bike is in good working order make your way across the bridge again. the road is steep but you can do it! Pace yourself, it'll be tough or just walk your bike up. Feel free to walk your bike the whole way to the start if you feel as the jungle ride is tough.
You'll be able to leave later in the day with your bikes. As the travel time will be cut down significantly. There are some sections that will challenging. Crossing the first streams will be a breeze. The later crossings are a bit hairy but possible. Make you're own best judgements and be careful. Walk or carry the bikes if you're unsure.
The jungle tracks will have many rocks and holes so be careful. The track gets narrow and high in many sections. If taken all at a steady pace, nothing is too dangerous. We came across some dirt hill climbs that forced us to walk the bikes up. Don't fret.
The river crossings get pretty deep near the end. You'll have to carry your bike over rocks and deeper streams a few times. Expect to get your shoes wet or in my case sandals. Careful not to lose them to the stream or you'll be chasing them down the stream.
THE HUA CHANG WATERFALLS
The falls has two streams that empties into a shallow pool. One is coming down from much higher at the top. The other is coming off a mid level pool to the right. Sitting underneath here is no problem. You can get down by a rope attached to a tree set by my friend I mentioned in the beginning. He set that rope almost 10 years ago and it's still there!
You can climb up to the middle section or help yourself up by another rope. Careful wading through the pool to make it to the other side.You an take a dip in the mid-pool and let the water fall over your body if you can handle the cold!
Make your way around the back through the jungle and down again to get to the top of the falls. Another little pool awaits with a nice view from above. We got out some 7/11 honey roasted nuts and hung out here.
When in Pai you can go to the Pom Bok waterfall where you can jump in, the Mor Paeng waterfall where you can slide in, or the nice, free, secluded waterfalls with multiple pools at Hua Chang. They're all worth a visit but nothing beats a nice dip in a waterfall pool after a good hike. Leave early on a hot day and the trek will be well worth the trip.
You can take your scooter at least halfway, walk the whole way, or rent a mountain bike. The mountain bike is highly recommended. We did need to park our bikes a bit further back from the actual falls as there was no need to take it up the stream with us. I don't know if it was the water cooling us down or just coming downhill but riding down the way back was a lot easier. We crossed the streams with ease and were flying through the jungle. The bikes paid off as we had plenty of time to enjoy the falls. They were a challenge but well worth it.
I'll admit once we hit the farms and turned onto the road again, some of the uphills defeated me and I walked the bike. There was no rush anyways, as the bikes saved us quite a bit of time. Although the other two waterfalls were fun, I've come to share my friends sentiment. Hua Chang by bike is definitely my favourite Pai waterfall.
Would you be up for a jungle bike adventure in Pai? Find that faded sign and bring your swimwear to Hua Chang.