When it comes to mountain biking, getting there is not just half the fun; it's every bit a part of the excitement! And that proved true again last Sunday when I revisited Pha Sawan waterfalls in Thong Pha Phum, Kanchanaburi.
It's been over a decade since the last time I went to this particular site known to not so many people outside of the trekking and 4X4 enthusiast circles.
After some internet research I was glad to learn that the dirt road to Namtok Pha Sawan remains unpaved. Sure enough, the difficult access has been a major reason the falls have been out of reach of mass tourism.
These days this particular dirt track remains one of the most challenging routes for off-road drivers wishing to test their skill and the oomph of their badass vehicles, especially during the rainy season when it's all muddy and at certain points the muck is more than knee deep, not to mention a river with steep, slippery banks that has to be crossed.
But during this dry period of the year, it is perfect for mountain biking.
For the ride there last Sunday morning I was accompanied by a colleague who served both as the pickup truck driver and the second photographer. Lucky me, because I needed pictures of a biker in action and taking such shots with the camera's self-timer is just so impractical.
So I had the 4X4 truck following me up and down the hills. We stopped at many points along the way to take pictures. However, after going about 8km into the forest, the pickup could go no further. The wooden bridge over a river has partly collapsed.
And even if the driver was stubborn enough and managed to get the truck to the other side of the bridge, he would have been stuck there forever. Despite the fact that it was now February and there had been no unseasonal rain the past several weeks, the track surface under the lush canopy was moist and soft. And the tyre ruts dug by the monster wheels of fully modified off-roaders were too deep for our stock vehicle.
So I continued the rest of the way on my own. To my delight, the road conditions on these remaining 5km were even more fun.
At many points, it's a complete mess. As I rode on I couldn't help but admire the expertise of those drivers who could manoeuvre through the obstacles all the way to the waterfalls. Even in a dry month such as this, the off-road drivers have to be very skilful and their machines must be powerful and boast a ground clearance good enough to cope with such nasty terrain.
I ran into three beefed-up 4X4 pick-ups which were on their way out.
I asked one of the drivers if there were others coming so I could watch out and was told that there were many more. However, during the rest of the way I found no other trucks.
It was not until the forest track led me to a vast open area that I finally realised what that driver actually meant. Dozens of well modified 4X4 trucks were parked there surrounding groups of tents and makeshift kitchens.
The campers looked surprised as they saw me and my bike approaching. They were friendly folk. Some even invited me to join them for a drink.
After saying a quick hello, I rode on along the 1km single track that connects the parking area to the lowest level of the seven-tiered waterfalls. I didn't venture to the top fall this time though. It's too much trouble with the bike and I didn't want my colleague to wait for too long.
As soon as I got the photos of the bike at the lowest waterfall, I rushed back out, stopping by again at the camping ground to say goodbye and to get my water bottle refilled.
As usual, the return leg was faster than the ride in. Still, it was way past lunchtime when I reached the waiting truck. From there on I cheated and hopped on the back of the pickup instead of riding.
After all, I had made it to Pha Sawan. Got there and got all the fun I needed. Now the next mission for me and the driver was to get some food.
Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to "Freewheel Bangkok" community page on Facebook.
Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post's travel editor and a mountain bike freak.
PHA SAWAN WATERFALLS
GPS coordinates (Ban Nikhom Sahakorn): N 14 38.469E 98 42.213
Trail condition: Unpaved track through the forest, the last third of it badly worn out. Rideable only in the dry season.
Distance: The dirt road to the falls is 13km but you can get an extra 10km on asphalt if you start riding from the point where the side road to Ban Sahakorn Nikhom splits off from Highway 323.
Getting there: From Kanchanaburi downtown, drive west on Highway 323 for about 110km and turn right on to the road that leads to Ban Sahakorn Nikhom. Follow the road for 10km. Just before Ban Pha Sawan, you'll see the dirt road to Pha Sawan waterfalls on the right-hand side.
Parking: It depends on where you wish to start. But no matter where that is, space is not a likely issue. Just use common sense where you want to leave your car.
Food & drinks: There are no shops or villages along the way so the only option is bring your own supply.
What your family can enjoy while waiting: Not much. But maybe they can enjoy the hot spring at Pha Tat just a 20-minute drive away.
Accommodation: There are a number of resorts and hotels in Kanchanaburi, Thong Pha Phum and districts along the way.
About the author
- Writer: Pongpet Mekloy
Position: Travel Editor