Overlooked no longer

The Chet Sao Noi Waterfalls of Saraburi province have undergone a makeover that reveals their true charms

Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi was one of the few national parks that I didn't want to revisit, mainly because it was overcrowded, dilapidated and poorly managed. Last year, however, I heard the ugly duckling of Saraburi's Muak Lek district has been transformed into a swan. So the other day when I got the chance to travel to those parts I decided to check it out.

Camping is in vogue nowadays. And the Lan Nap Dao camping ground in Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi National Park is one of the most famous, thanks to the proximity to Bangkok, easy access, good facilities and security. At weekends, the camping site and the waterfall area can be pretty crowded. So if you seek peace and quiet, visit on a weekday. For better comfort, the park offers bungalows for rent, but online booking is required. It can be done at nps.dnp.go.th/reservation.php?id=128.

And I was stunned.

The waterfalls, as well as surrounding areas, have been thoughtfully relandscaped. Facilities have been added. Several measures have been implemented to minimise the impact on the environment and maximise visitors' safety and satisfaction. It's hard to believe this was the place I used to shun.

Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi was upgraded from a forest park to a national park in 2016. However, it was not until late 2019 that the makeover began. These days, the park is even more popular than ever especially among campers but thanks to proper management it is tidy and uncongested.

Chet Sao Noi Waterfalls scatter in a section of Muak Lek stream that originates from Khao Yai National Park about 20km away to the south. Along the course of the stream, there are several other small cascades including Muak Lek, Rim Than, Ko Sichang, Dong Phyayen and Ta-Yai waterfalls. None of them matches the new version of Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi.

The park has positively changed, and so is my view on it. I can now say it is one of my favourite places for quick getaways.

Contrary to popular notions, the falls of Chet Sao Noi boast running water all year round. The limestone cascades here may not be so tall compared to other sites, but the water is cool and crystal clear, ideal for a refreshing dip. For visitors who want to chill out and soak in the beauty of nature, there are numerous shade trees along the waterside.

This sloping pathway leads into the stream. It’s a clever way to allow people in wheelchairs to get the chance to actually feel the water instead of just looking at it from the bank. This national park is highly praised for being wheelchair- and stroller-friendly. It also has wheelchairs available for visitors who need them.

Food is not an issue at this park. A lot of som tam and ahan tam sang (cooked-to-order food) stalls can be found lining one side of the vast parking lot. You can also bring your goodies to the waterfall area as long as they are not in plastic bags. There’s a coffee shop with a nice view of the stream below. Also, common bathrooms and toilets are clean, well-equipped and more than enough.

It’s dry season now in Thailand. Vegetation may not be so lush but if you look around slowly, you’ll find that they are far from lifeless. Several species of trees and plants are blossoming, some on high branches and others close to the ground. In the clear stream, a wide array of aquatic plants flourish. Bring a pair of swimming goggles so you can appreciate the park’s underwater world better.

The park’s efforts to ensure tourist safety are evident. For example, the entry tickets come with accident insurance. An ambulance is always on stand-by. Lifebuoys are provided in areas designated for swimming. Swimmers in each of the allowed periods (three in the first half of the day and another three in the afternoon) are limited.

All visitors entering the park are required to wear a mask, pass a temperature scan and either sign in the visiting book or check-in via the Thai Chana mobile application. Entry tickets are sold by vending machines to reduce contact.

Muak Lek stream feeds water to Chet Sao Noi falls. The near bank in the photograph is Saraburi province while the other side is Nakhon Ratchasima. You can stroll along both banks and learn about the area’s flora and fauna. The path on the Saraburi side is well paved while the one on the Nakhon Ratchasima side is more natural. Both are connected by two bridges and form a loop about 1.5km long.

Despite its small size, less than 42km², Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi National Park is home to a variety of little animals, from ants, butterflies and other insects to birds and lizards, including takong (Chinese water dragon). In the stream, you can find fish of various sizes. Let your eyes wander and you’ll spot many interesting creatures.

A few minutes’ drive northwest of the national park lies the Muak Lek reservoir where its namesake stream flows into. The south side of the new manmade lake, completed in 2019, is bordered by hills and mountains that are part of the park. This is a nice place to watch the sunset.

TRAVEL INFO

  • Nam Tok Chet Sao Noi National Park is just 150km or so from Bangkok, and 10km from Muak Lek railway station. Local buses can take you from Muak Lek town to the park's entrance.
  • For more information, visit facebook.com/chetsaonoi.np or call 036-346-586.

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