Three Steps To Heaven – Kanchanaburi’s Erawan Waterfall


I am going to blow this post out of the water straight from the start. Wonderful Wi and myself got to three steps from heaven then called it a day. Erawan Waterfall in Kanchanaburi has seven tiers but unlike Sir Ranulph Fiennes who failed in his first two attempts to climb Mount Everest due to a heart attack on his first expedition, and exhaustion forcing him to quit on the second before his successful third climb, our failure was more for reasons of supply.

Smoke and chillis to be precise. My cigarettes were running low and the young one needed her daily dose of som tum, so having reached the fourth tier we headed back to base camp satisfied we had enjoyed one of the more picturesque places we were ever likely to see on this earth.

Erawan-National-Park-ThailandErawan National Park comprises 550 sq. km. of rugged land and I had 10 cigarettes to cover it. It was going to be a tough day and the blazing hot sun kind of winked to force its way into the equation.

The Erawan National Park waterfall is the biggest draw for tourists, both foreign and Thai. From the waterfall’s bottom to its seventh level is a total of 1500 metres, and our tour guide who was taking us to level one set off at a brisk pace which left us lagging a fair way behind. If I’d had a decent cigarette lighter we might of kept up.

Since becoming Thailand’s 12th national park 34 years ago Erawan Waterfall has seen a well beaten path laid down by thousands of tourists who have visited here. A trail leads from the first tier up to the next to the last sixth level but from there a rock climb needs to be negotiated to reach the precipice. The rock formation on the uppermost tier resembles a figure from Hindu mythology and gives the waterfall its name. The three-headed Erawan Elephant greets those who make it.

Our tour guide warned us about the greeting we might receive on the second level and it wasn’t long before a sign reminded us so.‘BEWARE FIERCE MONKEYS‘, and sure enough they dropped down from the trees and stood before us.

In a scene that would no doubt have been left to rot on the floor of the Planet of the Apes movie editing room, Wilai kept the beasts at bay by trowing small stones with an awkward technique that only girls seem to use. Surely if they really were that fierce, they would have caught the stones and thrown them back.

Slowly but surely I made my move. Monkey-ThailandI approached one of the savage primates and clicking away with my camera cautiously narrowed the gap between the two of us. Wilai watched my back with a handful of small stones and a throwing action similar to a ladyboy chucking confetti at a high society wedding. 

The white-handed gibbon (photo right) sat in the tree was a real cool dude. I think the park warden had dipped his bananas in Valium and Prozac because he was super cool and didn’t even bother to wink or blink an eyelid. I left him to it.

We saw many species of birds but failed to spot any of the other animals and reptiles the national park has, although our trek only covered a relatively small area. Elephants, tigers, squirrels, the dreaded king cobra and banded kraits all inhabit the park’s forestry and surround. I was happy not to have come across those last two.

The forest wrapped around the four steps of the waterfall we saw like an oyster shell protecting its precious pearl. The view on each level was so beautiful I forced myself to place each stubbed out cigarette butt back into my depleted cigarette packet. I have visited national parks in Thailand before and marveled at each, but this was the most striking and memorable I had seen.


We were both awe struck by the water’s clear crystal blue glaze and the the loud sound of falling water, yet somehow there was a stillness in the air.  Wilai stared enviously at the fish swimming in their seemingly perfect world whilst I fought back the urge to strip to the waist and wade into the glistening spring and shout, ‘Has anyone got a spare cigarette because I’m down to my last two.’  I stopped short, fearing my echo would turn the Blue Lagoon a nicotine brown.

We didn’t climb the last three steps to heaven but it was still a memorable day. Unfortunately for us, a lack of cigarettes and an Isaan girl’s hunger for som tum got in our way.

Our tour to the Erawan Waterfall was 750 baht per person and was a double package with an added bonus. The tour included a ride on Thailand’s famous Death Railway but en route there our tour guide announced that four of the other minibus passengers had booked an hour’s ride at Wang Pho Elephant Camp .

Wang Pho also turned out to be our boarding station for our Thai-Burma Death Railway ride but prior to that memorable train journey I was kindly invited to take photographs of the elephants bathing in the River Kwai Noi. I will post about  that experience at a later date.

The thing I most liked about our visit to Erawan Waterfall was that by stopping short just three steps from heaven, we have given ourselves a very good reason to go back again.

WaterfallCoffee ShopBlue waters


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

11 Responses

  1. Talen says:

    Absolutely gorgeous photos Martyn! Looks like you put the camera to tremendous good use.

    The waterfall looks every bit heaven and someplace I could relax for a very long time.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Thailand’s New Nursing Home for Elephants =-.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I know you are a very keen photographer but I have never really had any great interest before until last year when I started to see all the great photos that you and some of the other bloggers take. I am never going to be dead keen but I do have much more of an interest now. My camera is a Samsung PL 50 and is nothing fancy but it takes pictures that are acceptable for me. If I click 100 shots then 90 odd of them come out clear and not fuzzy whereas the ratio was near opposite with my previous one. The camera was reduced from 300 dollars down to about 135 so I thought I’d give it a go. The photos in this post are mainly cropped as I had to take tourists and trees out of some of the shots. I really should take a photography course.

  3. Talen says:

    I’m still learning and could definitely use some courses…night time shots are still awful for me. I use a Sony DSC-H7 & a Sony A-200…nothing special.

    I shoot a lot and wind up getting at least a few good shots.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Thailand’s New Nursing Home for Elephants =-.

  4. Mike says:

    Martyn, great post and superb pictures. This brought back some memories since back in 2005 I swam in the pool in the top picture.

    An interesting aside is that the fish in the pool nibble your feet-free pedicure-and also any other bits of exposed dead skin!

    Thanks for reminding me that I must go back although despite my 20 a day I did make it to the top last time!!
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Buddhist Funeral Rites and Ceremony-Cremation =-.

  5. malcolm says:

    Martyn , sooo glad you got to go and enjoy the falls they are great , but like you #3 was as far as I go , friends and relatives we have took there went on up to the 7th( i waited at the coffee shop ) (the walk to the first falls wore me out ha ha ), and enjoyed it ,they were really tired when they came back , maybe one of these days I’ll give it a go . we have a small falls right up from Whang Pho called Sai Yok Noi water falls and it’s right off the road no walking or hiking , my kind of thing ha ha , great pics and hope to see you if you come back for another go at the top . Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog ..FINGER LICKING GOOD =-.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Talen at the end of the day as far as blogging goes a point and click type shot is sufficient for me. I am now taking a similar stance to you and take lots of shots and delete those I don’t like. On my last trip I got a few strange looks for taking pictures of very ordinary things.

    Mike 20 cigarettes is more than enough to reach the summit and back. I must admit I didn’t fancy the fish nibbling bit as I was more interested in looking around and taking some pics. The waterfall was one of the highlights of our holiday and we both agreed that we are definitely going back.

    Malcolm what a beautiful province you live in. From the base to the 4th tier is quite a long walk and the heat makes it even harder. I read about the Sai Yok Noi Waterfalls but we had no spare time at all to visit there and a few other places that were advertised at the tour shops. Hopefully next time we will and there will without doubt be another trip to your province. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kanchanaburi.

  7. Catherine says:

    ‘Beware Fierce Monkeys’

    Ughhh… Monkeys. Nasty creatures.

    ‘Wilai kept the beasts at bay with very small stones’

    Good idea. I’ll be sure to grab stones the next time I am around monkeys.

    On a recent trip with friends, we stopped by a restaurant for lunch. Piling out of the car, we came face to face with monkeys everywhere. No thanks. Back into the car we went.

    But next time I’ll dip into the parking lot for a bucket of stones and join in.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai 101 Learners Series: Bumper-to-bumper Language Lessons =-.

  8. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine I’m very much the same when it comes to monkeys. The words pest and sharp teeth always spring to mind. In fact I much prefer the larger chimpanzee type rather than the gibbons that were about at the waterfall. The small stones seemed to work a treat.

  9. MJ Klein says:

    we’ve been to Erawan, but we didn’t know about the waterfall! maybe we’ll come back and see it sometime. thanks for the great photo-essay.
    .-= MJ Klein´s last blog ..Class Dismissed! =-.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    MJ – The Erawan Waterfall is possibly the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in Thailand and I don’t say that lightly. Kanchanaburi as a whole was awesome and our four nights there wasn’t enough, we’re definitely going back.

  11. Hampshire Nursing Homes says:

    Wow, MJ, those images are fantastic! I can only imagine from the way you describe it and the images but I really have a feeling of calmness and relaxation just from being here! I would love to go sometime soon, hopefully for more than 4 nights as it’s not enough by the sounds of it.

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