Not far from the touristy, gated old city of Chiang Mai, there is a tucked-away, natural waterfall. It is commonplace for locals to leave their shoes behind and walk up the Sticky Waterfalls. A waterfall where visitors can literally walk up the stones and not worry about slipping.
Known as Bua Tong in Thai, the falls are more famously called the “Sticky Waterfalls.” Thanks to mineral deposits on the rocks making it surprisingly easy to climb. No slimy algae will cause anyone to slip. Instead, the rocks feel like pocked, hardened sponges that grip nicely to bare feet. While it’s steep in some places, there are sturdy ropes set up that help steady and balance as groups make their way to the top.
How to get to the Sticky Waterfalls
It takes about two hours from the old city to arrive to the Sticky Waterfalls, and some people will simply drive a motorbike the 60 kilometers to get there. If it’s a small group, though, it’s easy to negotiate a full-day rental of a red truck, which are known as songthaews. Drivers of these public transportation vehicles will usually know where to go. They are also happy to wait in the shady parking lot while everyone scurries about the rocks. Split among friends, the cost of a songthaew is worth it at around 1,000 baht, or $30. It makes for a pleasant day to not have to fight the traffic.
What to take
Because it’s not a well-advertised destination, there aren’t many tourists swarming the Sticky Waterfalls. Still, there are plenty of locals looking to cool off in a fun way. Most people come prepared wearing a swimsuit already, since there aren’t places to change. It’s also smart to bring mosquito spray, drinking water, a towel and a dry case for a camera.Bring toilet paper, too – the squat toilets on site aren’t stocked.
How to get there
To get to the falls from the parking lot, visitors have to walk down a muddy path with sometimes-slick stairs. The path is actually more slippery than the waterfall itself, so be careful. It’s smart to wear good shoes for the short trek to the base, as friends with flip flops had a trickier time.
The hike is beautiful, weaving through a forest and marked simply with orange rags tied around trees. Mossy rocks and flowers line the pathway, as butterflies flitter past and birds sing from afar. It’s hard to imagine the hectic and fast-paced city of Chiang Mai left behind for the day.
Arriving at the Waterfall
The falls themselves are not very big, but they are beautiful. Everyone just makes piles of their personal items before heading up the falls; it’s unlikely someone will steal anything. There’s no reason to strip to a bathing suit unless there’s a plan to relax in the shallow pools of clear, cool waters at the top of the falls. Mostly, the waters just lap at the ankles of climbers. Of course, there are a few slippery parts – but it’s so surreal to walk up a waterfall that caution is natural.
It’s easy to spend an hour or two giggling and scampering about like Spiderman!
What else is there to do
To continue enjoying the day outside the city, many people will take a picnic lunch and relax at the top of the path. The waterfalls themselves are in the peaceful Sri Lanna National Forest, and no food is allowed down near the waters. With luck, there will be an empty table available in the grassy, shady area near the top of the stairs. Most people simply spread a blanket.
There are also a few tasty restaurants next to the parking lot for a dish of pad Thai, fresh fruit and an iced tea, which is refreshing after the adventure. With a full belly, tired muscles and a feeling of cool waters lingering on skin, the ride back serves as a transition back to busy city life. There, it’s fun to meet friends for a drink at a rooftop bar to brag about defying gravity for an afternoon at the top of the Sticky Waterfalls.