Swimming with the fishes.

Imagine the stifling humidity and heat of a forest in Thailand. I sweat. A lot. My shirt is soaking by the time I reach the second tier of the seven tiers of the Namtok Khao Chamao. There I find a clear pool teeming with fish. I set up my camcorder, whip off the shirt and slide into the water. The cool, clean water welcomes me and the fish gently part the way. The larger fish, which resemble pitch black carp are about a foot long. They keep a safe distance of two feet from me, while the smaller inch sized fish , probably the Garra Rufa or some other similar fish nibble at the dead skin cells of my feet and legs.

I feel my way around the bottom. While the rocks are dangerously slippery, the bottom consists of small pebbles and some baseball sized rocks. Not too uncomfortable to walk on at all. At one point the bottom disappears and I slide underwater. I reach up and feel the edge of the water at my fingertips and cannot feel the bottom. Fearing that the water may be draining between some boulders and not having anyone else around to save me if I have a problem, I resurface. My meager swimming skills are being given plenty of work as it is.

(photographs, directions, a map, and important safety/travel advice after the jump)

In all it was an absolutely incredible experience. I ended up spending much longer just enjoying the water and floating back and forth in the pool. So much time, in fact, that I didn’t have time to really explore further up the path. The trail continues up and leads to the head of the falls, which is over 2km away. Knowing that, if I revisit, I will pack water, a towel, and less camera equipment.I was carrying the D200 with all the accessories, the heavy tripod, and the camcorder with gear as well.

To reach Namtok Khao Chamao, I recommend the use of a GPS (yeah duh hehe). If you don’t have one:

1 – Leave Rayong on the 3471 and head NE until you reach the end, at 344

2 – Head SE on the 344, following the signs to Klaeng

3 – Once you reach Klaeng, stay East on the 3 and keep going, now looking for signs to Namtok Khao Chamao.

Estimated travel time: 1.5 to 2 hours.

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It’s pretty straightforward.

Important tip: Watch out for speed traps along the way. It seemed each small town had it’s only speed trap. They use a spotter who may or may not be hidden or in an unmarked vehicle. When you approach the road block, you’ll be waved to the side. I cannot advise you on what to do legally or not, however I suggest you do NOT try to run the stop. If they wave you over, follow the directions. (what follows is NOT advice to break Thai law, simply relating what I have read online). Some people say there are opportunities to pay a fine on the spot rather than having your passport confiscated and a date set for you to go to the police station. I cannot confirm nor deny these rumors. Google is your friend.