Tucked away in the far west, near the Burmese border, and hard to access, Um Phang wildlife sanctuary has everything you would expect from a protected tropical forest. Besides thick jungle, tall mountains, plenty of wild animals, the main attraction is Thi Lo Su, the largest waterfall in Thailand. There is an abundance of trekking opportunities, and a lot of smaller waterfalls as well. The remote location makes it difficult, and quite expensive, to reach, but the sight is worth it. This is a true exploration - some parts of this jungle may have never been trodden by man. For those who care about official statuses - it is UNESCO-listed, and for a good reason.
Thi Lo Su waterfall is huge - up to 250 m tall (counting all the steps), and 400 m wide. Not only it is the largest in Thailand, but quite possibly the most beautiful as well. The multiple cascades, the mountainous background, and the deep-green frame of tropical vegetation combine to form a truly majestic view. As it is common with big waterfalls, it is hard to encompass it in one photograph. Hence a drone or an ultra-wide-angle lens will come handy. Exploring the waterfall and climbing to its various tiers, will take some effort (and good trekking boots). The nature in Um Phang wildlife sanctuary is untamed, do not expect an easy touristy trip. For the same reason, make sure to time your visit outside the monsoon season (June through October). Thi Lo Su never runs dry, the increase in water volume will not change its appearance much, and the rainy weather is likely to make it inaccessible even on foot. Otherwise, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to get here even in the dry season. The local crooks in Um Phang town about 40 km away, the nearest hub of civilization, prevents tourists from entering the sanctuary with their own cars, forcing them to hire a jeep with a driver on the spot. The authorities seem to be in cahoots with them, so there is no way around this extortion, except walking all the way.
If you already make it this far, limiting your trip to Thi Lo Su, however beautiful it is, would be a shame. Um Phang wildlife sanctuary is large and full of attractions. Thi Lo Jo and Thi Lo Le waterfalls are smaller, even more difficult to reach, but fitting as nominal destinations. The real purpose will be getting there and trekking in the primary forest. Wildlife is abundant, ranging from big cats, ever-tempting but near-impossible to see, to gibbons and langurs. This is also the main habitat of the colorful hornbill, a rare species. Aside from it, there is enough avifauna to keep a birdwatcher happy for a couple of weeks. Here and there on the fringes of the forest, there are tribal Karen villages. However, in addition to all the natural hardships one would expect in the wild, there are bureaucratic obstacles. A special permit is required to travel around this area, and it is not easy to obtain it. In short, unless you have unlimited time, nerves of steel, and all the equipment one might need in the rainforest, your best bet is to have your visit pre-arranged by a reliable tour provider.
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