Swim In Some Of The Most Scenic, Natural Pools In Thailand At This National Park

One waterfall is gorgeous enough, but how about seven? Erawan National Park in the Kanchanaburi Province of western Thailand has a stunning, seven-tiered waterfall with turquoise pools. It also comprises hiking trails and an abundance of species in the unspoiled forest that wildlife spotters will love. As one of the most popular parks in the country, it's a choose-your-own-adventure type of attraction, as you can hike to as few or many levels of the waterfall as you like.

Each level has its own charm, with fewer crowds the higher you climb. You'll be able to cool off from the Thailand heat in the swimming pools, so long as you're willing to share your experience with some local fish. As you snake your way through the trees, you might happen upon some garden snakes, squirrels, shrews, macaque monkeys, Asian water monitors (a type of large lizard), an array of colorful butterflies, and plenty of birds from the 120 avian species that call this region home. In other words, the park is pure paradise.

All about the seven levels

From the visitor center, the first level of the waterfall (Lai Keun Rang) is a third of a mile uphill. Though not the most popular level, it will be your first glimpse of the turquoise pools that make this park feel otherworldly. About 300 feet from there, level two (Wang Mai Chai) awaits. As the largest and most majestic waterfall of the bunch, it's the most popular place for tourists and locals to spend an afternoon.

To ditch the crowds and chase some waterfalls all to yourself, keep trekking uphill for another 300 feet to level three (Pha Namtok). This pool will be far less crowded than the others but no less gorgeous. Another quarter mile up, you'll find level four (Ok Nang Phee Suae), where folks use the flat surface of the rocks like a waterslide.

After level four, the trail becomes steeper, more uneven, and slipperier. It's best for experienced hikers with solid footwear. A third of a mile up the trail and level five (Buar Mai Long), there's a collection of mini waterfalls and plenty of options for swimming. Just up the way at level six (Dong Pruk Sa), you'll need to cross a river to reach your reward. The final stretch to level seven (Phu Pha) is steep, but the view will be well worth it. You could end up having the place all to yourself, save for a few sassy monkeys who may come around looking for food.

What to know before you go

To get to Erawan Falls, you can book a day tour from Bangkok, rent a car, hop on a public bus, use a rideshare app like Grab, or book a private shuttle. Whichever way you get there, you can expect a 3.5 hour-drive northwest out of the city. The park is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For the best chance of beating the crowds, try to go early on a weekday morning. The best time to visit the park is after the rainy season during the dry winter months. You'll see the fewest crowds come through in January and February.

When you get to the visitor center, the admission will cost $10. That's where you'll find the bathrooms, changing areas, and shops with souvenirs. Be sure to lace up some comfortable hiking shoes, wear a swimsuit underneath your clothes, and bring a water bottle for the hike. If you plan to hike above the second level, you'll need to pay a small deposit to carry your water bottle with you. You'll get it back once you show that you brought your water bottle back down the mountain. From start to finish, the entire hike will take one hour if you rush through it, but plan for half a day to fully soak up the experience. Nature this beautiful deserves as much time as you can spare.