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17/12/17 Trip report Ban Mae Sapok (Mae Win) Waterfall Loop

35 hikers assembled at Ban Mae Sapok on a still, warm, bright December morning in Mae Win district of Northern Thailand. Within the first few minutes of our arrival around 9am, we were able to glimpse elephants in an enclosure next to the river we were about to cross, just a couple of hundred metres from the parking area outside the meditation temple. And so we set off crocodile fashion almost immediately diving through a fen of tall elephant grass which successfully hid anyone who happened to walk through it … then over a rickety bridge constructed of giant bamboo stems spanning the river; the bridge was sufficiently dilapidated to warrant a maximum of three people on it at any given point. This was to be a day of assisting hikers with their balance in a number of locations along the trail.

After leaving the rice-field-filled valley floor, we headed inexorably uphill for several kilometres through deciduous woodland, crossing dry, rocky stream beds, until we emerged on an open section of newly laid access road – our first ‘high’ point of the day. It was apparent that this route was under construction given the lorries and traffic passing along it whilst we were there, taking in fine albeit hazy views of surrounding hill summits and ridges.

There was then a sequence of uphill and downhill sections, with variable terrain: rice fields, bamboo forest, small streams, jungle camps. One newly-made camp with bamboo walls and leafy roofs, created a natural stopping point for a break and snacking; a river gurgled away just beneath this feature. Idyllic! Partially refreshed we crossed the river and the agriculturally-intensive valley floor, before heading uphill along a fairly steep stair-case of stepping stones. At the top of this path we were afforded great views to the south looking back across the valley. The whole area was evidently catering big-time for tourism; well-made trails, elephants washing tourists and tourists washing elephants, low benches around charcoal fires upon which were balanced huge kettles with Lipton tea-bag labels hanging down the side, a basic store with a hand-painted 7-eleven sign above the door, etc.

We passed through a small hamlet and along concrete access roads up to a second ‘high’ point for the day. Once everyone had coalesced into a single group, we left the access road and descended into forest. A second snack break was had in a spot where a number of logs fortuitously provided seating for much of the group. Revitalised, we continued our descent until we reached the edge of the forest. From here there were fine views once more, this time looking east across a river valley to distant forested hills and summits. Once we navigated a stile at the forest edge, we dove down to a stream which was crossed, and kept parallel with it on its west side. Through woodland once more, before being confronted with a pesky barbed-wire fence, at which the group displayed a remarkably broad range of techniques in getting past this barrier; the most effective was someone standing on one of the strands till it broke.

A little way further down, S and other miscreants were determined to show everyone the correct way, but were in fact 180 degrees out of phase. Once the hike leaders received copies of 100 lines each from Stephen saying: ”I must not lead others astray”, the hike recommenced along the proper route adjacent to the waterfall river course. This was arguably the highlight of a very enjoyable day’s hiking. Much of this route was in forest along trails directly next to the effervescent and noisy river. The more spectacular portions of the river were eagerly ‘snapped’ by the photographers within the group. Further downstream, there was a trail leading onto a placid ‘beach’ area where it was possible to safely wade in and bathe. Several hikers stripped off and made the most of the cool, refreshing water here.

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The trail wended its way along the final couple of kilometres, mainly through forest, but at times next the river, with much variety in the gradient. Eventually, a tired but contented group emerged in a tourist area where there were quite a number of elephants, a few of which extended their trunks searching out hidden bananas lodged in people’s pockets.

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Back to the cars and on to the restaurant for many, and food for some.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the hike today, and a special thanks to the drivers willing to transport others between Chiang Mai and Ban Mae Sa Pok and to MH for the photos.

Statistics: variable across all GPS devices. Roughly the same as advertised … 14km horizontal; 0.7km vertical. Mike and Andrew reconnoitered an adjacent area for a time today, which would provide an alternative route in due course.”

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