Trekking tours in Umphang – The complete guide

If you are looking for a real ‘off the trail’ trekking or hiking tour then Umphang should be at the top of your list. Umphang is Thailand’s most remote district, located in the depths of Tak province, northern Thailand. During the wet season, trekking/hiking tours in Umphang are considered among the best trekking tours in Thailand.

Umphang and Tak province are directly below the well-known northern provinces of Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai, but receive far fewer tourists than their northern neighbours. It can be a bit of an effort getting to Umphang but the rewards are well worth it as you will get to see a place that is not yet affected by mass tourism, and that is pretty rare in Thailand these days.

trekking tours umphangOutstanding natural beauty in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary

Adventure and trekking tours in Umphang take place in and around Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary which is an absolute paradise for nature lovers. Most trekking tours centre around the stunning Mae Klong River which is one of the star attractions. You have the chance to experience the rivers dramatic scenery on fantastic trekking and rafting tours which also take you to see Thailand’s largest waterfall, the mighty Thi Lor Su. Jungle trekking can last as little as 2 hours, or for the more adventurous, they can be 6 days or more and end up all the way in Sangkhlaburi, which is to the south in Kanchanaburi province.

Book a tour with Thailand Adventure Guide

After several extensive field trips and ‘boots on the ground research’ we teamed up with Umphang’s best trekking guides so we could offer quality and ecological tours to adventurous tourists. Booking Umphang trekking tours with us means you can take full advantage of our unrivaled knowledge about adventure tours in Umphang.

Booking a tour online before travelling to the remote district of Umphang is probably the best way to avoid the disappointment of not getting exactly what you expected. We can tailor tours to your exact requirements and give you detailed information about Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary and all of the activities on offer. We will also give you important information about the changing landscapes throughout the year, which is a major factor when travelling to a remote place such as Umphang.

UMPHANG TREKKING TOUR- 3 DAYS 3 NIGHTS - START HERE

Umphang Tour Gallery

Multi Activity Adventure Tours

Trekking tours in Umphang are actually multi activity tours combining trekking, river rafting, camping, visiting Thi Lor Su Waterfall, and staying overnight in a Karen village. Tours can last anything from one to several days. The one day tours include three or four hours of river rafting and visiting Thi Lor Su waterfall, these tours are best enjoyed in the dry season when it is possible to drive part of the way allowing you more time to spend at Thi Lor Su waterfall.

umphang trekking toursRafting along the Mae Klong River in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary

During the wet season, from June to October, the road leading to Thi Lor Su waterfall is closed so if you want to go there you have to raft along the Mae Klong river for four hours, then trek through the jungle for another three or four hours. This makes it impossible to do a round trip in one day. If you want to visit Umphang and Thi Lor Su waterfall during the wet season, a 3-4 day trip is recommended, then you will have plenty of time to enjoy Thi Lor Su waterfall and the fantastic natural surroundings in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary.

trekking tour in umphangThi Lor Su, Thailand’s largest waterfall

The 3-4 day tours in Umphang usually include jungle trekking, river rafting, visiting Thi Lor Su waterfall, camping, and staying overnight in a Karen village. Elephant trekking is also available or instead of riding the elephants you can spend an hour interacting with them and giving them a bath.

Trekking

Tourists have been experiencing trekking tours in Umphang for around 20 years, but thankfully due to the remote location, it still remains an authentic unseen location, especially during the wet season between June and October. Landscapes to expect on trekking tours include open farmlands, bamboo forests, dense tropical rainforests, and river bank walks with dramatic scenery and river crossings. Treks can last anything from 2 hours to several days. The longer treks include walking trails that connect the many hilltribe villages in the area, these have been used by locals for decades.

This well put together video really captures the wild landscapes in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary

Some of the guides in Umphang are originally from Burma but have been living in Thailand for 20 years or more, these are the best guides to have if you are serious about trekking in Umphang. They know the area extremely well, after all they trekked from Burma to get to Thailand in the first place. Also, most seem to be well respected by the Karen villagers which will enhance your experience if you plan to visit or stay the night at any villages.

The ultimate trekking tour in Umphang and perhaps in the whole of Thailand is a 6 day trek which ends up all the way in Kanchanaburi. Each night you stay in different hill tribe villages along the Burmese border and one night is spent wild camping where you cook on a camp fire and sleep in a tent. The route, which ends in Sangkhlaburi district, follows trails which have been connecting the villages along the border for decades. The trek includes several river crossings and is considered to be one of Thailand’s most extreme treks available to tourists. As well as the great trekking experience this is a real chance to see some authentic hill tribe villages well and truly off the tourist trail.

White Water Rafting

White Water Rafting in Thailand is limited to only a handful of destinations across the country, there are plenty of rivers where it would be possible but only a few where you can do so on safe organized tours. The three places that immediately spring to mind are Kaeng Hin Phoeng rapids in Khao Yai National Park, Mae Taeng River in Chiang Mai, and Mae Klong Yai river in Umphang.

On adventure/trekking tours in Umphang, white water rafting is only possible during the wet season from June to October. It takes place at Umphang Kee on the Mae Klong Yai River, which is not to be confused with the gentler Mae Klong, which is the river leading to Thi Lor Su Waterfall. The Mae Klong Yai is a much faster flowing river to the east of Umphang town, and includes class 3-4 rapids.

Scenic River Rafting

More gentle river rafting is available on the Mae Klong which cuts through Umphang town. This rafting route starts in Umphang town and ends up at Thailand’s largest waterfall, Thi Lor Su, this is the most popular river rafting tour in Umphang. The Mae Klong is an extremely scenic river with steep limestone cliffs lining the banks, there are also overhanging cliffs and several waterfalls to enjoy on the way such as Thi Lor Jor waterfall or ‘falling rain waterfall’.

trekking tours in umphangThi Lor Jor waterfall on the Mae Klong river

There are a few rapids along the Mae Klong so you have the chance to experience some white water but it is very tame compared to the wilder Mae Klong Yai river. The trip along the Mae Klong is all about taking in the sights and sounds of the jungle. The landscape at times, with its thick green forests, misty waterfalls, and steep jagged cliffs, resembles scenes from the hit movie Jurassic Park, and is well worth the trip to Umphang alone.

UMPHANG TREKKING TOUR- 3 DAYS 3 NIGHTS - START HERE

Thi Lor Su Waterfall

Thi Lor Su waterfall is the largest waterfall in Thailand, it is also in the list for the top 5 waterfalls in Asia. As with any waterfall your experience depends on which season you are visiting in. The surrounding area is naturally very beautiful with pristine tropical jungles and rivers with dramatic cliff backdrops. There are also several other waterfalls in the area most notably Thi Lor Lay which plunges straight into the Mae Klong River from the massive limestone cliffs that tower above.

trekking tour thi lor su waterfallThi Lor Su waterfall during the wet season

During the wet season from June to October Thi Lor Su really is a natural wonder. The water thunders down huge limestone cliffs stretching 200 metres high and 300 metres wide, the sights and sounds are truly amazing. It is not safe to swim during the wet season although if you are on a guided tour your guide will show you a place where you can bathe safely. For the more adventurous it is possible to trek/hike to the top of the falls, you have to cross smaller sections of the falls and climb up several waterfalls all the way to the top. You will get soaked by the river crossings and spray from the huge falls but it really is a great experience getting so close to this magnificent waterfall.

trekking thi lor su waterfallThis photo was kindly sent to us by one of our guests who trekked to the top of Thi Lor Su waterfall

Getting to Thi Lor Su during the wet season is tricky, the main access road is closed from June to October so it means rafting down the Mae Klong for four or five hours, then trekking for another three or four hours to reach Thi Lor Su. If you are visiting Thi Lor Su during the wet season at least an overnight stay is required. Overnight tours start early in the morning arriving at Thi Lor Su in the middle of the afternoon, then you stay the night in tents near the waterfall. Some tours leave slightly later in the day and camp along the Mae Klong River heading to Thi Lor Su the following day.

During the dry season from November to May the access road to Thi Lor Su is re-opened to the public making it much easier to get to. You can go by 4wd along a long section of dirt road making it possible to visit Thi Lor Su on daytrips. However, at least an overnight stay is recommended as Thi Lor Su is in the middle of the jungle far from Umphang town.

thi-lor-su-waterfall-umphangSwimming at Thi Lor Su waterfall during the dry season

Swimming is much safer during the dry season, especially after December when you can pretty much swim in any of the pools around the falls. As the dry season progresses the water levels decrease but water flows all year round at Thi Lor Su. The easier access during the dry season does of course bring more tourists so don’t expect to have Thi Lor Su to yourself, especially in November and December when it is a really popular destination for Thai tourists.

Elephants in Umphang

There are many elephants in Umphang, but they are used by villagers to assist with farming in remote places rather than for tourism. It is still possible to go elephant trekking in Umphang, the Karen village Kho Tha which is near Thi Lor Su waterfall is the most convenient place for elephant trekking and it can be included on 3-4 day trip itinerary if desired. There are no elephant camps as such, like you would find in Chiang Mai or Kanchanaburi for example.

elephant trekking umphangElephants on the Mae Klong river near to Kho Tha Karen village

Elephant treks start directly in the village where you will most likely meet elephant’s directly at the village. After the village you will head along a tributary river where you have the chance to bathe with the elephants or get a good soaking from their trunks. After trekking through the jungle you then arrive at Mae La Moong Junction which is where the tributary river meets up with the Mae Klong near Umphang town.

It is also possible to spend a few hours with the elephants without riding them. Elephants can be seen at Koh Tha Karen village where you can interact with them and give them a refreshing bath in the nearby river.

Karen Villages

Due to Umphangs location right on the Burmese border there are many hill tribe villages in the area, mostly they are Karen people. They crossed the border from Burma a long time ago looking for a better quality of life and have since flourished into multiple communities farming the land to make a living. They inhabited the area well before Umphang wildlife Sanctuary was created, it is widely believed that Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary was created to stop hill tribes decimating all of the forests for farming. Some areas have already been turned into corn and rice plantations in the area around Umphang town, but as you head further out and into the Sanctuary the open fields turn into thick jungles which are now protected by Thai National Park Rangers.

koh tha karen villageA real homestay experience at Kho Tha Village

Tours in Umphang often include staying the night in a Karen village homestay. Kho Tha Karen Village is the most popular and authentic village to stay at, which is a 3 hour trek from Thi Lor Su Waterfall. You get to sleep in a Karen family’s house, spending time with a Karen family is a real eye opener and could be the highlight of your trip. You also have time to check out the village to see what happens there day to day, the village school is popular as the children are very playful and are always keen to practice their English.

koh tha karen village schoolChildren playing at Koh Tha Karen village school

Other villages in the area are Palatha village, Mae La Moong village and Umphang Kee village. These villages are easily reached by road from Umphang town.

UMPHANG TREKKING TOUR- 3 DAYS 3 NIGHTS - START HERE

When to visit Umphang

The most important thing about planning adventure tours in Umphang is the time of year that you travel, there is a huge difference between the seasons which affect the landscapes, activities on offer, and amount of other tourists in the area. In our opinion the wet season is the best time to travel, as the waterfalls are spectacular and there are far fewer tourists around, we like to have the place to ourselves.

The dry season from November to May is by far the most popular time to visit, in particular from November to February. The reason for this is the easy access to Thi Lor Su Waterfall which is the main reason people make the long journey to Umphang in the first place. The main access road to Thi Lor Su is only open in the dry season from November to May, the time saving route makes it popular with locals and Thai tour groups from Bangkok.

umphang-rafting-trekking-camping-tourOpen access road to Thi Lor Su during the dry season

The busiest months of the dry season are November and December, this is when Thi Lor Su is waterfall is considered to be the most beautiful. You also have the added bonus of being able to swim all around the falls which is not always possible during the wet season. After February, water levels start to get get low but water flows all year making Thi Lor Su waterfall an all year round destination.

The wet season in Umphang is from June to October, this is the most exciting time to visit as the rain turns the landscapes into a lush green paradise and the rivers and waterfalls rage in dramatic style. The number of tourists travelling to Umphang significantly decreases during the wet season which provides adventurers and nature lovers the chance to enjoy Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary in peace and quiet. Thi Lor Su waterfall is absolutely magnificent during the wet season and well worth the trip on its own. Swimming is not permitted as it is far too dangerous, although there are small sections where you can safely dip into the refreshing water.

Umphang Town

Umphang town is probably just as you would expect it to be, small and quiet. You could walk around it in thirty minutes. The population is made up of both Thai and Burmese people whose main source of income is either farming or tourism. The town is made up of traditional Thai wooden houses with later additions of modern concrete buildings such as the town’s main bank, which looks completely out of place. Other modern additions include a 7 eleven store which seems to be the main hub of the whole town. Many shops sell fresh local fruit and vegetables which are both cheap and delicious, there are not so many restaurants in town but they can be found it you have a bit of a root around.

Umphang TownLocally produced fruit and vegetables available to buy around Umphang town

Umphang TownLush surroundings in Umphang town during the wet season

The town is definitely worth a look, an early morning stroll is particularly enjoyable as you get to see the locals preparing for the day ahead. During the wet season and into the first part of the dry season the surrounding rice fields turn into a blanket of lush green colour, this adds to the charming feel of this fascinating remote town.

Mae Sot

If you plan to go to Umphang, you will have to get to Mae Sot first. The only road leading to Umphang is the twisty 1090 mountain road which starts in Mae Sot. Mae Sot, in Tak province, is right next to the Burmese border and serves as a major border crossing point across the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in the western most point of the town.

Although Mae Sot is quite a large town there is not really much to see apart from a few temples and markets in the town and next to the border crossing point. Mae Sot is mainly used as a transit point to get to surrounding destinations, the town is also used by volunteer groups who flock there to assist with Burmese refugee’s. Mae Sot is changing though as Thailand is now part of the ASEAN economic community which started at the beginning of 2015. Trading is now open between Thailand, Burma and several other South East Asian countries. A brand new Tesco building and Robinson supermarket have already sprouted up along with a few big hotel chains.

Accommodation in Mae Sot is spread out throughout the town, the change to the economics in Mae Sot has bought a few hotel chains such as Centara. The Centara is a safe bet for a comfortable room for the night, it’s also easy to find as it’s on the main route through the town.

How to get to Umphang

After arriving in Mae Sot the journey to Umphang is pretty simple. There is only one road connecting the two districts which is the 1090 highway, the journey takes 3-4 hours. If you are travelling independently from Mae Sot to Umphang you will need to use the local songthaew taxi service which starts from Mae Sot Bus Station. Songthaew’s are converted pick up’s with two rows of covered seats at the back. The Songthaew service from Mae Sot to Umphang runs everyday from 6:30am until 1:30pm. The taxis depart on a ‘go on demand’ basis so frequency depends on how many people are making the journey on that particular day. The journey costs 150 Baht per person, it is also possible to hire your own songthaew and driver to Umphang for around 2000 Baht.

songthaew-mae-sot-umphangGetting to Umphang by songthaew taxi is part of the adventure

The 1090 highway from Mae Sot to Umphang is a quite an experience. There are over 1000 turns on the twisty mountain road so if you suffer from travel sickness don’t forget to take travel sickness pills. The 164 km journey takes 3-4 hours and offers great scenery, especially from the back of a Songthaew taxi. Snaking your way through the mountains with the locals is definitely an experience and all part of an adventure in Umphang.

UMPHANG TREKKING TOUR- 3 DAYS 3 NIGHTS - START HERE

How to get to Mae Sot

You can get to Mae Sot by bus or by flying directly into Mae Sot airport. The bus station and airport are located next to each other close to the center of town.

Buses to Mae Sot from Bangkok leave from Mo Chit Bus Station throughout the day starting from 7am. The journey takes around 8 hours so it is wise to splash out and get a seat on a VIP Bus. Tickets cost around 600 baht and include a light meal and drink. Night buses are also available leaving from 9:30pm ownwards and arriving in Mae Sot at around 6am the following morning.

Buses are also available from Chiang Mai. They leave Chiang Mai’s arcade bus station starting from 8am. The journey takes 6-7 hours. Again it is wise to get the best available seats to make the journey as comfortable as possible. The last 60km into Mae Sot is a very bumpy and windy mountain road.

Regular buses leave Tak bus station for Mae Sot throughout the day. Buses leave when they are full so there can be a bit of waiting around. The early morning buses usually fill up quickest, the first bus leaves around 6am. Connecting buses can be caught from Tak taking you to other provinces throughout Thailand.

Mae Sot has an airport located near to the center of town. If you would prefer to fly Nok Air run up to 3 flights per day to and from Bangkok’s domestic airport, Don Muang.

Check flight times and rates here – www.nokair.com


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Mike

Mike

Scuba diving instructor and adventure travel expert for Thailand Adventure Guide.
Mike

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  1. Teresa Hoffmann says:

    Even though I’ve not met him in person yet, I am really able to say what a friendly, helpful and absolutely reliable person Mike is.
    He does not only know incredibly lot about everything around Uphang, trekking, climbing and also about many many other areas and activities to do in Thailand. But he is also always willing to share his knowledge in order to help to plan your tours, give you recommendations and help you out with tips.
    I was First planning to go to Umphang but finally I didn’t because Mike told
    Me it would be specially crowded by the time (December) I was coming. And instead of just declining my request for a tour, he helped me out with countless informations about different things I could do and even helped me to establish a travel itinerary down to Surin where I had to be about 1 week later.
    Thanks to him I’ve been able to visit so many places and doing trekking and adventure stuff around Thailand just in the way I was looking for and this without having had any plan or idea of anything before I arrived here!
    I am really looking forward to visit Umphang the next time I’ll be traveling around Thailand (because for sure I will come back! :D) and to meet Mike there to be finally able to thank him personally and express my gratitude for everything he did for me! 🙂
    Kòbkûn ká Mike!

  2. Any ideas of price ? How much is a guide at disposal for 4 days ? Please tell me all you know regarding prices, I’m planning to go to Umphang in May and your article makes me very excited

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