For the seasoned traveller, it doesn’t take long to realise that the true beauty of these watery plumes lies somewhere in the fact that no two cascades are ever quite the same. From gargantuan columns of fast-descending water to intricate ribbons of crystal clear streams, waterfalls are a magnificent natural wonder to behold – and Asia is home to plenty of them.
Whether you’re exploring misty mountain peaks or trekking through rich and abundant jungle, there’s often a high chance of encountering a crashing, watery giant. We’ve put together a selection of the continent’s most alluring waterfalls for those that can’t resist the powerful pull these natural gems have over so many of us.
India’s Greatest Giant
Tucked away in a north-eastern pocket of India is Nohkalikai Falls – the largest plunge waterfall in the entire country. Standing tall at an impressive height of 340 metres, water collected on the summit of this plateau forges a path towards the cliff edge where it free-falls down into a bright blue-green plunge pool far below. You can guarantee a pretty strong flow all year round, although the torrent will usually lessen in force during the dry season, which runs from December through February. The fall is at its most enchanting during the monsoon season. The cascade takes its name from a local legend passed down in the local Khasi language, which translates to “jump of Ka Likai” – a local woman who is said to have jumped off the cliff near the waterfall.
Nohkalikai – which also holds the title of Asia’s fourth-tallest waterfall – is nestled in the Cherrapunji Hills, one of the wettest regions on earth. Home to an abundance of caves, canyons and year-round emerald landscapes, the region is a favourite amongst intrepid hikers seeking out unspoilt natural beauty. Some of the highlights include the living root bridges crafted by the indigenous Khasi people – some of which are up to 500 years old. The most famous bridges can be found in the villages of Nongriat and Mawlynnong.
Heading to Hokkaido
Charmingly known as the “husband and wife” waterfalls, this pair of cascades is either referred to by its collective name, Meotodaki, or by the stream’s individual names – Ginga No Taki and Ryusei No Taki. These graceful threads of water surge down from peaks of about 200 metres in height. Each of the falls has carved out a unique path for itself, with Ginga No Taki opting for a more graceful descent while Ryusai No Taki gushes down more forcefully. The two cascades descend at an angle facing one another, so the only way to observe both of them at the same time is to stand between them. During the winter months, each plume freezes up to become a huge column of ice, making the falls a hot spot for keen ice climbers.
Chiang Mai’s Watery Treasure
As well as boasting some of Southeast Asia’s finest beaches and mountain scenery, Thailand is also home to its fair share of impressive waterfalls. If you’re exploring the north of the country, Mae Ya waterfall is probably one of the Land of Smiles’ most remarkable torrents. Standing tall at 60 metres and 50 metres wide, this fall is made all the more imposing thanks to the forceful way in which the water crashes down the naturally formed rocky slope. The best time to visit is between June and October when the water flows through at its strongest, although it does flow all year round if the rainy season doesn’t coincide with your travel itinerary for Chiang Mai. Visitors can expect a fairly straightforward trek from the nearby car park, which is rewarded by a refreshing dip in the rock pools at the base of the cascade.
Mae Ya is tucked away in Chiang Mai province’s spectacular Doi Inthanon National Park, which is home to plenty more natural treasures for those that have the time to explore. Step inside the Borichinda Cave to marvel at the fascinating pattern of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave isn’t too far from one of Doi Inthanon’s other waterfalls – Mae Klang. Mae Klang is a popular spot for locals to come and relax with a picnic on sunny days.
Guizhuo’s Ice-White Gem
Huangguoshu Waterfall – which translates to Yellow Fruit Tree waterfall – is without doubt one of Asia’s big hitters when it comes to impressive watery plumes. It is also Guizhou province’s chief tourist draw, and attracts a high volume of tourist traffic each year. Situated approximately 45 kilometres from Anshun town, Huangguoshu stretches an imposing 81 metres in width and 68 metres in height. Thanks to the 700 cubic metres of water that fall per second, the thundering roar of the crashing water can be heard from miles away, heightening the sense of anticipation as you approach.
Huangguoshu is one waterfall out of a remarkable cluster of 19, which holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest group of its kind in the entire world. The wonderful spectacle of Huangguoshu shifts from season to season, with water volume typically peaking in around July/August. Interestingly, the torrent is one of the only natural treasures of its kind in the world that can be viewed from above, below, front, behind, left and right.
Double the Fun
Situated 272 kilometres north of Hanoi, the Ban Gioc-Detian Falls offer a little something different to the other cascades in our selection, as the spiralling plume of water actually straddles the border between two countries – China and Vietnam. The torrent is fuelled by the Quay Son River that marks out the border between the two nations.
On the Vietnamese side, a pleasant ten-minute walk will take you from the car park to the base of the falls. The colossal tiers of the waterfall are made all the more impressive thanks to the misty backdrop of craggy karst mountains, and visitors can even rent bamboo rafts to drift across the expansive natural pool that lies at the foot of the fall. If you’re feeling daring, you can even take a swim in this body of water, although it’s too dangerous to swim in the river or anywhere too close to the fall itself. The nearest accommodation is in Cao Bang, which is around 30 kilometres from the Chinese border.
- As with any travel excursion, remember that safety comes first. The watery mist produced by waterfalls can leave a slippery film on rocks, so watch your step and make sure you wear appropriate footwear. Climbing rocks should be avoided completely.
- While it’s tempting to capture shots of these wondrous natural giants from every possible angle, don’t forget to simply be in the moment and seize the chance to enjoy these natural treasures. Despite the roar of the thundering water as it crashes down the cliff face, waterfalls can actually be tranquil places for some quiet contemplation. After all, this is the reason many of the world’s waterfalls have become sacred sites for indigenous communities.
- While it may sound painfully obvious, waterfalls are wet places. To avoid an uncomfortable and soggy journey home, make sure to bring a spare set of dry clothes to change into in case you get splashed.
- If you’re keen to capture some excellent photographs on your waterfall visit, it’s worth bearing in mind that many of the best snaps don’t come from vantage points directly facing the fall. Side and diagonal angles will add more depth and movement to your images.