I remember a few years ago when I posted on Facebook that I was looking for off the beaten path places to see in Southeast Asia. One of my acquaintances remarked that if I really wanted to head off the beaten path, I’d need to, “get out of Southeast Asia.”
I’d like to take this opportunity to say, to him and to all of the other nonbelievers: False!
Behold, the Emerald Lake in Lampang, Thailand. Had you ever heard of it until now?
I can’t take full credit for finding this gem.
My team member, Ashley, had the brilliant idea to search for amazing hidden places to see in Thailand on Thailand’s Google, and ended up finding this. Google maps doesn’t even have it in English.
This lake, like the cenotes in Mexico, is a sinkhole in the jungle, full of crystal clear water and catfish.
It’s considered to be holy by the locals who make offerings to it yearly.
Though it’s popular with Thai tourists, you’re unlikely to see other foreigners there. Delightfully, the entrance was free as well, in contrast to 300 baht for Doi Inthanon and 200 baht for most of the national parks I visited on the road trip around Chiang Mai, which included this stop.
Initially, my road trip buddies and I weren’t sure if it was worth the extra 3 hours of driving that we’d tack on by adding this lake to the itinerary. It’s located in the Ngao district of Lampang in Tham Pha National Park, accessible here down a narrow concrete and partially dirt road.
I’m glad we made the choice to go. It was pretty amazing seeing a cenote on the other side of the world from Mexico, the only place I previously thought they existed.
It’s located about 3 and a half hours east of Chiang Mai and over two hours from our previous (mindblowing) stop, Wat Chaloem.
Initially we got a little lost on the way, as I came to find that sometimes Google Maps is a bit weird to follow in rural Thailand. To avoid that, stay on route 1013 instead of taking Google Maps’ proposed shortcut, and you’ll see signs with images of the Emerald Lake that will direct you the rest of the way.
We’d rented a cheap Toyota with a tiny engine and were able to make it there, though on a muddy day after rain, I’d recommend a motorbike with tires that can handle mud or a pickup truck. Much of the road is just packed dirt and in places it’s a bit steep.
Once you arrive at the parking lot, it’s a 100-meter, super short and easy walk to the lake.
Other Things to Note
Since the lake is considered sacred, swimming, fishing, and feeding the fish are not allowed.
As tempting as it is to go for a swim, especially since it’s so clear and refreshing-looking, resisting keeps it in its pristine state.
Regardless, it’s an enchanting little stop and one that I never expected to see in Thailand.
This was just one of many stops on an incredible road trip around Chiang Mai, and only whetted my appetite to see more of Thailand’s lesser-known provinces.