Within three hours drive from downtown Yangon lies a place so beautiful it will take your breath away. The Saung Naing Gyi Waterfall is only a few miles from Golden Rock, but it is far enough off the beaten path that there are not any signs in English telling you how to find it. The residents of the village closest to the waterfall do not speak English, so be sure you have a map or GPS application that will lead you to the correct spot.
We started driving at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in order to beat Yangon traffic. The drive was easy and our Maps.me app guided us through several small towns, a large rice paddy, and multiple toll booths with ease.
Our original destination was the Kyaik Htee Yoe Waterfall, a different waterfall closer to Golden Rock, but a police officer blocked us from driving our personal SUV to the summit. We showed the police officer pictures of the waterfall we were seeking, but he acted as if it was completely impossible for us to drive there. Finally, after blocking the road for ten minutes, we were told to back up and take a left down a rocky dirt road. We acquiesced and pulled over to consult Maps.me and Google Maps for an alternate route. Across from where we were parked was Smile World. The employees there did not speak English. We, of course, were unable to speak Burmese.
Destination Saung Naing Gyi
We set off down a sometimes, muddy, sometimes rocky road. The dirt road crossed two narrow bridges. If you attempt this drive in your own vehicle i recommend at least having a vehicle with high clearance to avoid the mud and rocks.
When we reached the village below the falls, we felt a little lost. Luckily we found a local resident to guide us the last mile to the falls. We paid him 5000 Kyat and off he went on his scooter with us following him in our SUV. We followed him for almost a mile until we arrived at a gate with a parking area on the left side and a road leading into the jungle on the right. The men at the entrance gate directed us to park our vehicle and get out. We were then offered bottles of water with a small sticker on them that represented an entrance ticket. We were told to pay 1000 Kyat per person which covered the cost of our entrance and parking. We were unsure if we were being taken advantage of, but we happily paid because we were excited to finally see a waterfall.
Setting off on the mountain path
After locking our vehicle and loading up our backpacks with cameras, water, and
snacks, we were ushered onto the backs of the three small motor scooters. Our guides then drove us along a bumpy path through the jungle, under a gate, and then up an even bumpier and muddier path until we reached a small hut with a rocky trail leading up the mountainside. We hiked along the trail for about ten minutes before catching a glimpse of a small river flowing through the jungle below us.
Although there was lots of rubbish along the path, the area looked and sounded promising. We could now hear the roaring water as it crashed over the rocks below us. We could also smell smoke from small cooking fires.
A wild waterfall appears
We walked past a large boulder and for the first time saw the waterfall. It emerged from between two large rock outcroppings and the water flowed past several small bamboo huts lining the river.
All three of us cheered. We had finally reached a waterfall! This exact waterfall was not our intended destination, but the view and serenity more than made up for any discouragement we had along the way. We proceeded along the path which actually wound through the middle of several tea huts. We arrived at the base of the falls and were rewarded with this view.
Navigating the bamboo bridges
The area around the falls has no bathroom facility, but it does have a changing area made with tree branches and tarps next to a house-sized boulder.
Our next steps were to cross the flimsy bamboo bridges and get a look around the bend to see what else there was nearby. The brief sojourn upstream revealed more tea houses and calmer waters punctuated by rapids that would make any kayaker drool.
We returned to the waterfall and made the decision to jump in. The water was clean, clear, and cool. The water was the exact temperature that makes you arch your back, then easily settle in and enjoy the respite from the jungle heat.
Only the strong survive
The current was strong below the waterfall but not so strong that a good swimmer could not fight the current to cross the river. There is a rope to aid weaker swimmers across. After a short while, several locals wearing modified longyis showed up and had jumped in the water and swam across. They scrambled up the rocks on the opposite bank and quickly began jumping into the water in front of the falls. If it was safe for them, then it was safe enough for us. — We joined in!
After wearing ourselves out from swimming and jumping off the cliff, we decided it was time to head back to the parking area and see if our vehicle was still waiting for us. As we descended the path back to the village we started hearing laughter and roaring water. We were catching glimpses of water and bamboo huts below us down the mountainside, however the terrain prevented us from getting down to them.
…But wait, there’s more!
Finally, as we passed back under the gate we noticed another path leading back upstream. Of course, we followed it. This path was made of smooth brick and was much more walk-able for tourists that do not like to hike. Along the path were bathrooms and shops selling bathing suits and t-shirts. Despite the rain, there were dozens of people, swimming, and lounging by the river.
The water in this section was flowing much slower (see the top photo in this post). As we got into the water, several swimmers waved and cautioned us to avoid the stronger current near the center of the stream. We swam for another hour before a storm blew in and the heavy rains started.