Thailand's Hot Springs


by Johnny Lucas


Hot Times in a Warm Climate

Maybe it's because they have so many other natural advantages that Thais don't make such a fuss about their Hot Springs as do, for example, Canadians. In Canada, the first National Park was conceived as a way to protect the Hot Springs discovered at Banff, but in Thailand Hot Springs are just another part of the landscape.

In the south of Thailand, just across the main highway from Wat Suan Moke, a famous international monastery, there is a long trench about 8 metres wide. It looks like an irrigation ditch, but it's not, it's a Hot Spring. The temperature along its 1km length varies from moderate-bathwater warm to lobster- pot hot. If you go too far down the path you'll get bogged down in hot mud.

At about the middle of the stream there's a spot where the temperature is just right - in fact it's slightly above "just right" if you venture close to one of the inlets of the source.

Along the banks there are pockets of fine clay that can be used for cleansing. Thais, who find much that's fun and funny in life, are vastly amused at the sight of a few foreigners covered in black clay.

In modest Thailand it is necessary to wear at least a bathing suit at the Hot Springs, nevertheless it is the custom at this Spring for men and women to bathe at separate locations. I'm very sorry to have to tell you this, but the women's bathing spot is downstream from the men's and although it's just as warm, the clay there is not quite as good.

Near Fang, in the North of Thailand, there is another Hot Spring in which mixed bathing is perfectly acceptable. You can sit in a small pool of water at Ban Muang Chom, in the middle of a park and watch geysers while the dust soaks out of your pores.

Bathing however, is not the featured activity here. While making arrangements to go to the springs, you'll hear that the "water is so hot that you can cook eggs", and this is what you'll find most people doing: cooking eggs. It's not that people don't have cooking facilities at home, but the novelty of cooking in hot water as it oozes, bubbles or bursts from the ground makes for a good Thai-style, multi-generation family outing.

Families cook eggs, bathers soak (in a pool not so hot as the egg-cooking springs) and somewhere off to the side a low whistling is heard - a geyser. At intervals determined by its own whims the boiling water shoots overhead and then quiets down as if there was nothing at all unusual about hot water flying out of the earth.

Mae Hong Son is in the North-West, close to the Burmese border. The border, although closed to tourists, allows passage to a proliferation of Burmese products which are sold on the streets of Mae Hong Son: everything from sunflower seeds, to the famous Burmese cheroots (small, strong cigars). (In Mae Hong Son the old women at the morning market smoke several thick cheroots before breakfast. ) There is a beautiful Burmese-built temple in town and another Hot Spring about 10km down the road.

Mae Hong Son is Thailand's polar region. Temperatures there can drop to 2C on the coldest nights of the winter and there have even been rumours of people actually seeing early morning frost.

The morning market at Mae Hong Son is a must-see, but vendors start to disappear as the sun comes up so it's necessary to rise early. A pre-dawn dip in the Hot Springs would be welcome, but not possible.

At dusk the warm water is just as welcoming, but even then a dip is not possible. The Hot Springs near Mae Hong Son are in an open area between forested hills. It's a beautiful setting and the first sight of the large, still, warm, steaming pool brings images of floating on your back, watching the sky change colour. But it's not to be. In Thailand the feet are considered the lowest - in all senses of the word - part of the body. You can't - that is you may not - put your feet in this water!

A one metre wall contains the water from the spring, everyone sits on the wall and scoops out steaming water, pouring it over themselves and their friends. It's much more communal and participatory than jumping into the water, and it makes it easier to do your laundry on the outside of the containing wall. It also makes for a very fine evening, sitting by the Hot Pool, slopping water over yourself and your friends, and perhaps admiring the Burmese tattoos on the man next to you. Even Bangkok seems as far away as another planet.

If the world had been designed by a committee, no doubt someone would have said "Do we really need Hot Springs in Thailand?" Well, no we don't really need them, but it sure is great that they're there.

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Page maintained by Johnny Lucas, Travel@JohnnyLucas.com. © J.P.Lucas. Created: June 24, 1996 Updated: January 19, 1997