Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Huai Hin Fon Hot Springs: currently under development

This autumn, my family and I were once more in the pleasant circumstances to have both the time as well as to be to able to afford a short autumn (-ish) holiday in the north of Thailand. Traveling here in this time of the year is starting to become a family ritual; it’s our fourth time, I believe.

This year, the exact destination was Chiang Rai: never been there, it looks interesting from a landscape point of view (mountainous), a diverse population (many hill tribes), but still enough good roads and a few great places to stay. Added to these 'usual' circumstances is the beauty of the landscape which has just seen it’s annual monsoonal drenching come to an end (resulting in brilliant skies, crispy and starry nights) exuberant greenery and a vibrant agricultural setting with farmers harvesting the main season paddy crop and gearing up to sell their oranges.

The 'sala's' in the background, a spring in the foreground on the shore of the pond

And of course, a few hot springs can be visited. Our first real stop after picking up the car at Chiang Rai Airport is the hot spring of Huai Hin Fon. Situated on the main road from Mae Chan (located 40 km north of Chiang Rai) to Fang (north in Chiang Mai province), it could make an interesting stop. But unfortunately, the level of development is a mishmash. Besides the continuous spouting geyser from pipes on a concrete platform, there’s another continuous spouting geyser (from a set of pipes) just on a field nearby (see photo's). Both equally spectacular, but hardly highlighting the ‘nature’ or 'naturalness' of geothermal springs. Neither are they are an attractive man-made attraction. Between the two geysers is a small row of thatched local restaurants which double as karaoke bars. At least three of these had blaring music, which competed which that of their neighbours.

The main geyser, concreted in

A few springs had been walled in, some with cement walls (to about a meter high) others with concrete drainage pipes. To the non-sensitive cultural tourist this might seem sacrilege, but part of the thinking is that this way, at least it is clear where the hot spots are and by storing the hot water within a small walled-off area, one can easily use them for boiling eggs, which seems to be the number one reason why local tourists come to visit hot springs in Thailand in general or so it seems. Adding to the confusion of styles are a number of recently finished cement rest houses (sala’s), only one of which was offering services, but no bathing facilities.

Disturbingly, there was quite a lot of rubbish around, that does not enhance the site much.

Soaking? Well, that does not rank high here, we found two baths (see photo) at the back of the second, undeveloped geyser, but very fragile; besides there was not anyone around, offering or knowing what to offer. So a chance wasted?

The two bath's

Well, it was a hot day and we were there around lunch time so not ideal. We drove up the road a bit, took a side road to Huai Kaang Pa waterfall. Brilliant find, beautiful pools, deserted to say the least and refreshing.

Karien soaking in the cool water of Huai Kaang Pa waterfall

Getting there: The hot springs are located along the Mae Chan to Fang highway (Highway number 1089). It’s just a few kilometers (7.5 to be precise) from Mae Chan and is situated directly next to the road, on the south side. One of the geysers is so prominent, it’s hard to miss while driving pass.

The (piped) geyser in the field

Overall impression: If you are interested in visiting as many hot springs as you can, it’s easy to add this one to the list. Otherwise, as a destination, it rates poorly. Nothing to highlight.

Soaking experience: If your desperate, let's hope this (the soaking experience) changes in future.

Other links to these springs:
  • Joel John Barlows Chiang Rai information site refers to this being the Mae Chan hot spring.
  • The Chiang Mai / ChiangRai guide entry on hot springs in Chiang Rai province also refers to this spring as Mae Chan Hot Springs.
  • A geological reference [PDF-file]:
    'Mae Chan hot spring is located on the well jointed porphyritic [?] homblende [?]biotite granite, which is altered near the jot water discharge zone. ... There are three springs along Huai Pong Nam River 20 kilometers southwest of Mae Chan'.
  • Other reports are scarce to say the least. A Dutch tourist refers (in Dutch) to this hot spring site being 'disappointing'.
There are also some references to Mae Ka Chan (or Mae Khachan) hot springs which are another hot spring all together, though also located in northern Thailand.

More post script. The site tourism Chiangrai.com has a full page on hot springs with a brief description. As with John Joel Barlow's Chiang Rai guide, they report two hot spring sites on the road from Mae Chan, 2 km from each either. One of course Huai Hin Fon and another named Pah Tung hot springs. They also have small descriptions as well as photo's and oddly enough the photo's corresponding to both hot springs are very much similar to what we have visited, the less developed site being Pah Tung hot springs. Their description of Huai Hin Fon hot springs:
'It is about 7 kms. on the Mae Chan-Ta Thone road. There are 8 individual rooms with bath tubs [now all in disrepair] and 6 rooms without the tubs [the sala's?] .

The temperature of the hot spring is between 70-109 degrees celsius. It is situated amid scenic landscape with hydropathic rooms, a pond and a spa garden for those who wish to take a mineral bath for healing purposes'.
Their info on Pah Tung hot spring is very brief. Noris any info available on the internet, so on the basis on their pictures, we have visited both!

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