Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Pong Krathing: the local soak

Not many non-Thai will have heard of Ratchaburi province in a touristy sense of way. This province lies due west of Bangkok and covers large areas of the main Thai lowland rice plains that surround Bangkok, as well as a mountainous area on the border with Burma. The Damnoen Saduak floating market may ring a bell to some, but this obligatory tourist creation, though picturesque, is not what I was seeking over the past Easter weekend. With a 24 hour time frame, I just had sufficient time to explore the mountainous part of this province.

Ambitious plans a side, the first destination was Pong Krathing, a hot spring located somewhere west of the main motorway which dissects the province north-south on it's way from the south to Bangkok. Prior to leaving for Thailand, I failed to get much information on this hot spring. My own link to this hot spring referred to
'i just watch a tv programme on places to go to in ratchaburi … they showed another hot spring called ‘ bor pong krating ‘ … this one’s located on route 3206'.
Elsewhere on the internet there is:
'Pong Krathing Hotspring. A hot spring is located at Phu Nam Ron village in Ban Bueng sub district, Ban Kha district',
This excerpt originating from Chaloem Phrakiat Thai Prachan National Park website. Then there is:
'Pong Krathing hot spring with a diameter of 5m. When circled by a group of people who noisily clap their hands, bubbles will emerge from the well'.
All not very informative, so a task on hand! And let's hope not too many people turn up to clap their hands, even silently!

The road there

What's more is that the aforementioned links certainly don't exert themselves in details on how to get to the hot spring. Luckily, Pong Krathing is also the name of a large village so after leaving the motorway on the best detail I could find online ('highway 3206') a 'Pong Krathing' signboard was not so hard to find.
Just a few kms beyond the motorway one knows well-and-truly that one has returned to the real Thai countryside, especially as a couple of limestone outcrops pop up to the north each with a smiling Buddha somehow perched on these hillocks.
On a major turnoff opposite a traffic police office I managed to find a highly detailed provincial tourism map, which showed not only that I was on the right way, but the hot spring itself was quite a distance from the main road I was following.
After passing Pong Krathing village (60 km from the motorway), the road takes a sharp turn to the north and a few kms further on, a hot springs signboard clearly indicates a road to your left / west. The countryside had by then evolved from lowland paddy fields into rolling hills with much secondary forest and pineapple plantations with some rubber plantations, eucalyptus stands and sugar cane fields. There are also quite a few fruit orchards.
The partially overgrown road leads to a large reservoir which, as it is now the start of the Thai hot season, is at quite a low level. At the other side of the reservoir an unpaved road continues along the shore where the main road continues downstream. The road splits after about 500m and the left split leads to the hot spring site of Pong Krathing.

The hot spring site
The hot spring site has seen some development; there is certainly ample parking space, but structures are mostly made by bamboo ensuring it's all low key and thus maintaining a friendly sort of character. No entrance fee is required and a small bridge leads over a stream. On the opposite side of the stream, a few steps lead upwards to a large cemented reservoir with half meter high walls to keep unsuspecting guests from falling in the spring itself while creating a larger reservoir of hot water. Between the reservoir and the stream 3 pools have been constructed each about 3 m in diameter with hot water standing half a meter deep.

The spring itself: walled in. Banana's have been donated to site lounging monkeys.

What makes this site unique is that just a few steps from the hot pools, a pond has been created through a low check dam on the stream. A wooden stair leads into the cool(er) water.

The pond with stair, the hot pools with behind them the spring itself and a few temples.

Usage of the pools was evident (as opposed to the previous blog entry 'Cambodia's finest'): a couple of (local) women were bathing (fully clothed of course), alternating between the hot pools and the cold pond. Near the entrance to the site a signboard gave an overview of the number of visitors which during January and February this year totalled over 200 daily. A local added that these numbers drop off during the hotter months and months which require more rural labour, but still more than 53,000 adults visited the hot spring site last year. Hardly any foreigners visit the site ('sometimes, but never many'), though my contact mentioned that the day before three 'falang' visited. Today I represented the rest of the world.

Other facilities include a number of massage huts and a few places where you can buy drinks, food, snacks and banana's so as to feed the local monkey troupe. The masseuse's had hung up photo's to show they had received some kind of training. There were also a couple of small temples / offer places both near the restaurants as well as beyond the hot spring itself.

The massage huts

Getting There: The best way to get to Pong Krathing hot spring is to take highway 3206, which leaves the A4 motorway a few kms north of where the A4 merges with highway 35. The road, at first flat, gradually climbs through more hilly terrain. After 40 km there is an intersection; the 3206 changes here to the 3313 and there is a road coming from the east (3337), from Ratchaburi city.
After 60 kms from the motorway, there is an intersection with a well-signposted road to the west / left. Taking this turn, the road continues on for another 10 km until you reach a large reservoir on your right. After a total of 13 km from the last major intersection, an unpaved road to the right passes over a bridge. Five hundred meters further on this unpaved road splits and the left split leads to the hot spring (500m).
A faster route from the motorway may possibly be the route coming from the north: the 3087 leaves the A4 just north of Ratchaburi City and passes the town of Chombueng. Forty five kms from the motorway one takes the direction of Ban Kha (3313) and continues onward to the aforementioned turn to the reservoir. The distance is roughly the same, but the road sees more traffic and is wider.

Soaking Experience: The possibility to alternate hot with cold soaks adds to making this place a great place to soak, though the hot pools are very small and during a busy weekend (when many non-locals visit the hot spring) the experience might be a bit disappointing. There were also no private pools, alas.

Overall Impression: The lack of any large scale development, the absence of an (excessive) entry fee and the efforts of locals to make the hot spring attractive to themselves with good facilities esp. like the huts for the masseuse's give a lasting impression. Added to this is the relative good access, though it still is remote. Unfortunately the local surroundings, though picturesque (mountains / reservoir) are not readily accessible and no local efforts have been made to provide accommodation even in the wider area. The direct surroundings were still very natural. But if you are heading either further upcountry or going south to Hua Hin taking this diversion is certainly worthwhile.

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