Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Bo Klueng: End of the road

Worth it?
Besides Pong Krathing hot spring, Ratchaburi province has another hot springs site: Bo Klueng hot 'stream'. These springs are situated in the Suan Phueng area, a recently approved accessible area of Ratchaburi province quite near the Burmese border. It used to be off-limits to all but locals due to the Thai-Burmese border relations or lack of relations more probabbly.
The area is now seeing quite a lot of tourism related construction: due to the amount of natural attractions, it’s ease of access to Bangkok (two hours if you fail to take your foot off the accelerator), it’s slightly cooler climate (due to it’s higher elevation) and enchanting natural surroundings (or did I mention it already?). Recently finished are a number of resorts / restaurants with others set to open in the near future. Roadside stalls specialize in selling plants (esp. orchids) and ‘souvenirs from Myanmar’ the politically correct name for the politically incorrect country of Burma.

How to get there
From the town of Suan Phueng to the hot springs site of Bo Khlueng is a distance of roughly 15 km. The scenery changes markedly from gradual rolling hills to medium high mountains covered with (pristine?) forest and small valleys with swift flowing streams flowing between the remnants of valley forests and more recently planted fruit orchards.

The (re-)sources
Located just 1 km before the end of the road (a side road of highway no. 3087), a small car park is situated off the left before a small booth with barrier. After paying 5 Baht to a disinterested receptionist and taking a short stroll of 100 meter or so along a large pond, one comes to an intersection of paths.
Here are situated a number of restaurants. To the left is a large concrete lined pool (7 x 15m) which during my visit is empty and receiving a well-needed scrub from a number of hard working ladies. This pool, created by damming a stream, is situated at the end of this stream with an overflow to the previously mentioned pond. The water coming from the stream is warm. Some would say hot, but it is not too hot. When filled, this pool must be quite attractive as during its construction considerable effort had been made to retain a certain naturalness: huge boulders are located in and along the side of the pool. The water depth maintained would be about 1 meter.

Traveling all the way out here only to discover the main pool is getting a scrub.

From this pool I walk further upstream, the increasing heat evidence of becoming closer to the source of the hot stream or was it just the soaring mid-day heat? About 200 meter from the pool there are a number of streams coming from small holes in the red-hot rock bed of the stream, obviously the source of springs. These springs are also way too hot to be considered ‘bathable’.

The source of the intense heat: coming from between the rocks

Surprisingly for a Thai hot springs site, no one has come up with the innovative idea of cooking eggs in the springs; maybe it's more a northern Thai / Cambodian thing to do. But it also happens in Malaysia...., ah, it's possibly a long established tourist kind of custom, developed through generations of exposure to unattractive and boring hot springs ("I'm sure we can get hot water straight from the tap back home").

The hot water stream flowing downwards. Besides the water being hot, so are the rocks!

Back at the intersection, a small side path leads to an office-like structure which proves to be the entrance to a separate pool / bathing area. During the week (as now) use of these facilities is free, however during the weekend a fee of 80 Baht (by the time of publication nearly 3 $ US) is required, which local Thai residents might consider steep. It gives access to changing rooms, showers and a 5 meter round and shaded hot pool with a few loungers / chairs on its fringes.

And the non-natural soaking pond: actually not too bad for a dip during the cooler months or in the evening.

A cooler soak

An interesting side trip, is to take the footpath beyond and above the hot stream. It continues up and onwards ending near Pha Daeng (or Kao Chan?) waterfall. This waterfall lies in a wide but steep valley through which the river flows in a succession of waterfalls, though few are really spectacular. Maybe that changes during the rainy season but now at end of March, before the real drought onslaught, at best the waterfalls are just OK. Along the waterfall, going downhill, the path continues until it ends at a huge and empty car park. Possibly the emptiness is different with the weekend influx, but I can’t believe that Bangkokians will or have ever arrived in such numbers. Then again, near the car park is such an accumulation of refuse, that certainly must come from somewhere. Just near the car park are a couple of stalls.
The upper levels of the waterfall though are deliciously unpolluted and at that moment unvisited, great for an all-natural dip.

Pha Daeng or was it Kao Chan waterfall? Whatever, for late March it still made a pleasant dip.

The day is drawing to an end and distant thunder is rumbling ever closer. Moving onwards to Kanchananburi, Ratchaburi’s northern provincial neighbour, seems a bit too far fetched and I decide to seek accommodation nearby; there is some choice to be had and the surroundings here are certainly crispier and more natural than a downtown Kanchanaburi hotel.
I drive back a couple of kilometers towards Suan Phueng, take a right turn and drive down to the reception of the Scenery.
"No, we are fully booked this evening",
says a receptionist, clad as a pristine nurse,
"but you’re welcome to tour the grounds".
She is very persuasive though not really um, ... real or genuine. As I start to wander further, she insists on leading the tour and asks me to hop on her golf cart which she uses to drive me along a duck pond with sparkling white spacious bungalows beyond it. At the end of the drive the artificial scenery gives way to a shaded forest along a 30-40 cm deep stretch of a river. Chairs are conveniently located in the stream as well as some swings, originating from the overhanging trees. What a beautiful place! But no rooms tonite.

My nurse advises me to stay at the near the entrance located, white washed Nagaya, which she assures me, has several rooms vacant this evening. After close inspection, I must say that it does miss the magic of the stream, but it does have a better backdrop / view than its neighbour. The rooms are quirky: each different and carrying names such as 'naked' and 'nude'. One might expect a clothing optional resort but, this being Thailand, the names are meant as a teaser, alas. Nagaya provides bikes, but the tracks beyond Nagaya are equally enjoyed on foot: following and crossing the river and meandering through fruit orchards, especially when the threatening thunderstorm finally unleashes itself, drenching me to the skin.

After this partially involuntary soaking, I change into drier clothes and head back over to the Scenery, as they are only resort within walking distance with a restaurant. It only now dawns on me that, there being no accommodation vacant at this resort, might have proven to be an advantage: on every tree a speaker has been mounted from which Frank S. is crooning. I manage to pass the reception without requiring the assistance of a golf cart to face the 100 meter stretch to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant sound system is not rigged to the tree sound system and though the meal is excellent the intermittent jazz / Sinatra takes away from the meal.

The Nagaya, something not so Thai. Pity of the pond. But still well worth a stay.

And there's more

After a good (non air-conditioned) sleep, I decide to discover more of the Suan Phueng area. Highway no. 6070 heads southwest from Suan Phueng towards the border with Burma. There might be a couple of waterfalls accessible, though the waterfall to Pachundara is blocked.
At Kaeng Som Maew / Queen Sirikit Forest Park (25 km from Suan Phueng, then a left side road for another 2.5 km) the waterfall is actually a rapid with a lot of opportunities for recreation (read picnic). Surprisingly, I only learnt after the visit that there is much more to be seen, it's a nature study center.

The Kaeng Som Maew rapids, lie near a nature study area with a royal hut.

However, Bo Wi waterfall (15 km from Suan Phueng, then in Bo Wi village a right hand turn before crossing the river, continue upstream for another km) is much more worth a visit. Located in a narrow valley this is again a multi-level (seven?) waterfall. Go up a couple of levels and on this week day, a pleasant skinny-dip can be had.

Objective met, time to return to the world, to Bangkok.

Bo Wi waterfall, great place to really cool off and spend a pleasant time in complete solitude (as you can see)

Discovering more
A bit of surfing on the i-net, has revealed more. As usual, there's a seemingly unending list of alternative names for the hot springs: Bor Klueng, Bo Khlung, Bo Klung, Bo Khlueng and probably many more variations; I settled on Bo Klueng as the first picture reveals (above this post entry): the fact that the place itself uses it.

There are some more visitors / sites who have posted their views / additional info:
  • Bangkokmum:
    'there are two springs at Bor Krueng , a cement pond located outside for all to see and a swimming pool higher up … we went for the swimming pool cuz it’s shallow enough for kids to waddle in … people there jump in wearing t-shirts and shorts so i looked a little over the top in my swimming suits … it was quite relaxing , just soaking in the hot water and watching butterflies fly by …'
  • Chomphrai reveals the history of the hot springs: prior to 1960 it was a mining area which explains why it is now private property. He / she also comments on butterflies and does more exploring nearby.
  • The official Tourism of Thailand site mentions the temperature of the water and adds a couple of good photo's.
  • On this travel agency site ('Thailand Travel Tours') they mention both Pha Daeng waterfalls ('riddled with leeches') as well as Bo Klueng ('nice place to relax').
  • Extensive information on, not only the direct surroundings of Bo Klueng / Suan Phueng, but the whole of Ratchaburi province is to be found on wikitravel.
    'In winter, in the morning, the hot stream will combine and form a terrific fog'.
    It also provides more info on the trail between the hot springs and the waterfall:
    'Route 2: Start from the office and walk along the waterfall, passing Bo Khlueng Hot Stream and turn back to the office, taking 3 hours'.
    It also mentions the nearby 'Natural Science Park' from which the trail originates. It also refers to the waterfalls as 'Kao Chan' rather than Pha Daeng.
  • Finally, a German language wiki mentions the waterfall (Kao Chan) having 9 levels.
Getting There: From Ratchaburi city, take highway no. 3087, just north of Ratchaburi on motorway no. 4. The 3087 bypasses the town of Chombung and after a gradual climb you'll find yourself in the town of Suan Phueng. Highway 6070 towards Bo Wi and Kaeng Som Maew / Queen Sirikit Forest Park is a left hand turn in town itself.
Bo Klueng however is a well signposted left turn, 5 km further out of Suan Pheung still on the same highway, 3087. The hot springs are about 10 km from this intersection, on your left.
The Pha Daeng / Kao Chan waterfalls are at the end of this road, 1 km beyond the hot springs.

Soaking Experience:
Tough luck for me, the natural (free) pond was being cleaned, which of course deserves a very positive review. The hot stream itself has been kept natural, but simply too hot for anything other than a burn. The artificial pool is not enticing enough, but in the cooler part of the year certainly worth a try, especially if you can avoid the more busier weekends / Thai holidays

Overall impression:
However, with the delicious natural setting and attractions around, Bo Klueng hot springs are certainly worth a very pleasant visit. Stay longer, it’s worth it!

Update here.

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