Saturday, 1 August 2009

Dr Fish?

Jaws VI?

Out west from Thailand's capital city, Kanachanaburi province is famous for it's waterfalls and it's history, though it's role in the Second World War is one of notoriety as indentured labour by locals and foreign captives were used to construct a railroad to Burma under 'hellish' circumstances.

Less well-known is that Kanachananburi hosts 5 hot springs. There's Hindad, the most famous and another 4 of which I failed to gather much information, despite them being listed. Not on the list is Rock Valley, it's yet to have a Thai name. I'm unsure whether 'Rock Valley' hot springs counts as a hot spring though (see below).

But seeing it prominently sign-posted, the car swerved off the road and uopthe valley in search of this not so Thai-named hot springs.

Rocky Valley
It quickly became apparent that the owners had gone out of their way to attract customers. Despite it being about 10 km off the main highway, at every twist and turn, small signs, some more clearer marked than others, showed the way. In the end it was a well-travelled 1 km dirt road, which to lead to the site.

Perched on the Kwai Noi River, most visitors come from upstream resorts by boat. As the day was drawing to a near, the reception provided an ad-hoc service, explaining that it would be 1 hour before the site would close and it would cost 500 Bt (~$US 15). That sounded steep, but a quick tour showed prime pools simply waiting for a late customer.

There were a number of pools laid out along each other, using local rocks with some cement walls and floors. Here was defintly an enhanced resort! Plants had been added, a high screen to protect the bathers from the sun and all with a view of the river.

The soak
So 500 Bt poorer, I was proivided with a towel and a locker key and a pair of local style bathing pants. The changing facilities were extensive and certainly encouraged a cleansing shower before the soak. After hitching the pants up and making sure that they stayed there, it was time to test the waters. I had been forewarned not to try the hottest option, but a more cooler variant. This was a 36-38C pool which was large with a number of coves. These could be used if you might have problems with the throngs of fellow soakers, but there were none. In two corners of these coves, showers and waterfalls had been created.

Dr Fish pool, for real.

The hotter pool was 40-42C and was hot without being too hot. Again the pool was very tastefully landscaped. Next up was the 'Dr Fish' pool: a foot deep pool packed with small tilapia. These fish went into a feeding frenzy once my feet stood still long enough. But the ensuing laughs didn't help to keep my feet still; eventually my feet must have become less tatstier or I got immune to the feeling of hundreds of nibling fish jaws.

After this hilarious soak, a hottish herbal bath followed, not-so natural any more. Herbs enhacing the qualitiy of the water are tumeric, kaffir lime, casumunar, lemon grass, tamarind, Acacia, pandusus, rose and ilang-ilang. And then a final dip in the cool pool with view of the river. That was about all avaialable in the alloted one hour.

Officially called Rock Valley Hot Spring and Fish Spa, it's part of the River Kwai Village Hotel, located on the other side but still a few km's up stream. The hotel boasts being the first up-river jungle style resort in Kanchanaburi province but by now there are many more, both shores dotted with various types of resorts.

The hot spring has it's own web-site, which gives a good introduction, but fails to give correct indications of location, while also the price is not mentioned. Another hotel web site already mentioned that the price was 450 Bt, which seems a bit unfair then to charge the independent tourist a surcharge just for the sake of it.

However the web-site (and other information made available) does prominently promote itself; mention is even made of the spa in a Bangkok Post article ( March 1, 2009) Info obtained also indicates what standards the waters adhere to, independently verifierd by the Thai Department of ScienceService, IQA Laboratory company which states
that the waters are safe and can be used for soaking.
What's more, the need to used sanctioned soakwear means that efforts are in place to at least keep the water from being contaminated, no fully dressed nor are swimmers allowed, only what they provide, a unicum in Thailand I believe.

It is unclear though, whether these are waters obtained are from natural springs. There are no sulphorous smells and the spa itself mentions that the waters are obtained from 20-30m down, where it has a temperature of 58-60 degrees.

The info obtained reveals that the scaly nibblers are "Tilapia gangsters', which
nibble deteriorating skin cells or exfoliate skin, thus stimulating better blood circulation.
Oddly though there is little to none other info outside of Thai websites and You Tube vid's.

Getting There: Rock Valley is located up the main 323 highway from Kanchanaburi town to the Burmese border. Just beyond the turn-off for Sai-Yok district a clear sign will tell you when to turn left. It takes a right and a left turn before crossing the Kwai Noi river. On the other side, you turn right and follow the river upstream for 9 km's when you cross a small stream and make a sharp turn to your left. The entrance road is 500m up from here on your right. The spa is a km down this good track.

Soaking Experience: It's a great soak, well adapted to regular users, though supposedly the well-heeled ones. Pity is that there is no big bassin, nor more private facilities; however the different bassins provide for a good and varied experience. There's also a drinking and eating facility. And it's also possible to take a massage. Friendly and helpful staff.

Overall Impression: Best soaking spa in Thailand? Could be: the pools are in nice settings, have been naturally enhanced. There is variation in the number of pools and what they are intended for. Beautiful setting.

One of the coves of the not-so-hot pool, with a 'shower'.

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