Friday, 11 December 2009

What would you do with a couple of million?

A repost from Soaking in Siam.

Recipe for Success
One of the few really developed hot spring resorts in Southeast Asia goes by the name of Hotspring Beach Resort & Spa. Located in Phang Nga province just half an hour north of Phuket airport, Southern Thailand, one would expect that this professionally run resort (***** stars it claims) to be a grand success:
  • Spa and wellness are increasingly popular tourist destinations,
  • Phuket airport is serviced from major destinations in the region as well as a selected few outside the region,
  • the area is slowly becoming a popular alternative for Phuket itself, especially with the largely undisturbed back country and
  • the fact that it's more than evident that considerable funding had been poured in to ensure a success.
But is it?

The Answer
Coming from the north, the obvious grand entrance is passed, as the resort sign is aimed for northbound traffic (coming from the airport). After a couple of minutes I turned around and this time went into the grand entrance with an absurd large driveway. That said, shaded parking space is at a premium.
But eventually after finding a spot and I'm looking around what to do, the (under-employed?) receptionist is already underway to see if I'm really going to be a client. I'm informed that the entrance to the bathing facilities is 500 Baht (about $15) which includes a free drink / snack and a towel. Not too bad. They even have locker rooms, but as I'm getting older I'm getting better at the towel changing thing.

From the reception one crosses the main free form swimming pool. At the end of this pool are two large, circular pools, to the left the warm pool, to the right the hot pool. Both pools seem slightly under maintained, but a sip of water reveals that the springs water is laden with minerals. Or sea water? The day is hot so maybe the hot pool is worth skipping, though the warm pool is too tepid. The swimming pool looks great, unfortunately it's heavily chlorinated.

Not many other guests / visitors are lounging about. The whole afternoon doesn't reveal many others. It's Phuket's main tourist season, so where are the guests?

I order my drink and snack, service is not too bad. Read a little, bath a little.

Seeing, it's a hot spring beach resort, I go in search of the beach. I'm already forewarned not to swim as it's too dangerous. Actually the resort is located on a lagoon entrance to the sea, so you'll have a lot of current. They have built a long pier which also holds a non-functioning restaurant, but as the tide is out I can take the steps to the sand below and continue for another 300 meters to the windswept and empty beach.

It's a long walk back and I'm in need of a drink. Nothing better than some tea. Deliriously I'm replied with 'we don't do that'. Fair enough. I won't disturb the staff anymore, take another soak and leave.

The swimming pool.

Their opinion
The Hotspring Beach resort and Spa expand both on their web site as well as in a brochure. They refer to their resort being:
'The one and only natural mineral hotspring beach resort and Spa in Thailand',
though the website mixes the one and only up to make it:
'The only and one natural ...'.
Concerning the hot spring:
'The hot spring source was found in this piece of land about 40 years ago. The water was originally sprung out about 3.5 m above the ground. However, due to the land development, a concrete wall was made to cover the spring which reduces its height to 1-1.5 m at the present day.
Out natural hot spring mineral water has many health benefits, such as:
  • cleanses and beautifies your skin
  • eases and soothes tired or aching muscles and joints
  • eases tension and de-stress with the comfortable water temperature (approx. 45 °C)
  • provides more effective massage by deep heating the muscles prior to your treatment
Furthermore, the elements dissolve in the water are thought to have therapeutic value, for instance:
  • Calcium is vital for bone structures and aiding in the function of muscular tissues.
  • Iron enables red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body, which is vital for the formation of the hemoglobin'.
Bare breasted fountain.

More Info
It comes as a surprise that there is hardly any info about the hot springs pre-resort.
Wikitravel ignores the resort name and refers to the hot spring being Ban Bo Dan:
'The water of the natural hot springs are laden with minerals such as sodium and calcium, which are believed to relieve rheumatism, numbness, and help lessen the tension of both body and mind, as well as being beneficial to your complexion and hair. Mineral baths are available daily'.
Ban Bo Dan is possibly the former name, before the resort was built. The resort also seems to have been under management of Dusit Hotels. At least this site mentions the hotel as Dusit Hotspring Beach Resort and Spa, though Dusit fails to mention this in their business history.
site reveals more history:
'In March 2002 the luxury Hotspring Beach Resort & Spa has been build',
while also maintaining the sentence 40 years before, so now more like 50 years ago. Others put the date of construction in 2004.

More Opinions
As it's a overnight stayable resort, there are a quite a few reviews of guests' stays from accommodating sites. In general they are widely differing in experiences. But it seems it's all about the expectations you have:
  • Yes, the resort is very big and spacious, as are the rooms.
  • However there are no nearby facilities (including beach) meaning that you are totally dependent on what the hotel offers.
And that's where it the main problems seem to be.

Elsewhere some note that the facilities themselves are
outdated (2007), lack of maintenance (2009), facilities getting old (2009). I would have to agree. At the edges Figurativly, the resort was becoming ragged and tattered. The pier for instance looked decidedly unused, piles of used towels were left for hours at a stretch, leaves were not cleared out of the pool, the communal toilet was dirty.

Though most visitors like the hot spring pools themselves. That said it comes as a surprise (as this is the only hot spring resort in Southern Thailand) that he hot springs are just mentioned as one of the many facilities: i.e. no wifi, beach too far away, airport transfer too expensive but good hot spring pool, staff a bit slow, towels too thick.

Who's the odd one out? (a.: there are two!) Source: KrAtAi

Getting there: From Phuket island head north to Khok Kloi village (8 kilometers), take a left for Natai and then 1 kilometer down this road head north again for 2 kilometers and you are there. Signage is good.

Soaking experience: With the hot springs being the focus of this multi-million investment one can certainly expect the soaking facilities to be good. They were. Though nowhere was the experience any superior than some of the other better hot springs in Thailand. If anything the artificial surroundings render it less pleasing ....

Overall impression: I'm still not fully convinced that such sprawling expanses are a boon for soaking.The resort is expansive but also deserted. What I find weird is that they do everything to make it green, but they could have also maintained a lot of the original mangrove forest. The spa could have added to the experience. I was oblivious to this and with staff being at best indifferent one does not leave with a very good impression.

More photo's from Stephen and Kate.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Bob up

Reposted from Soaking in Siam, a visit I made the other month, to Phang Nga province in southern Thailand.

Off the trail
Despite it's presence to the nearby tourist center of Phuket (and Khao Lak), Kapong hot spring seems to be well off the tourist trail. That said the lazy environs of Kapong are altogether located in what one would suspect another world, one without tourists.

The main hot spring area. Sandbagged and ready for a soak.
The spring itself is located at the start of the pond.

Kapong (or Ka-pong) hot spring is otherwise known (probably locally) as Plai Phu. Located in the district of Kapong in Phang Nga province, in the south of the country it's just a 2 hour drive from the hub of Phuket's hot tourist spot (Patong) or just 1 hour from Khao Lak. The town itself seems very laid back and for a district head quarter not much seems to be going on. Economic activity revolve around rubber planting with evidence of recent palm oil plantations slowly attributing to local economic significance. Furthermore, mostly small villages located between quite heavily forested mountains.

The parking area with a market stall. Some other housing (unused) behind.

The Site
There is quite a bit of parking space on gravel belong side the Le stream. Behind between the trees there are a number of bungalows and other structures which seem unused. Downstream one sees (a now cut off from the main stream) side channel with some huts and a number of port-a-loos besides. The side channel has been blocked with a dozen or so sand bags creating a half meter deep pool which is warmish. Go to the far end of the channel and the water is definitely hot. Nearby in the main stream, are a number of springs in the river bed which are hot and the main stream itself heats up.

Merge between the hot stream (left) and the main cold stream (right).

A great place to soak up the heat especially now while the weather is cooler. But alas the main area is totally devoid of trees so during the day having a soak without getting a heat stroke is not possible so it seems. Possibly that's why the place is so deserted. What I like is that though enhanced one can see that the site has remained mostly natural. I can also imagine that come sun down this is a great place to hang out and around.

Out There
From the internet one does not become more knowledge, so it seems.
  • This site mentions water temperatures of 65 degrees Celsius.
  • A foreigner (presumably English: the_wibblywobblies notes a word of caution:
    'On departure we stopped off at a Hot Spring near Kapong. Our 5 year old inadvertently stepped into the small pool of extremely hot natural mineral water and suffered 2nd degree burns to her feet. We are planning to have a warning sign erected there but in the meantime please be careful'.
    There's no danger sign and there were some certainly very hot pools. If this were somewhere else in the western world there would be big fences around it and no bathing facilities at all.
  • Wikitravel's otherwise excellent Thailand entries fails to note the existence of the hot springs in Kapong (as laid down on the Phang Nga provincial page) though does mention the surrounding waterfalls.
  • Finally though is more explanatory:
    'Some of the hot springs spring up in a very cold stream that flows from the mountain. It is marked by arranged-cobble stones. On the level besides the stream there are concrete wells 2 meters high, with steps up and down 3-4 wells connecting altogether, in the area of 200 square meters to contain hot spring water that bobbed up. Nowadays (2007) these hot spring have lower bob ups, which may be caused by changes underground'.
    The site also has some (better?) photo's. That includes a picture of stone structures which just might have been some soaking facilities in the past.
Did I mention forested hills?
Well opposite the soak site they are doing their best to correct this impression.

Getting there: The hot springs are just 8 km out of town. Once past the district offices heading north one needs to take the first right towards Nai Le village. The good roads continues for roughly 4 km, when this time a well signposted turn heads to another right and up the valley the road continues onward until a sudden halt as one drives into a teak forest. The unpaved track continues for another 500m and one has arrived at Kapong hot spring.

Soaking experience: Natural and alternate use of cold water are a plus. Pity the water levels are not deeper, but a superior experience. Come morning early or during sun down.

Overall impression: The place is well worth a soak if a mid day visit can be avoided. Though evidence of use widespread it'sd by no means trashed. A place to get to know.

Lots of smaller springs around the river bed.

The main spring.

The main pond with the port-a-loo's and market stalls.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Updates for November 2009

Adding to the family of blogs is Hot Soaks of the Himalaya, a long (term?) journey up the valleys and across the vast plains of Himalaya. Just one entry so far, on Bhutan entitled 'Of Tsachu's', a tsachu being a hot spring.

Furthermore two visits have been paid to hot springs in Southern Thailand, postings to follow.

When one looks at the analysis of referrers one sometimes finds that Soaking in Southeast Asia pops up in the strangest places. A Google web search for '
Indonesia Banjar hot springs bikini photos' puts this site in the second place. But why on earth would someone being using those search terms?


Asiaspa (Nov./Dec. 2009) goes green for it's latest issue. That's besides features on both Hanoi as well as Lao. Funny that focusing on the green thing but not mentioning green or 'natural' water. Though they do emphasize cleanliness of a spa, something you seldom see in the natural soaks of Southeast Asia.
In How to travel Green:
'Modest dress is important for many cultures and this is something many western travellers do not follow'.
Sounds a lot like the blame the west attitude. Funny though when you leaf through the Mag you'll discover that advertisements for resorts in Southeast Asia focus more on non-modest (10) vs. modest (8; assuming bikini is modest). In pictures with articles the count is even 10 vs 4. So much for being modest, but possibly aforementioned being modest meant outside of the spa?
Furthermore a good article by Laura Miller on a visit to Beitou, Taiwan. Very forthright:
'There is something quite delicious about being naked outdoors. And although I'll admit to a slight exhibitionist streak, I'd challenge anyone not enjoy reclining nude in a marble pool of steamy healing water with trees and discrete screens ensuing total privacy from the opposite sex [so not exhibitionist?]. While skinny dipping is illicitly thrilling, hot spring nudity is actually recommended and deeply relaxing - especially under a blue sky or starry night'.
That said, her name does sound western ....

From further away in Asia:
  • The arrival of the Beaujolais Noveau 2009 is a reason for Japanese soakers to indulge:
    'The Hakone Kowakien Yunessun spa resort celebrated the annual uncorking of the seasonal drop by having a sommelier pour a few bottles into an open-air hot spring bath as holiday-makers enjoyed soaking themselves. It was the fourth annual bath using the produce of the French winery Laboure Roi at the spa, which also offers baths with green tea, coffee and sake'.
    What exactly are the benefits of soaking in wine tainted mineral water?
  • And then a manga introduces the 'hot spring goddess' as reported by A NEET Life. Unfortunately Mr. NEET Life was expecting a naked Goddess because that's the way you soak in Japan.
    'As you can see, right up my alley. My expectations of a series where the main character (who happens to be a cute girl with divine powers, for better or worse) never wears any clothes turned out to be a little high, unfortunately, but that's (also unfortunately) to be expected. But I'm totally down with the red letter philosophy above. Think about it. A nature god(dess) living at a hot spring. Where do clothes even fit into that? Oh, but of course, for the sake of modesty, we must go out of the way to clothe the naked. Even (or especially?) the divinely naked.
    And worst of all, it offends my sense of spirituality. A God loses her majesty if she runs around naked? [quoting the manga] All I have to say about that is - she's a God, and this is a hot spring, so what's wrong with being naked!? Far as I'm concerned, a God gains majesty by running around naked. Partaking in nudity is spiritually fulfilling, not morally degenerate.'
  • China is also experiencing 'a wave of hot spring festivals' this autumn.
From blogs:
  • A year old write up in the Nation on Bo Klueng, Ratchaburi:
    'Bo Klueng is a prime example of a poorly managed private tourist spot. The property owner has built a restaurant right next the hot spring to allow diners to watch those frolicking in the man-made pond into which the hot spring flows. Naturally, the focus is more on selling food and drink than maintaining the site, and the Bt5 admission fee is augmented by a Bt30 charge (Bt10 for children) for a dip in the pond. The water, which looks none too clean, is usually packed with children. And about 100 metres away, a sign is details the quality, which at pH8.02, seems more alkaline that it should be and not that hot at 56 degrees Celsius'.
    I, for my part, admit that it's far from fantastic but did notice that they clean the pond and that it is still one of Thailand's best hot spring sites. Goes to show how good Thailand's soaks are. Possibly might visit there again next month.
  • Another forum entry chips in on the above discussion so it seems:
    'It certainly isn't the hot springs [of Pai, which attract tourists]. Until recently it was 300 baht for Farangs [foreigners] to go in and as a result the place was deserted. I think it is 100 baht now and still very quiet'.
Red Rider in Pai.

  • Tours to Binh Chau hot springs are back on offer. But only for the elderly ...
  • Are there new hot spring pools in Kintamani, Bali? Bertrandom has the photo's (see below). But what is the place called?

  • A previous unrecorded hot spring in Perak: Pengkalan Hulu. Motormouth from Ipoh has an extensive blog entry on this hot spring. A place to visit? Kavetha adds:
    'The hot springs at air panas used to really nice until they decided to built that dirty canal and ugly chalets. There were 2 extremely hot pools which had railings around them, one big pool of warm water for swimming and a few more other little pools….. and for anyone who wanted a cold dip, they could just go to the river flowing nearby'.
    Author's reply:
    'Chalets aside, they’re all orange-y now. But that canal looks too murky lah …. We did not touch the waters'.
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