Wednesday, 13 January 2016


 Annah Rais Hot Spring is a few minutes' drive away from Annah Raid Longhouse, a Bidayuh settlement about 100km south of Kuching, at the foothill of Borneo Highlands near the mountains marking the border to Kalimantan. The invigorating hot water is about 40°C degree (sometimes reaching 70°C) and it appears in the middle of a cooling jungle stream surrounded by singing birds and chirping crickets. A truly unique experience. #annahraishotspring #annahrais #hotspring #bidayuhvillage #bidayuhlonghouse #longhouse #bidayuh #tropicalrainforest #rainforest #jungle #catcitykuching #beautifulkuching #junglestream #stream #kuching #sarawak #borneo 

Modern poverty
It's no doubt that progress and development are the main driving forces of the loss of natural hot springs. 
In Southeast Asia and in the wider world. 
Whereas in Southeast Asia money seems to be at the heart of this loss, a recent article blames social media. The article's author, Christine Adele, on (Nov. 18) proclaims that social media is stimulating unwise use of protected natural lands, in her case specifically in the north of the United States.
'To them [as opposed to the author], the only purpose nature serves is to provide them with the shot that they can pump up in photoshop to gain more followers and impress their friends and family. They think about outdoing the shot the last person who visited got. They think about the now, and not about how their actions might affect these parks in the future. These actions continue to snowball as people do increasingly ridiculous things to outshine others'.
In this one can easily substitute the wider use of the definition of nature with hot springs. 
The plethora of social media and especially facebook and instagram (both with their culture of lookatme) are increasingly providing a stage for risk-takers to avenge on nature as well as letting better known secrets become famous. 
It's irrespective of where we are, be it Iceland (Hrunulaug), France (St Thomas), Italy (Viterbo), Thailand (Sai Ngam), Indonesia (Rinjani), New Zealand (Kerosene creek) or the U.S.A. (Umpqua / Skinnydipper), the lure of a natural soak in a natural surroundings with little or no visitor management and advertised on social media is encouraging more visitors to do likewise. Or to abuse the natural conditions or stretch the capacity of nature to cope with those visitors.
Or is it?

 media can also capture the beauty of an area, it can also educate the visitor, it can also promote the opportunity to be at one with nature. Sites being overrun are more often than not zero-managed (and thus open to (ab)use not seen elsewhere) or as in Southeast Asia open to exploitation by touring companies.

Christine continues
'It’s hopping fences, going into closed areas, feeding wildlife, picking flowers, camping illegally, using drones, using sparklers for light painting, swimming in protected waters, bringing our pets into protected backcountry.
It can be hard for some to understand how just one person doing these things could possibly be a big deal. The problem is, its not just one person- its hundreds of people influencing thousands of people influencing millions of people'. 
Nevertheless, her solutions are a call to ignore abuse. Hardly a solution.
Better would be to use social media to initiate change, to create affirmative action and to highlight the creative forces behind nature.
Comments on this article:
'There have always been knuckleheads in National parks. Social Media just makes them more visible'.
'Let's be clear: social media is not making people commit these acts, they make the decisions themselves. As someone stated, social media may be exacerbating the problem, but it is not the root of the issue. People are making very poor decisions, unfortunately, and it's important to remember that we're all responsible for our own actions'.
Continuing, giving locals a say, as a way to create a collective responsibility. The U.S. Forest Service has been gaining info on the future of Lower Breitenbush Hot Springs (Statesmanjournal, Nov. 5):
'The most popular ideas for the future of the site — as indicated in the survey results — show a preference for stone soaking pools, a network of trails and a small campground.
Other popular ideas include keeping the site low-impact and natural while including amenities such as a pit toilet, picnic tables and bridge across the river. The response also showed an openness to paying a small fee if the funds were used to keep the area clean and safe'. 
It does seem to be at odds with other initiatives from the same service making public access to soaking sites elsewhere in the U.S.A. more difficult ...

Over on soakersforum a discussion on the (de-)merits of geothermal exploration. If feasible, will geothermal exploitation lead to the loss of hot spring soaking opportunities?

The discussion seems to think not: all what is happening is a pumping around of water. 

Then there are arguments from Japan:
'In fact, there are 27,405 identified hot spring wells and over 21,000 combined hot spring spas and inns, according to 2014 data published by the nation’s Ministry of Environment.
Over 126 million people visit Onsens annually, spending considerable amount of money at spas, hotels, restaurants, and shops at hot springs. Because of the significant economic activities related to tourism, local communities didn’t think that Onsen business and geothermal power plants could co-exist'.
Several examples are given from the U.S.A. of hot springs drying up / dried up.
Then the crux which seems to follow the lead of this posting:
'We have lost far more soaks to irresponsible users and lack of respect than we have to geothermal power'. 
And the use of binary geothermal systems will probably not affect the springs themselves.

Read more below in the Philippines section on how pumping hot water for soaking is affecting soaking ...

Japanese owners of onsen are apparently hoping that their lowering of standards concerning visitors with tattoos will reap more money courtesy of foreign tourists paying a visit. 
Well, actually the national tourism organisation is hoping this will happen and is nudging the owners in that direction. So reports the South China Morning Post (Nov. 5):
'With visitor numbers soaring but mindful of not upsetting the company’s Japanese guests, Hoshino Resorts has taken a more proactive approach to the problem.
“For small tattoos, we provide guests with a sticking plaster that they can use to conceal it before they go into the hot spring,” said the company official, who declined to be named.
“We do understand that tattoos have become fashionable in other countries and we really did want to do something that would be acceptable to everyone,” she said. “We believe this will mean that everyone will be able to enjoy our onsen.”
Not all of Japan’s operators have been as quick to keep up with modern realities, however, which has caused confusion among foreign visitors who had no idea that they would be refused access to an onsen if they had a tattoo.
A study carried out recently by the Japan Tourism Agency revealed that 56 per cent of hotels and inns across the country do not permit anyone with a tattoo to use their communal bathing facilities and have no provisions to help bathers conceal a tattoo.
Just over 30 per cent said they will not turn someone with a tattoo away, while a further 13 per cent say they will grant someone with a tattoo access under certain conditions, such as having it covered up".
While on the subject of soaking habits: the Shanghaiist (Oct 5) has this odd piece of news:
'Officials at the Huaqing Hot Springs in Shaanxi province have urged visitors to please, please kindly refrain from taking pictures of themselves feeling up a statue of an ancient Chinese beauty after it stopped being funny a long time ago'.
Thanks for the memories [heart_eyes] #vietnam #bath #hotsprings #piscine #nature #backpackers #explorers #landscape #beautifulday #morning #river #holidays #massage #instatravel #hmong #authenticity #ramenezmoilabas Crédit [camera] @guillaume_40
Afoul of the Vietnamese public scrutiny? Source

Vietnam also seems to be struggling with tourist antics. Apparently they are also awakening to the naked foreigner phenomena: posing in nature.
And Vietnam does not like. Thanhnien News (Dec. 29):
'A recent photo of three foreigners standing completely naked on Fansipan, Indochina's highest mountain in northern Vietnam, has received strong reactions on social media.
The foreigners were disrespectful to a Vietnamese location deemed by many as a national icon'.
However it was deemed less obscene by many of the comment contributors, which seems evidence of a more healthy attitude.

Carrying on. What might allude many, is how Thai tourists are increasingly visiting Japan and many seem OK with the onsen culture. Or even wanting to experience this traditional custom as authentic as possible. 
This is evidenced on instagram where I see many Thai language reactions / comments on onsen photo's. Take the example of the more famous onsen of Takaragawa, where bathing al fresco is the way to go:

Onsen Time ท่ามกลางหิมะ ☃ ☃ กับสาวน้อย @nene_nunoo #happytime #happytrip #tokyuagain #ของขวัญปีใหม่ #เรื่อยเปื่อยทัวร์
Maybe it's just the snow and hot bath which elicits the need to photo one self. Very foreign to Thailand. Pretty picture btw and one of many examples.

Finally back to China. With temperatures dropping in China, it seems a bit contradictory for the Shanghaiist to report (Nov. 30): 
'But, in Chongqing, when conditions start to get a bit nippy, that's when the nude swimmers come out to play'.
Taiwan lies on the border between Asian free for all and the Japanese art of onsening. Travelmomo notes Taiwans penchant for private hot springs in Yilan:
'In their hearts, Taiwanese are shy to go naked in front of other people. If possible, they prefer private bath (I think that's most people). That's why Hot! Spring Onion only offers private rooms of different sizes and designs for friends and families'. 
Not such a natural experience though ....

Lisong Hot Springs, Taiwan
The country is increasingly becoming a great hot spring destination. 
On a recent blog entry (Dec. 2015) My Taiwan tour highlighted Taiwan's soaking capital of Beitou:
'The entrance to Beitou Park (北投公園) is just across the street from the metro station. There are a number of small Beitou Stream waterfalls within the park. “Early on, before many facilities were developed, Japanese nationals would come here and soak in the pools below the falls – naked, in the Japanese fashion. This caused quite a stir with locals, and Japanese officials thought it best to stop the practice, to maintain Japanese dignity and esteem.” (Today only foot-soaking is allowed in the stream.) Small inns and baths began to pop up'.
A good site for more info on Taiwan's soak is a recent (Jan. 3) posting on rtaiwanr:
'Apart from night markets, hot springs in Taiwan are the must-see for many visitors. Hot springs are loved not only for their novelty, but also for their therapeutic benefits, as they provide relief to nervous, digestive, circulatory or organ disorders. This is because hot springs emerge from the very depths of the Earth, meaning that their waters carry a powerful mix of natural minerals and chemicals that are beneficial to our health. Today, many resort-style hot springs have taken advantage of this, creating luxury spa and health centres where customers can take advantage of hot spring hydrotherapy. However, many Taiwanese still prefer to go and have a good soak in the much untouched hot springs, as their ancestors once did'.
 Life in color. Stop racism! #pemandian #air #panas #angseri #tabanan #bali #stop #racism #nature #green #hotspring 

How to learn from / about Japan and Japanese customs? From anime ( 
Concerning the onsen:
'does anime teach viewers about how to use bath houses? There is a very specific way to use an onsen and every one will have slightly different rules so it can be helpful to look for a sign'.
Not much assistance. 
A Japanese onsen (and anime) could also teach us about body acceptance and concepts of shame. 
Alas the author only notes that not wearing shoes inside is a rule one learns from onsen culture in anime!

Then something different, but also a wise lesson.
From Reuters (27 Oct.), a two minute feature video on how a man made disaster could possibly be less of a disaster. Named Lupindo after the company that caused the mud stream to start, there might be some way to gain from attracting tourists. 
Plausible, though the mud is noted as poisonous. 
And it could be another 100 years before the mud stops flowing (source). Check for a scientific based discussion on wikipedia.

A quick ramble through the region:
  • Burma

Finding a hot spring in Burma by guymaclaury (in photo above):
'At the end of the day, as the sun was getting ready to set, we found the hot spring. Our group dwindled from 6 to 4 because of sickness and the heat.
We were lost while searching for this hot spring when a local who didn't speak English guided us to it. Perfect way to end a long, arduous day on bicycles in the heat'.
Fear not, there are more sophisticated soaks in Burma than the puddle above. Example:

#Shvitzing in the #hotsprings #myanmar #inlelake #mountaintop
  • Indonesia
Aroengbinang has a couple of recent blog entries on the hot springs of Tirta Sanita Ciseeng and Ciparay, both in the vicinity of Bogor, Java.
On the Tirta Sanita Ciseeng hot spring:
'One of the VIP soaking tubs at Tirta Sanita Ciseeng Hot Spring compound which can only be used by one person at a time. Please be advised that a couple is forbidden using the VIP soaking tubs at the same time, even though they are legitimate husband and wife. It is probably better that way to avoid any bad impression and abuse of the facility'.
Quite an interesting blogger he has other entries on the hot springs Kuningan Sangkanurip, Walini and Gunung Pancar.

An introduction to Guci hot water in Tegal regency.

#hotsprings #samosir #sumatra #indonesia
  • Malaysia
A map of Malaysian hot springs. Misses half I think.

Here's another not included hot spring. Malaysian Traveller (Dec. 28) visits Dusun Tua hot spring, Selangor:
'There is no entrance charge at present but there is a donation box where visitors can contribute to the cost of maintaining the changing rooms, toilets and other facilities'.
Recent other vists include Kuala Kubu, Selayang and Hulu Tamu.

Di Malaysia pun ada Onsen la. Kalau agak agak jammed otw kerja tu singgah jap la kolam air panas , kasi buang toksin dalam badan biaq tak malas jaa, buang penyakit badan then buang semak kat kapla biaq tak serabut. Kalau nak buang penyakit hati lagi senang, zikir je, Masyallah. #onsen #kemalaysiakekita #jejakmalaysiamiyul #selayangkusayang #kolamairpanasmenggelegak #bolehmasaktelur #jgnminumnntmabukpiau #takpanaske #akuygmandikoygpanas #kodahkenapa #hdr 
Selayang, source

One of Malaysia's more well-known hot springs, is that of Bentong. It however is not a commercial for soaking. 
Azrin went there last October and was not bowled over by his stay at the newish Suria hot spring resort nor by the soaking opportunities at the hotel:
'Waterwise, kids pool, flipping cold. Not even bluish. Unchorinated I suppose. Hot pools had water fed in, piping hot and I do not recall the natural pool being this hot, about 60'c or so I figure they recycled the water. No natural sulphuric smell but of my old school longkang back in Rulang. Anyway, I got my cheap fix. Not so cheap. My eyes are itchy from the haze too. Reminder to oneself, go to the natural pool'.
 泡 溫泉之寧靜心靈,一切歸零。 [herb] [leaves] [fallen_leaf] [hotsprings] [high_brightness] #hotdippingpot #geothermalwater #relaxingtime #happyday #haveanicedayahead #happiness #happy #holiday #lovelife #natural #goodmood #hotsprings
Yes, you guessed correctly, it's Banjaran got spring. Source
  • Philipines
Mainit Spring in Malabuyoc by outoftownblog:
'The entrance fee was only twenty pesos. The tourist spot consists of multiple springs of flowing water naturally heated by underground sulfuric rock. One mini-spring had the highest temperature of 42.6 degrees Celsius. Dipping my finger to test the temperature, the water was indeed very hot'.
2014 - 2015 Year Ender Mainit Hot Spring Photo Taken: April 12, 2015 #vscoph #vscocebu #vscocam #springs #hotsprings #nature #malabuyoc #cebusouth #cebu #igers #igerscebu #wanderlust #choosephilippines #igtravel #travelph #travel #pinasmuna #cebukeepsmegoing #ig_philippines #bestshots_ph #vscophilippines #iluvcebu #travel_philippines #mobilephotography

A scientific study ((Jago et al., 2015) Science Direct, Dec. 21) on pumping hot spring water in Calamba and Los Baños in the Philippines. Note they refer to both towns having together more than 500 (!) hot spring resorts / spa's. 
Part of their conclusion:
'Hot spring water resorts and spas in Calamba and Los Baños, Laguna are estimated to consume a large volume of groundwater which could result to over-extraction and decrease in groundwater quantity. However, monitoring of actual usage is difficult as most of these resorts do not have water use permits. The Water Code of the Philippines requires water users to register and apply for permits for water allocation, but still many resorts have not yet registered with the NWRB. If groundwater extraction is left unregulated, water availability for the resorts industry and for other uses in the future, will be negatively affected'.
  • Singapore
Trying to recreate the real thing. From the ikeda spa site:
'As the hinoki wood comes in contact with hot water, it releases a unique type of skin-soothing oil that is widely used in Japanese skincare products. The spa waters are infused with interestingly-scented onsen (hot spring) bath salts to recreate the ultimate onsen experience'.

[heart_eyes] Who needs to go Japan when you can onsen like at @ikedaspa [bathtub] #throwback #filming #ikedaspa #onsen #relax #channelu #clarkequay #prestige #japan  
  •  Thailand
Murky #onsen #hotspring water #ChiangDao, #ChiangMai, Northern #Thailand  

Jago, K.A.B., F.P Sirignan, R. Balangue-Tarriela, M. Taniguchi, Y. K. Reyes, R. Lloren, M.A. Peña, E. Bagalihog (2015) Hot spring resort development in Laguna Province, Philippines: Challenges in water use regulation. Science direct: Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, Vol. 4, Part B. Elsevier, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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