Category Archives: Travel Adventures

Road to Pai: Pong Dueat geyser

There are dozens of hot springs around Chiang Mai, some are well-known and extensively developed like Sankamphaeng, others are only just more than small pools of water in the forest.

Pong Dueat is on route 1095, one of the attractions we visited when we went to Pai with my friend in September: we were both intrigued by the signs saying “geyser” in English. I had never seen a proper natural one before. (In Samkamphaeng, it is pumped into the air artificially.) It would have been quite impossible by public transport for sure – though the road threw some surprises at us.

My big city friend wanted to turn back when we bumped into this spectacle, he was even considering reversing a few kilometres back to the main road. But eventually, we squeezed by the cattle, which refused to move even when the rear view mirror was scraping a bum. For a moment I thought it would poop on the windshield.

The “adventurous” rural road, paved but a little rough (ok for a city car), is about 6 kms. Then you pay (and bargain) the entry fee to Huay Nam Dang national park, and leave the car in the parking lot.

The geysers are about ten minutes walk on slippery elevated wooden platforms, we needed to be very careful to stay on our feet. The land below the platforms looked almost impassable, a bog, thick water-logged jungle. We did not really consider taking off on the clearly marked nine-kilometre nature trail as we had left our machetes at home. Soon we arrived at the hot springs.

Under high pressure, the water reaches a temperature of over 150 degrees under ground, and pushes up to the surface at boiling point. The fountains are said to reach about 2 metres when there is more water. The sound of the boiling water gushing forth is eerie in the otherwise quiet jungle. There are several springs in a small area. Obviously, they are fenced off as you can end up with nasty burn marks if you go too near, but, surprisingly, there was no guard around. Not many visitors, either. Unlike other hot springs I have visited, you cannot buy eggs and boil them in a side stream. It is a powerful site to hang around and consider the amazing forces of nature – never mind the food.

The hot water is channeled into a little stream (no concrete), and you can catch up with it about ten more minutes downstream (walking on more wooden platforms, like in the photo above). There are bungalows, private and public pools, a restaurant and a small massage parlour here, over a steep hill, in a landscaped area (lots of slippery steps!). According to a sign, you are supposed to pay extra for swimming in the lukewarm pools, but there was nobody around to collect the fees. As usual, Thai visitors were taking a dip all dressed up and we did not stick out. There is a paved route all the way back to the parking lot from here.

Pong Dueat is definitely not a world class attraction, but it is a beautiful, little-visited, quiet rest stop on the way to Pai. The hot springs must be a real attraction during the cold months, when mornings are positively chilly in the mountains. Also highly recommended if you want more scenery than concrete to go with your hot spring experience.

The hot springs are six kilometres off route 1095 to Pai, 56 kms from Pai, 42 kms from Mae Malai and 80 kms from Chiang Mai city itself (it is in Chiang Mai province). Entrance fees are 100/50 baht for foreigners, 50 baht for cars.

I marked this location on the Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand map, which was updated last week with lots of attractions and photos in Mae Hong Son province.

Do’s and Dont’s in Laos

Hi folks,

Back from Laos, and brought with me a souvenir to share. Officials at the TAL (Lao version of the TAT) must have read Steve’s famous “do’s and don’ts” blog series, as they issued a small booklet of their own with a similar title.

Cover

It isn’t anything particulary new, and it’s not as funny as Steve’s works, but the pictures are worth a look. If you look at them carefully, you can find aspects of Lao everyday life that are also found in Thai life. Also, note the similarity between Thai and Lao social conduct and culture.

Bigfoot

Finally, there is something of interest for our linguist readers as well: compare Thai and Lao script, and see if your knowledge of Thai helps reading Lao. Many of my Thai friends can read most of it, even non-Isaan folks.

Public kissing

You can see all the pictures full-sized, in our ThaiBlogs Photoalbum. Enjoy! :)

If you are interested in a high-resolution version of any of the pictures, please contact me by email through Thai-blogs.com

Back from the unseen

Hi folks, back from a five-day crisscrossing in Thailand and Laos. This time I chose the Nong Khai – Vientiane (Laos) border for my regular visa run. I had a much more pleasant experience this time.

This border crossing was unbelievably smooth; the immigration was friendly, although the journey was more adventurous than anything before. It took 24 hours to get to the northeastern border town of Nong Khai from Chiang Mai. Then I spent three days in Laos waiting for my visa. This was followed by another 24-hour trek back inside Thailand. For nearly ever day this week, dawn and sunset greeted me on the road to somewhere.

At the end, I got back with lots of great experiences richer, and 7000 Bt poorer – but, most importantly, I became a proud holder of a three-month visa! :) I haven’t seen one of these babies for a long while. If it only weren’t so darned tiresome to get it!

I will share stories from this travel with you for the next few days, once I got the pictures out of my digicam (my laptop is still broken).

Take care until next time,

Seeker

Attention, fellow fifth-world folks!

Most expats know the ‘pleasure’ of having to travel to one of Thailand’s borders periodically, just to spend a few minutes in the neighboring country, then walk back and cross the border back inside the Land of Smiles. This process, which is about as fun as a colonoscopy, is referred to as the “visa run”.

Most people consider one-month visa runs tedious and boring. However, there are a lucky few of us, who get to repeat it every two weeks!

I decided to describe one of these visa runs for the sake of the “two-week” folks who don’t yet know what’s in store for them. How to decide whether you are in this group? According to the guideleines of the Royal Thai Embassy Extraterrestial Grouping Organisation (RoTE-EGO), if your country’s emblem contains a red star/ hammer and sickle, or did in the recent past (say, in the last few hundred years :p ) or if your country’s currency is equal to/lower than the Thai Baht (or was, say in the last few hundred years) – congratulations! You are in! Welcome to the club.

The first thing you have to do is find the appropriate bordercrossings, as not all borders let Farang through. This should be relatively easy; just go to the nearest bus terminal at 6am and look for the small group of grim-faced Farangs waiting around like soaked birds. Then follow them. Try to pretend to be friendly and pry valuable information out of your travel companions; otherwise, you might find yourself in all sorts of unpleasant situations. For instance, you can stuff your Thai baht you-know-where, if you only find out at the Burmese border that the officials accept only US dollar bills.

When you get to the border, updated with all the latest info, get yourself ready for a tough ride – and no, I don’t mean the shaky songtaew.

The initially friendly officials (friendly because they didn’t look at your commie passport yet) will handle you a tiny slip of paper – really easy to fill out, just a few lines of non-intrusive questions. Don’t get lulled into safety! This little form is only for the privileged majority of Americans, Swiss, Canadian etc citizens. They flash the paper, get the stamp and are welcomed in LOS for another month. You, my friend, will get the special treatment. So, you can take that little piece of paper and stuff it you-know-where (if there is still some place left near the Thai money :p ).

The fun starts when the officer looks at your passport. “Oh, from … (insert your fifth-world country here). Here! Fill this out”. Upon saying this, he will give you a bunch of forms with all sorts of intrusive questions, such as what you will do in Thailand, your address there, a Thai reference’s name and address, the color of your underwear, etc. You will also need two passport-size pictures, (inside Thailand: 20 Bt, at the border: 200 Bt), two copies of the back of your passport, two copies of the latest stamp in your passport (inside Thailand, 50Satang each; at the border: 5Bt each – hey, at least you make use of all those stuffed-in Thai banknotes now!).

By the time you finish, the size of the stacks of paper piling up at your desk could be enough to give you a greencard in just about any other country – but this is a LOS experience.

You put the stack in front of the officer. He takes it to the back, along with your passport. You are almost done – you think. The few hours of detainment (I guess they are checking whether you are a commie insurgent, agitator or secret agent), will give you enough time to check the others passing by. You can muse about the strangeness of the world, as you watch fornicators, child-prostitue recruiters and paramilitaries walk by without a hitch, while you are sitting there like a Bangladeshi refugee waiting judgement to be passed upon you. Your sin: born in the wrong place. But you can condole yourself with the thought that it’s nothing personal. They treat your country this way, not you (if this works, lucky you!).

After a few hours, if this is your lucky day, you are granted permission – but first you have to flash the cash! Depending on your status, you have to show 10.000 or 20.000 Bt – cash only. This will be really difficult time for you if its not your usual style to carry hundreds of dollars cash into safe heavens like Burma. But if you are smart, (and read this blog!), you will have the dough, show it to them and you are good for another two weeks. Of course, being the courteous fellow that you are, you compensate the country with 1000Bt for the wonderful treatment.

Every good thing has to end once…
…and so has your visa runs. If you linger around one border for too long, the officers will be tired of your ugly commie face and will tell you outright that the only way for you at this border is OUT. In that case, you just gotta try your luck at the next border, until they will know you there too…

What happens when all the nearby borders are closed for you at the last day of your visa, and the next available border is more than 24 hours away? In that case, you will get to experience the thrill and excitement of being an illegal outlaw in Thailand. Can’t work, can’t study, can’t re-enter the country. If you are caught with an expired visa, incarceration, a hefty fine and repatriation are the expected treatments.
On the other hand, if you turn yourself in at the nearest immigration office, you only have to pay a small fortune to get a grace period of two weeks, which you can use to find another, yet unused bordercrossing and hope for the best.

Amazing Thailand, isn’t it.

(Side note: America, the country often labelled as one having a paranoid foreign policy, was quite welcoming to this ex-commie writer. Yours truly still holds a valid multiple-entry US visa that was given for ten years, no questions asked. Like I said, the world is strange. )