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.