Tag Archives: national park

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.

Rainy day at Tad Mok waterfall

A couple of weeks ago I went to Mae Sa waterfalls on the edge of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. On the way back, I noticed a sign saying Tad Mok waterfall, 9 km. It was already too late to make the little side trip so I postponed the visit until the next suitable time.

A lot has changed in one month, since then. The rains have finally started in earnest – I am not a fan of the thundering water on the neighbour’s tin roof at night, but I realise how important the rain is in keeping the jungle alive and moist enough to slow down the spread of forest fires at the beginning of the hot season.

There was a brief gap in the rain this afternoon when I decided to set off, taking chances, carrying a change of dry clothes, and of course my precious raincoat. I have never understood why so many Thais are taken by surprise when the downpour comes and get drenched – of course we did, about 15 kms out of town. The rain was then on and off, so I decided to go on anyway, it’s just water.

The road to Tad Mok waterfall is off the Mae Rim – Samoeng road, one of those narrow rural roads that may be swallowed up by the jungle in any minute, it feels. The trees lean over the concrete and form a tunnel, drivers on motorcycles need to be really careful not to get hit on the face by a low branch. The undergrowth is also spilling onto the road, you can almost see it grow. There are small villages made up of mostly wooden houses along the road, the odd fancy resort, banana plantations, and mountains covered in mist, trees steaming clouds, deep, rich greens all around. Sometimes in the distance, ranges of mountains to the north and east, a real feel of wilderness, only half an hour away from downtown Chiang Mai. This contrast never ceases to amaze me.

Unfortunately, my camera was tucked away safe and dry well under my raincoat, so no photos of the scenery, again. Next time. The road seems to go on to Samoeng around the mountains so there will definitely be a next time.

When I got to the waterfall, the sun decided to shine on me for a few minutes before disappearing behind the clouds. There was absolutely not a soul around, so I did not dare to take a dip (in case something happens and I need to be pulled out). The falls are about four storeys high, and the stream is surprisingly narrow and insignificant both above and below the waterfall. Looks like a lot of splash for so little water. You can climb up to the top of the waterfall, and, slightly ignoring some warning signs, you can look down as well.

It is a little park, with a short walking trail, you can take it all in within an hour, including a picnic. There are no shops – maybe on a good day there is a stall – but there are benches and tables.

I was wondering how many little waterfalls like this could be scattered around Thailand. Maybe tens of thousands. Probably there are even ones deep in the jungle that no humans have ever set eyes upon. In my country, this would be a major tourist attraction. Around Chiang Mai, just a little dot on the map. It could actually be one of my favourites if there was a little more to this park, maybe a longer walking trail, some more nice scenery to take in along the path. It is definitely recommended for waterfall enthusiasts and for anyone who is passing by while getting lost in the mountains.

The national park charges 50 baht for foreigners and 20 baht for motorcycles to enter Tad Mok waterfall. When I suggested I leave the motorcycle outside, and walk (all the strenuous 200 or so metres to the parking lot), it did not go down very well. If you buy a ticket, it is valid on the same day for all the waterfalls in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It is only 30 kms from Chiang Mai, and the area (along the main road) is dotted with attractions like orchid farms, the Mae Sa elephant camp, Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, and various animal shows. It is clearly signposted in English at every junction where the traveller may wonder.

I have marked this location on the Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand map – I am not 100% sure it is that exact bend, but it must be pretty close. (I think it will only be online tomorrow, though. Bear with me.)

Op Khan National Park

This wonderful little gorge on the Khan river is one of my favourite weekend getaways. I didn’t have anything special in mind when heading out there this afternoon, just dangling my feet in the water, having a little swim, reading my book, taking a few pictures in the green season – the above picture was shot in March.

The thing is, I am often asked for tips to see the “real Thailand”. I am always puzzled, after all, anything here is real, even a street filled with tourists is real, but I know what the clumsy word stands for. Something away from it all, where time stops for a while, where the world shows you a different perspective. Heading for the mountains always does the trick for me. But this is personal, maybe the people asking the question have something different in mind.

The road is usually just as important as the destination. I enjoy the easy drive south along the canal road, beyond the Samoeng juntion, then heading into the mountains across the small village of Baan Naam Phrae, among lamyai orchards (the harvest is still underway, but most of the fruit seems to have been picked), and then a gorgeous overgrown gorge. It takes just over an hour – I am a slow driver, it is only some 30 kilometres. The turnoff from the canal road is clearly signposted both in English and Thai: the signs say Opkhan National Park, and there is also a new sign for Dokmai Garden.

A few minutes from the turnoff, the little village temple of Wat Ku Kham has a viewpoint on the top of exactly 200 steps. You can see all the valleys of Chiang Mai and Lamphun, and the mountains on the edge – Doi Inthanon, Doi Suthep, and on the border of Chiang Mai and Lampang.

Doi Suthep behind the cloud

The old brick chedi encased in a large white chedi on the top of the hill is said to be over 600 years old. It is very quiet and deserted, the lack of temple dogs is almost alarming.

A few more kilometres further on, you need to check in with the national park guards, but there is no ticket to pay for.

It was quite late when I got up to the gorge itself. I had forgotten that the sun does not shine into the valley late in the afternoon. It was totally deserted but for one Thai family, the restaurants were closed, there were no food vendors, it looked like a haunted valley.

But all the greenery is dazzling and the air was fresh for a change. I regularly come up here in February and March, when the rocks are melting, I drink a bottle of water per hour, and it takes an effort to crawl a few metres along the gorge. In the hot season, Op Khan is packed out with Thai families enjoying the ice cold water.

You can drive your car or motorcycle almost right to the bank of this swimming area seen in the photo above. At the information centre, a 1600 metre nature trail starts, which takes you up a cliff and then along the stream. It is a rough, rocky path, overgrown with thorny plants, but of course the locals go for it wearing flip-flops. Not many people set off on this little expedition over the cliffs, so further upstream it is possible to find more private areas for splashing around, just as some novice monks did (supervised by two frowning senior monks).

(This photo was taken in March, when all the trees with no access to water shed their leaves. This gives a distinct autumn feel, but the temperature is over 40 degrees!)

This afternoon, I had a bad fall right at the beginning, and the sun had gone anyway, so I just decided to sit at the loudest roaring section. The rocks were still nice and warm with all the sunshine they had absorbed, I lay back to soak it all up – and fell asleep. Maybe I should pitch a tent there, with this view out the window

if there is no other way to deal with my insomnia.

I woke up over an hour later to realise it was raining. Instead of a nice swim, I was signed up for a refreshing shower and a preliminary round in my favourite sport of “motorcycle swimming”. It was a nasty hour to get home.

Even though today I hardly saw any people around, if someone asks me “how do families in your city like to spend their weekends?”, Op Khan and other waterfalls and waterways come to my mind. They like to pack up the whole family, picnic baskets and buckets enough to feed an army, a bunch of kids, a couple of dogs, and everything to make the stay as comfortable as possible, and head out to the mountains.

The children always wave from the back of the pickup, and someone always offers food to the lonely farang once there. Thais seem to think travelling alone is one of the saddest things that can happen to a person. But in the weekends, all I need is peace and quiet, follow a road leading somewhere, watching people.
Sometimes I envy their pickups, and their umbrellas, but now I am just too used to roaming these roads by motorcycle, even if I get drenched. I make vague plans, but sometimes a bit of very real Thailand takes over.

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

The national park has an official website here with photos and information on accommodation.
I have marked Op Khan (also spelled as Ob Khan) on our Chiang Mai map. There are also a few more photos at the Chiang Mai forum.

Ramblings at Mae Sa waterfalls

A motorcycle trip to the Mae Sa waterfalls was the first daytrip we shared with my Thai boyfriend exactly eight years ago. I have been reluctant to return ever since.

Now that I eventually did, I am looking for familiar landmarks – a rock, a pool of water, a twisted branch, something that may remember me and my footprint, but everything seems new, unfamiliar, as if I have never been here.

I am sitting by a thundering waterfall, enjoying that it is louder than my rambling thoughts that never leave me alone. I am wondering if fish hear the water at all – or maybe for them, this roaring sound is silence itself – the only reality they know.

I take photos – hundreds of them. On the little screen, the falling water is motionless for a split second, giving the funny little illusion that I can escape impermanence. I press the button again and again in a vain attempt to stop the water from falling, to freeze it in mid-air, playing with the thought that it may even un-fall if I try hard. The water laughs at me and thunders on, and I laugh at the water, in the end.

The little stream flows, falls, thunders, sings, meanders on and on, for decades, centuries, millennia. The photos – imperfect, fragile memories of the moment, remain. I wish I could hold on to more. Just enough to fill my cup with.

Then I put my camera down and plunge into the water. Unexpectedly, time stops while everything is moving and I swim against the current. This is as close as I ever get to permanence.

I find out later that one of my kids from school was watching me from the bridge. “You are so funny”, she says. I wish I could remember….

If you would like to be down-to-earth…. Mae Sa waterfalls are not the picture perfect azure waters that you see all over Thailand. The falls are not especially tall or spectacular, the pools could be deeper or slower. It is simply a wonderful little piece of nature, ideal for relaxing in the shade for a few hours on a lazy weekend, or as a quick stop on the Samoeng loop. The walking trail is 1 km long along the stream, steep at times but quite nice and easy, manageable even without shoes as any Thai teenager will show you. There are well-placed viewpoints on the edge of the stream and at the top – waterfall number 10.

Mae Sa waterfalls are about 20 kms from Chiang Mai, 5 kms along the Mae Rim-Samoeng road. Tickets are 50 baht for foreigners, that is much better than the 200 baht they used to charge years ago. There is no parking outside, so you need to fork out a further 20 baht for your motorcycle or 50 baht for your car. Parking lot 3 is the closest to the waterfalls; however, if you would like to fully explore both banks, leave your vehicle at parking lot 1. There are shops selling souvenirs and food. The lower levels are popular with Thai families at the weekends. Shallow and deeper pools are suitable for swimming, just keep an open eye for the bilingual noticeboards telling you where not to swim.

I have posted more photos at the Chiang Mai Forum. This location is also marked on our Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand map.