On our last day off, Andy and I set our alarms for the egregious and inhumane time of 8:45 am and scooted out of Chiang Mai city until we hit the San Kamphaeng hot springs about an hour later. We passed all sorts of agricultural fields of dreams, mostly rice paddies, but some miscellaneous vegetable fields and the occasional orchard, some on fire, but most not.
We weren’t really sure what to expect from this place. Though it makes most sense to soak in hot water when it’s chilly outside, maybe on a cool, breezy night, we saw that the public park closed at 4:30 pm. Reviews across the internet issued warnings to travelers, advising future sight-seers that this place was for Thai tourists, for families, and not by any means should people wanting a luxury spa experience find themselves San Kamphaeng.
So, in the heat of the day we ambled up to the park to find landscaped and gardened grounds dotted with picnic tables, its perimeter lined with vendors selling food and trinkets. We found that the very special thing one must do at these hot springs is to put eggs in a basket and boil them in the water, hanging the baskets off of the hooks. Eggs were everywhere. Eggs in shops. Eggs in baskets. Eggs in hot springs. Eggs on tables. Eggs being chewed up. Egg shells on the ground. Chicken eggs. Duck eggs. Smaller speckled eggs of an undetermined variety. Eggs in fountains. Eggs in tile. Eggs on a pedestal. Eggs. EGGS!
Shrine to the mighty egg in fountain form and hooks for hanging your baskets of eggs to boil.
We committed the cardinal sin and passed on the ไข่ต้ม (boiled eggs, pronounced khai dtom), because the idea of eating eggs while shrouded by sulfur-scented mist grossed us out. I mean, eating eggs in a place that actively assaults you with the smell of their rot? Gross. Would you eat potatoes in a place that smelled like rotting potatoes? Drink milk in a place fuel of sour-milk smelling steam? No. But, hey, the folks here love the durian, which basically makes you smell rotting onions and propane while also coating your tongue with the stuff. We wimped out. I had fried rice.
The main springs, pictured up top, were too hot for human contact at about 105 degrees Celsius. The pools near the source were really only for decoration, face-steaming, and egg boiling. Manmade streams pushed the water around the park, diluting it with cooler water so visitors can soak their weary feet. While there are several opportunities to put your body in the very hot water, we choose to take a dip in the mineral pool over renting out a group hot tub, as the regular tubs separate the genders. At 50 baht for an unlimited amount of time, we jumped into the large, not-too-hot, sulphury swimming pool protected from the sun. Though the pool was rather empty, I felt like a veritable hussy in my two-piece bikini; the only other woman there was basically wearing a full, multi-layered bodysuit covering neck, to elbow, to calf. When going to local places to swim, the foreigner should adapt to the local customs. Here that means conservative swimwear. Though I would look downright school marmy in my suit on Miami Beach, every time I wear it here is like another episode of Slutty Susan Swims!
While soaking in the pool, a speedo clad man from Hong Kong proceeded to tell us all about how terrible Thailand is. We learned all about his opinion on Thai women (selfish whores), Thai men (unreliable, prone to run off to their other six girlfriends the moment one of them gets pregnant), and Thai workers (lazy, off-schedule, off-budget). I don’t understand people who form and spread terrible opinions of places and people one chooses to live with as a visitor. I spent lots of time cringing, hoping that no one around could understand his Chinese-inflected English, and diplomatically injecting praise of cultural tolerance when I could. Yes, things are different here, and that’s why so many expats roam the streets, romance the locals, soak up the sun, and eat the food. So we sat and listened to his opinion, under the sun deck, in the mineral bath, by the manmade waterfall and absorbed what we could of the moment.
When we started to prune up, we hopped out, grabbed some lunch, and scooted on back to Chiang Mai proper, thinking about how we’re fortunate to have lives that we can design around goals like moving to the other side of the world. It’s not luck, inertia, or some other force that has us here, it’s our deliberate choices and lifestyle decisions. We get to spend a Tuesday at a hot springs because of sacrifices and decisions we made in 2010 and 2011. We’re cashing it all in now, and that makes every adventure that more meaningful, that more fun.
Getting to the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
If you’re in Chiang Mai and would like to visit the hot springs, it will be easiest to do it on a motorbike. You can rent one at many places around the city, but there’s a larger concentration near Thapae Gate on the east side of the old city. If you walk through the gate into the old city and take a left on to that first street bordering the gate, you’ll be headed in the right direction. It’s called Thanon (Street) Moon Mueang. You should be able to get a rental for 200 baht/day. You can also probably hire a songtheaw (red taxi truck), but that will cost you a lot unless you pack it full of people.
To get to the hot springs you’ll want to get on the highway surrounding the city, route 11. From here, follow the signs for San Kamphaeng and Route 1317. After 45 minutes to an hour on the bike, you’ll see the turn off for the springs on your left. You will pass San Kamphaeng completely, so don’t start to worry that you’ve missed it after you’ve left the town. That’s actually closer to the halfway mark.
The address for Google Maps or whatever directions-getting-device you use is this: 1 Moo 7, Tumbon Baansahakorn, Amphoe Mae On,, Chiang Mai, 50130, Thailand (Sankhampang Hot Springs).
Google Maps screenshot from the middle of Chiang Mai to the San Kamphaeng hot springs.
It costs 10 baht to park your motorbike, 40 baht per person to enter, and more to use any of the attractions. The mineral swimming pool costs 50 baht, with another 10 baht charge for a towel. You can also soak in hot tubs, buy food and souvenirs, and buy eggs to boil for a fee. The restaurant on premises offers your general Thai food selections at a bit of a premium. Some of the soups and more fancy dishes were over 200 baht a piece. My fried rice was 55 baht.
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