Monday, December 7, 2009

What would you do with a couple of million?


Recipe for Success
One of the few really developed hot spring resorts in Southeast Asia goes by the name of Hotspring Beach Resort & Spa. Located in Phang Nga province just half an hour north of Phuket airport, Southern Thailand, one would expect that this professionally run resort (***** stars it claims) to be a grand success:
  • Spa and wellness are increasingly popular tourist destinations,
  • Phuket airport is serviced from major destinations in the region as well as a selected few outside the region,
  • the area is slowly becoming a popular alternative for Phuket itself, especially with the largely undisturbed back country and
  • the fact that it's more than evident that considerable funding had been poured in to ensure a success.
But is it?

The Answer
Coming from the north, the obvious grand entrance is passed, as the resort sign is aimed for northbound traffic (coming from the airport). After a couple of minutes I turned around and this time went into the grand entrance with an absurd large driveway. That said, shaded parking space is at a premium.
But eventually after finding a spot and I'm looking around what to do, the (under-employed?) receptionist is already underway to see if I'm really going to be a client. I'm informed that the entrance to the bathing facilities is 500 Baht (about $15) which includes a free drink / snack and a towel. Not too bad. They even have locker rooms, but as I'm getting older I'm getting better at the towel changing thing.


From the reception one crosses the main free form swimming pool. At the end of this pool are two large, circular pools, to the left the warm pool, to the right the hot pool. Both pools seem slightly under maintained, but a sip of water reveals that the springs water is laden with minerals. Or sea water? The day is hot so maybe the hot pool is worth skipping, though the warm pool is too tepid. The swimming pool looks great, unfortunately it's heavily chlorinated.

Not many other guests / visitors are lounging about. The whole afternoon doesn't reveal many others. It's Phuket's main tourist season, so where are the guests?

I order my drink and snack, service is not too bad. Read a little, bath a little.

Seeing, it's a hot spring beach resort, I go in search of the beach. I'm already forewarned not to swim as it's too dangerous. Actually the resort is located on a lagoon entrance to the sea, so you'll have a lot of current. They have built a long pier which also holds a non-functioning restaurant, but as the tide is out I can take the steps to the sand below and continue for another 300 meters to the windswept and empty beach.

It's a long walk back and I'm in need of a drink. Nothing better than some tea. Deliriously I'm replied with 'we don't do that'. Fair enough. I won't disturb the staff anymore, take another soak and leave.

The swimming pool.

Their opinion
The Hotspring Beach resort and Spa expand both on their web site as well as in a brochure. They refer to their resort being:
'The one and only natural mineral hotspring beach resort and Spa in Thailand',
though the website mixes the one and only up to make it:
'The only and one natural ...'.
Concerning the hot spring:

'The hot spring source was found in this piece of land about 40 years ago. The water was originally sprung out about 3.5 m above the ground. However, due to the land development, a concrete wall was made to cover the spring which reduces its height to 1-1.5 m at the present day.
Out natural hot spring mineral water has many health benefits, such as:
  • cleanses and beautifies your skin
  • eases and soothes tired or aching muscles and joints
  • eases tension and de-stress with the comfortable water temperature (approx. 45 °C)
  • provides more effective massage by deep heating the muscles prior to your treatment
Furthermore, the elements dissolve in the water are thought to have therapeutic value, for instance:
  • Calcium is vital for bone structures and aiding in the function of muscular tissues.
  • Iron enables red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body, which is vital for the formation of the hemoglobin'.
Bare breasted fountain.
More Info
It comes as a surprise that there is hardly any info about the hot springs pre-resort.
Wikitravel ignores the resort name and refers to the hot spring being Ban Bo Dan:
'The water of the natural hot springs are laden with minerals such as sodium and calcium, which are believed to relieve rheumatism, numbness, and help lessen the tension of both body and mind, as well as being beneficial to your complexion and hair. Mineral baths are available daily'.
Ban Bo Dan is possibly the former name, before the resort was built. The resort also seems to have been under management of Dusit Hotels. At least this site mentions the hotel as Dusit Hotspring Beach Resort and Spa, though Dusit fails to mention this in their business history.
This
site reveals more history:
'In March 2002 the luxury Hotspring Beach Resort & Spa has been build',
while also maintaining the sentence 40 years before, so now more like 50 years ago. Others put the date of construction in 2004. 
 
Interestingly, Phuketdrive.com adds a picture of the original spring which he says can be visited separately as of early 2012.


 More Opinions
As it's a overnight stayable resort, there are a quite a few reviews of guests' stays from accommodating sites. In general they are widely differing in experiences. But it seems it's all about the expectations you have:

  • Yes, the resort is very big and spacious, as are the rooms.
  • However there are no nearby facilities (including beach) meaning that you are totally dependent on what the hotel offers.
And that's where it the main problems seem to be.

Elsewhere some note that the facilities themselves are
outdated (2007), lack of maintenance (2009), facilities getting old (2009). I would have to agree. At the edges Figurativly, the resort was becoming ragged and tattered. The pier for instance looked decidedly unused, piles of used towels were left for hours at a stretch, leaves were not cleared out of the pool, the communal toilet was dirty.

Though most visitors like the hot spring pools themselves. That said it comes as a surprise (as this is the only hot spring resort in Southern Thailand) that he hot springs are just mentioned as one of the many facilities: i.e. no wifi, beach too far away, airport transfer too expensive but good hot spring pool, staff a bit slow, towels too thick.

Who's the odd one out? (a.: there are two!) Source: KrAtAi

Getting there: From Phuket island head north to Khok Kloi village (8 kilometers), take a left for Natai and then 1 kilometer down this road head north again for 2 kilometers and you are there. Signage is good.

Soaking experience: With the hot springs being the focus of this multi-million investment one can certainly expect the soaking facilities to be good. They were. Though nowhere was the experience any superior than some of the other better hot springs in Thailand. If anything the artificial surroundings render it less pleasing ....

Overall impression: I'm still not fully convinced that such sprawling expanses are a boon for soaking.The resort is expansive but also deserted. What I find weird is that they do everything to make it green, but they could have also maintained a lot of the original mangrove forest. The spa could have added to the experience. I was oblivious to this and with staff being at best indifferent one does not leave with a very good impression.


More photo's from Stephen and Kate.

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