Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The spring itself gushing from the rock.

And I name you ....
How does one call a hot spring for which there is no name? The hot spring located along the Mae Klong river, Umphang district (Um Pang / Um Phang?), Tak is referred to by Thai as simply hot spring ('Pong Nam Ron') as do the local Karen (though 'Thi Ko' has a different sound). So should we name this Umphang hot spring? Or Mae Klong? Or use the Thai or Karen version?

To avoid confusion let's settle on the Mae Klong hot spring.


Already mentioned is the fact that this hot spring is to be found in the district of Umphang, Tak province.

Umphang is probably one of the most remotest districts in the whole of Thailand. Located to the north of Bangkok, it's only road connection to the rest of the Thai nation actually runs northwards for 150+ kms before one can moves closer to Bangkok. This road (connecting to the town of Mae Sot) contains no less than 1200 curves and corners (Wikipedia) and is up there with some of Asia's most rollercoaster rides (see also Lao, road to Luang Prabang). Something to be proud of one can even buy t-shirts with the correct number of curves.

Largely populated by Karen (who have their own language), Thai language seems a minority language even giving Burmese more precedent.

Besides the twisting road, Umphang gains it's claim to fame by having Thailand's biggest waterfall, Thi Lo Su (Wikipedia, see also World of Waterfalls blog entry). Unfortunately world's leading travel guide book (Lonely Planet) knows exactly where the peanuts are best at which bar but does not seem to comprehend that it's more fitting info to tell readers that the access road to this Thai-class waterfall is impossible during the rainy season i.e. until November-ish.

It thus requires a raft plus a walk-in meaning a night should be spent at the foot of these falls.

Deliberation on the family front shows a slight majority in favour with a teenage son using his veto powers. Seeing his father nearly bleed to death the day before (or so it seemed) brought on by an attack of blood thirsty leeches while visiting another waterfall along the Mae Sot - Tak highway, there was no way he was spending a night somewhere outside of civilization (as characterized by the existence of wifi).
Might seem like a waste.

So the alternative is a full day rafting. Which actually meant just 5 hours. But not really rafting, a float. Along the way we would be going through no less than 2 (!) rapids, pass under a waterfall, enjoy the silence of one of Southeast Asia's biggest undisturbed forests (the so-called Western Forest Complex of which Umphang Wildlife Refuge is just a small part of) and naturally the highlight of the tour a pass (and stop) at a hot spring.

Rafting down the Mae Klong river through virgin forest.

Getting somewhere
But not so naturally of course.

Setting off from the village of Umphang early morning, first up is the waterfall of Thi Lo Jau or Sai Rung (Sai Fon?). The raft floats under this waterfall and if there's any sun (from November onwards?) then a rainbow can be seen. Such it's name(s) which translate from Thai and Karen into rainbow falls.

Next up is the hot spring. Located next to a forest ranger camp (or is it the other way around?) there has been some effort been put in to make these appealing to the mostly Thai tourists. The spring itself is only located about 20m from the main river. Straight after the spring the side walls have been shored up with bamboo to prevent the sandy soil from caving in, the stream bed being 3m lower than the banks.
Roughly 5m down a number of sand bags have been placed to create a 30-50cm deep pool. Directly above the sandbags is a bridge with a bamboo ladder affording access to the soaking area.

Get in!

Toilets are available at the ranger station, 10m away. Rafts dock at the merging of the spring flow with the river. As one of the most natural springs I've yet encountered in Thailand, kudo's must be awarded to the lack of development and the natural undisturbedness of this hot spring.

That said, in season (from November onwards), hundreds of tourists file through here every morning en-route to possible better things downstream. One would hate to be here on such a day and I have seen photo's on the net with quite a few sardines packed into the hot pond complete with life jackets and all, let alone just your usual all day stinky clothes. Here one blogger recounts 25 soakers. This photo has just 19 soakers

The flow though is considerable and the temperature delightful (about 40C?), one could only wish to stay longer. Another great treat is to swim at the confluence. The streams of hot and cold alternate making this a great and exotic way of enjoying the water.

Alas sometime one does need to move on.

A sideways look from the entrance bridge.

Prominently among bloggers on this hot spring I regard the postings by
Andy Daniels who whilst touring Thailand turned into a soakophile. On Mae Klong hot spring:
'Then the hot springs were wonderful. Completely natural with maybe 102 degree water and under bamboo shade. I soaked ate some breakfast and soaked some more. Another hot springer showed up with his thai girlfriend, they also set up a special trip to spend hours at the springs. I was happy not to be the only crazy farang but still got all the attenting because the locals would say this crazy farang has been hears since just past 8 am and hardly anyone could believe it. My guides actually wanted to leave at 11:30 because the message about how long I was going to be there did not get to everyone so I guess the driver had been waiting for me since 9 or 10. I ddin't want to leave and jumped in the springs quickly and when I got out my guides said I could stay and go back with the other springer I had met. He had actually set it up because he could speak thai, and the guides talked to each other and agreed that I could go with the other guys. So my guides left me at the springs. I soaked for another 1.5 hours or so and then we all left together after eating some lunch ...'.
Other blog reports feature the fact that during season snacks are available here.

An impromptu mud bath.

Le So
Otherwise the official map of Tak province (see below) indicates another Umphang area located hot spring by the name of Le So Pong Nam Ron waterfall which is located near Le So village on the Mae Lumung river (lower right hand corner of map).
On internet I've yet to find anything while using the terms above. However the Umphang Phudoi.com has a map included on their website which refers to Liso hot spring.
More info though also seems non-existent.

Getting there: From Umphang only rafts make it here so it seems.

Soaking experience
: No other visitors meant having the place to one's own. A very relaxing and natural soak.

Overall impression: One of the better and natural soaks Thailand possesses, if only there were more!

Author enjoying the hot and cold.

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