Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ranong = hot spring!?

Royal reverberation

Rated as one of Thailand's most popular hot springs (source), Raksawarin hot spring has become the province of Ranong's no. 1 natural attraction. Such that the hot spring is often referred to as Ranong hot spring.

But the real name is Raksawarin.
It's claim to fame harks back to a visit by King Rama V more than a century ago. Since then, it's waters have been revered and development of the site to host ever-increasing number of visitors has gained pace.

Some science (?)
Pawanrat Saengsiriroj (2011) in his case study notes
[1] that Raksawarin is
'ranked as one of the best three in the world because the water from this hot spring is pure, without the smell of sulphur. It is also considered the best in Thailand ...'.
Whether or not soakers are put off by sulphur smells and whether or not the absence of smells makes it a top 3 world soak, seems debatable. However, despite the recent nature of the study, it mostly results in opening open doors. For instance, more than half the visitors are reportedly nationals whose opinion of worldwide soaks would be deemed slightly insignificant.

A more scholarly effort was undertaken by Suwicha Komaladat (2010). He finds [2] that many tourists come to Ranong's hot spring as it was part of their journey, not a destination in it's own right; a problem which seems to stick to Ranong town. Another significant difference, foreigners are interested in spa facilities with little interest in souvenir shopping; Thai are interested in the freebies (foot bath) and the opportunity to purchase local food specialties.

Free foot bathing, a cornerstone of Ranong's wellness industry

It also notes the lack of motivation
'to improve the product and service quality'.
'[there is] no known successful research on the mineral water healing quality, the mineral water usage'.
Despite some websites claiming the opposite.

Newer bathing facilities? Yet to be opened.

Tourist trap
If there were a natural tourist trap, Raksawarin hot spring would rank high. It's only located a km or so from the main road south which by-passes Ranong town. Take the inland road just before the bridge and head up the narrow valley. Just before hitting the hot spring you will be required to cross a bridge.

The area around the hot spring has seen such haphazard development that the road has been deemed too congested to let cars through (there is a diversion), though parking is available. On the mountain side there are a wide variety of shops as well as something called Siam Hot Spa, what seems to be a private soaking facility.

On the river side the area has been landscaped, paved over, redeveloped and is the source of the hot springs, 3 in total, aptly named Father, Mother and Child spring. Surprisingly many facilities have been constructed as well and they are free.

Evening time, there are quite a few visitors walking around, using the foot baths or the hot floor complex, a novelty yet to gain worldwide attention.

A purposely built hot floor, where you can really sweat it out. Part of the instructions read:
'4. Should not sleep on this area more than 30 mins.'
The river itself is milky white, indicating large amounts of erosion further upstream. Continue onwards beyond the hot springs, one can visit the Ranong canyon, which sounds more than it actually is; it seemed quite boring when we visited the submerged mine.

The Ranong "canyon".

As Ranong is the best place to stay a couple hours north or south (and has a certain charm) of the hot spring, adding some info on accommodation is by no means superfluous.

Besides this, Ranong is a good place to explore more hot springs (
Phu Lum Phi, Porn Rang), waterfalls (Bokkrai, Punyaban, Ngao, Chum Saeng) and off-shore islands even with the possibility of diving.

There are also two hotels with connections to the hot springs. Jansom Hot Spa Ranong Hotel claims that it is the only hotel with a
'100% direct tap'
to the hot springs. Seeing it is located on the highway next to the turnoff to the hot springs, the claim seems credible.
On Agoda there is a photo of a mineral bath (indoor). However the guest reviews repeatedly point to the faded facilities that would require a nice renovation.

Tinidee Hotel Ranong receives better reviews (Agoda, tripadvisor, sawadee) and claims to have a mineral water pool.

We stayed at the new B Ranong Trend hotel which may have lacked the mineral connection but was so out of the ordinary ("modern retro"), that paying a visit here is certainly rewarding.

The art of folding hotel towels, just a preview of what to expect at B Ranong. What about the lights in the transparent flush reservoir of the toilet?

Getting there: Located not far from the highway, the hot spring is well signposted, not more than 2 km from the turnoff located next to a bridge.

Soaking experience: Though the focus is on hot springs, soaking is less customary practice ...

Overall impression: Despite the hype I had suspected it to be worse. in general well-developed and laid back, just wish there were better soaking facilities ...

The iconic Ranong hot spring image, wife looking for the bottom.

[1] Pawanrat Saengsiriroj (2011) Hot Spring Goers: A Case Study of Raksawarin Hot Spring, Ranong Province, Thailand. Assumption University, Graduate School of Business, e-Journal, vol 4, March 2011. Assumption University, Bangkok, Thailand.
[2] Suwicha Komaladat (2010)
Health tourism destination in Thailand: a case study of Raksawarin Hot Spring. International Journal of Leisure and Tourism Marketing, vol 1, no 3, pp 238-247. International Journal of Leisure and Tourism Marketing, Inderscience Publishers, Bucks, United Kingdom.

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