Hot Springs


A spontaneous trip to the hot springs near Chiang Mai was the perfect activity after a crazy week. Between a busy schedule working and writing, one financial fiasco after another (Paypal randomly shut down my account on Wednesday) and feeling under the weather, I needed a break. I didn’t realize there were hot springs near Chiang Mai; Pai had been the closest I knew of.

Muang On Cave

With Jeananne, a friend I recently met in Chiang Mai, we set out for the hot springs after lunch at Guu Fusion. It was a rather impromptu adventure, as we had only talked about it the night before. And it was that morning when we considered stopping at a cave she had heard about on the way. As I’ve yet to rent a scooter this time around in Chiang Mai, I jumped on the back of hers. It was the first time I’ve ridden passenger on a motorcycle for any length of time, and certainly an enjoyable experience.

Muang On Cave SignOther than a few signs on the highway, there’s hardly any indication that the caves exist. In my months of exploring Chiang Mai, I hadn’t heard about them. The directions are simple, taking the 1317 highway about 40 minutes east of town. But at the final road we had to turn on, we only saw a blue sign for Wat Doipothiyarn and some other directions written in Thai. Looking at Google Maps, it seems there used to be a green sign advertising the caves, but alas it’s no more.

After accidentally going into a temple, we found the road leading to the cave. This road isn’t on Google Maps, but has a sign pointing the way. We parked our bike for 10 baht and purchased our tickets for the cave for 30 baht each.

Muang On Cave Ticket Counter
Ticket counter for Muang On Cave

Monkeys at Muang On CaveWhen we arrived, there was a troop of monkeys playing around in the trees. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem too friendly. One bared its teeth, growled and started shaking the tree while looking like it was going to jump and bite me when I got too close. Another baby also looked like it would jump on me, but whether to play with me or bite me was unclear. Either way, I quickly stayed clear of them.

Monkeys at Muang On Cave

From the parking lot, you have to climb a couple hundred steep steps (187 to be exact) up to the cave entrance, where a Thai will collect your ticket. Then you climb down 132 really narrow steps. By narrow I mean that the ceiling is so close to the stairs that you have to basically slide down on your butt underneath the rock. It’s about 30 feet down to the first level, and then you take another long series of stairs (sliding under the overhead rocks again) to get to the massive lower network of caverns.

As with many caves throughout SE Asia (such as the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur), temples and shrines have been erected throughout the chamber. There’s a roughly 10-meter long reclining Buddha (a smaller replica of the one in Wat Pho), and a massive stalagmite [pillar from the floor] which has been wrapped in gold fabric and turned into something of a shrine.

Muang On Stalagmite Shrine

What fascinated me most were the hundreds of small figurines placed on rocks and ledges all around the cave walls.

I was amazed at how big the cave was. It’s not to say this is the biggest cave in Thailand; far from it. That doesn’t make it any less impressive. Fortunately (although I’d prefer it otherwise), lights have been installed throughout the cave so you don’t have to bring your own flashlight. There are some to rent for a few baht just in case.

If you take your time exploring the cavern, you’ll probably spend about half an hour there, perhaps more. Also, go slowly down the stairs, unless you’re a speed demon and adventure freak like me. The decline is really steep, and the stairs have a higher step than usual. Once again, this is Thailand where safety features are not as advanced as in other places. Having said that, the stairs are really good quality, and won’t be falling apart anytime soon.

Selfie in Muang On Cave

Sankhampang Hot Springs

After you finish at the cave, head just a couple kilometers north and follow the signs to Sankhampang, the best hot springs near Chiang Mai.

It’s another 10 baht to park the motorcycle, and then 100 baht to enter the hot springs. At the entrance you can also buy fresh eggs and bamboo mats, both of which come in handy later.

The hot springs are a lot different than the Sai Ngam hot springs in Pai, and certainly not what I expected to find. Instead of a secluded mountain river fed by a warm spring, the Sankhampang hot springs are sprawled over 40 acres. Food and drink stands line the paths, and beautiful flower gardens are everywhere.

Sankhanpang Hot Springs Gardens

The design of the hot springs was new to me. I arrived with my bathing suit, but the only place to swim was a separate pool which you had to pay an extra 60 baht to swim in. There is also a smaller pool and private rooms you can pay even more for, all of which are fed by the mineral-rich spring water.

At the far end of the park, the hot springs geyser several feet into the air at 105°c. The water is collected and immediately pumped into two pools. You can only stick a finger in for the smallest fraction of a second without getting burned. Instead, these pools are used to boil your eggs. 3-5 minutes for soft-boiled and 10 minutes for hard-boiled, although I heard stories that eggs are overcooked in ten minutes.

Sankhanpang Hot Springs Geyser and Egg Pools

From there, the water drains into two small canals that run through the park. Locals (and a tiny handful of foreigners) sit on bamboo mats along the edges of the streams and soak their feet. The closer to the source pools, the hotter the water is. We chose to sit in the small gazebo closest to the source. It was several minutes of quickly dipping our feet over and over before we could leave them in for more than a few seconds.

The water was so relaxing, we stayed there for over an hour. By the end, we could leave our feet in for minutes at a time. The bottom of the streams have small pebbles embedded in the concrete, and from time to time I would walk around and get a massage from the stones.

Soaking Feet in the Hot Springs

The hours of the hot springs seem to fluctuate. When we went, they were open from 8 am to 8 pm, with the food stands and restaurants closing around 6. Make sure you bring sandals and sunscreen. If you have a mat, bring that as the concrete banks of the canals can be wet. You can buy a mat at the entrance if you want.

My recommendation is to go in the late afternoon. The contrast of the cooler evening temperatures and the hot water is delicious, and you’ll should also be able to catch an amazing sunset.

Jeananne and I at Sankhanpang Hot Springs

How to Find the Muang On Cave and Sankhampang Hot Springs

The 1317 highway, beginning at the Promenade Resort Mall, will take you all the way to both the cave and the hot springs. At the time of this writing, there don’t seem to be any tours other than expensive private taxis. Instead, I’d recommend renting a scooter and riding there yourself. The road is simple, and parking is cheap. Here’s a map you can use to find your way. Click on the star to add it to your Google Maps.


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If you like beautiful scenery, few tourists, a hippie culture and off-the-beaten-path attractions, Pai is the place for you. Hot springs, waterfalls, caves and Pai Canyon are just some of the attractions available.

My brother and I went up to Pai for Christmas 2016. Renting scooters from Mango Bikes in Chiang Mai, we were able to complete the 140 km ride in a little under 3 hours, and on a single tank of gas. As a warning, please only attempt this journey if you have previous experience on a scooter or motorcycle, and you’re fully sober. A huge percentage of the tourists who attempt the ride have accidents. It doesn’t even have to be your fault either. I had less than half a second to swerve around an oncoming truck in my lane while going around a corner in the mountains at high speed. If you don’t have experience, bus tickets are as low as 140 baht. Then you can rent a scooter in Pai with the same admonition.

There are plenty of activities to choose from. Many have a price tag of 1000-2000 baht. These include rafting trips, bareback elephant rides (ecotourist friendly), and tours to the waterfalls, caves, hot springs and canyon. With our scooters, we decided to create our own tour.

Sai Ngam Hot Springs

There are two main hot springs near Pai. The more famous one is the Tha Pai hot springs, which have a series of pools. The entrance fee there is 200 baht. While I didn’t go to that one, I was told the top pool is 80°C, hot enough to boil an egg. There are then a series of lower pools, each with a cooler temperature.

The other option is the Sai Ngam hot springs.

With a couple friends from the hostel, we went to the less-touristy Sai Ngam hot springs. These are located 15 km north of Pai (about a 30 minute ride). There are two meager fees to pay. The first is just off the main highway. The Lom Nam Pai Wildlife Sanctuary (in which the hot springs are located) has an entrance fee of 20 baht for the scooter and 20 baht per person. Then there is an additional 20 baht fee for the hot springs themselves when you arrive.

Sai Ngam Hot Springs

There are a couple pools at the Sai Ngam hot springs, but nearly everyone congregates in the large pool at the top. When I say everyone, there were less than couple dozen people there, and half of those were locals. I’d say the water is around 40°C, although it’s not consistent throughout the pool. Whatever the temperature was, it was certainly relaxing. We just sat there for hours, soaking up the warmth and minerals. Later, a couple cute little Thai kids jumped off logs into the water without really being a distraction.

Austin at the Hot Springs

In fact, we enjoyed the water so much that we kinda lost track of time. We had planned to go spelunking in the Tham Lot cave, but after driving halfway there, it became clear that it would be long after sunset before we returned to Pai. None of us wanted to be driving on the cold mountain roads in the dark.

Pai Canyon

Instead, we decided to make it down to the Pai canyon for sunset. That was easier said than done, since we’d made it pretty far north, and would really have had to haul ass to make it back in time.

But make it we did!

Sunset was scheduled that night for 5:46 PM. We pulled into the parking lot at 5:40 and then had to run uphill for a couple minutes to reach the lookout. When we reached the top, I discovered the rush was more than worth it.

Okay, maybe the Pai Canyon isn’t as impressive as the Grand Canyon, or any canyon for that matter. The location basically has very narrow trails atop sandstone formations running through the forest. But we really lucked into a gorgeous sunset.

Pai Canyon

I’m also an adventure junkie, and running along the narrow paths in sandals with sheer drops to either side was wonderful. I would have loved to spend a full day traversing the numerous trails, and I plan to do so some weekend while I’m teaching English in Chiang Mai.

Narrow Trails of Pai Canyon

On the way back, we stopped at Coffee in Love, a top attraction to visit in Pai. Unfortunately, we got there just moments after they closed! So that’s still on the bucket list too.

The next day, we explored a mysterious waterfall, but I’ll mention that tomorrow in the next post. Stay tuned.