This past weekend the ATMA SEVA team took a trip out to Pa Pae to pick up Dan, our latest Lawa village volunteer, who has been teaching summer classes in the village for the past month. We were fortunate enough to have a little extra time, so we set off from Chiang Mai a day early to check out the “grand canyon” of Thailand: Ob Luang National Park! (Ob Luang literally means “canyon grand”, making this park the home of Thailand’s very own Grand Canyon!)
The park itself is located about two hours southwest of Chiang Mai. We took a airconditioned van from Chiang Mai headed for Mae Sariang (200 B per person, or about $7) but asked the driver to let us off at the entrance to Ob Luang instead of taking the ride all the way to Mae Sariang. Local busses (~70-80 B) are also an option, but for a few extra dollars, we figured the airconditioned ride through windy roads was worth it! (I’d definitely recommend traveling this way if you have a tendency to get carsick.)
When we arrived at the park, we approached the counter to purchase tickets. Typically it’s 200 B per person- per FOREIGN person I should say. When Dave approached the desk and inquired about the prices in Thai, we were told that we could have the locals discount since he was speaking Thai! If you go, and know any Thai at all, use it! It may save you 180 B (the local price is only 20 B per person!) The woman also informed us that the great waterfall, one of the main attractions of the park, didn’t have any water. Wait… what? Yes, that is what hot season in Thailand does: leaves a normally healthy waterfall with no water to fall!
Despite the lack of water falling, we took a nice hike/walk around the river that had some stunning views. We saw a spot where prehistoric human remains had been excavated, some cool cave drawings, and lots of big rocks. The whole hike only took about two hours, with several short breaks, but it was enough to work up an appetite! Luckily, there’s a nice little open air restaurant at the entrance of the park to grab food. The food isn’t spectacular, but it isn’t too expensive and it can hit the spot after a few hours of hiking around in the sun!
From there, we decided to check out Thep Phanom Hot Springs, located only 14 km from where we were at the park entrance. The ride to the hot springs was absolutely beautiful: we only had Dave’s motorcycle, so we had to shuttle the four of us back and forth in a few trips. The views of the mountains and river from the back of the motorcycle were incredible. And we were rewarded with our own little private oasis at the end of the road! Thep Phanom has one large pool, more like a hot lake, where you can swim- just not during the day. When it’s 99 degrees out, a 95 degree pool is the LAST thing I want to jump into! Luckily by 10pm, it felt like a nice relaxing bath. The grounds of hot springs also have a spa where Katherine, Nid and I enjoyed a wonderful afternoon massage for only 150 B each. There is no restaurant at the hot springs, but there are a few open air stall restaurants just a few minutes down the road in the town Om Khut. It’s definitely off the beaten path, but if you find yourself out here, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a cold drink and some rice right on the river.
Thep Phanom has one cabin for visitors to spend the night. There are three double rooms, two bathrooms and a balcony with a table and chairs. We lucked out that nobody had booked the cabin ahead of time. The woman recommended calling ahead to check availability before showing up since there is only one cabin in the entire place! You can rent rooms individually or rent the whole house for only 1800 B a night, which is what we did. To be the only people staying in the middle of the hills with only the sounds of nature was an incredible break from Chiang Mai. You can also stay on the main road near the entrance to Ob Luang.
I really enjoyed our time in Ob Luang and at Thep Phanom Hot Springs, two places that most tourists never see or even hear about. If you are in Chiang Mai and have the time and the transportation, I would recommend making a trip. Having a your own car, truck or motorbike would definitely make the trip easier. Public transportation will get you to Ob Luang, but the hot springs are less accessible without your own ride. Also, December-February would be a more ideal time to visit when temperatures are cooler and the waterfall has water! For more information about Ob Luang, visit here. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about specific activities or the logistics of the trip!