“Go where the locals go. Do what the locals do.” While most travelers claim to embrace this authentic experience of culture, in reality they gravitate to the well-known and the spectacular.

 

Think of a trip to Thailand, for instance, and what comes to mind are elephant rides, ziplining adventures, street food fare, and learning about its history through the many Buddhist temples. Picnicking on papaya salad alongside a hot springs, however, is probably not on the top of that list.

 

Yet that’s exactly what I found myself doing, and enjoying, on a recent visit to Thailand. My Thai friends and I drove to the outskirts of Chiang Mai to San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, a park where local families come for weekend outings.

 

Just inside the park entrance, I noticed several stands where tiny woven baskets of quail and chicken eggs were sold.

 

After purchasing two baskets, we made our way through a maze of small “rivers,” created by channels leading away from bubbling hot springs. We passed flower gardens, giggling children splashing in a mineral swimming pool and two geysers bursting with energy. Everywhere people sat next to the “rivers,” swinging their legs in for a hot springs dip.

 

Toward the back of the park sat a separate raised pool encased in stone. Next to it was a huge wooden sign with directions on how to boil eggs.

 

Boil eggs? I wondered. Before I could wonder long, though, my friend slipped our two baskets of eggs onto hooks inside the top of the pool. And they began to bubble away.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, we sat crossed-legged on a bamboo mat next to the spring and enjoyed a picnic of papaya salad, sticky rice, and our recently procured hard-boiled eggs. I looked at families picnicking all around us. There was no orchestrated appeal to tourists here. No showy photo op. Instead we’d found tucked away goodness.

 

Sometimes we let the popular sites of a country overshadow lesser known treasures. But taking time to explore tucked away places leads to pleasant surprises and discovery. And in my case, a chance to explore, encounter, and embrace what a Thai family might do.

 

 

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Pondtip and Noot, my two Thai friends