Replica of a Khmer Angkorian temple built as a hot spring resort that was abandoned on the road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
The road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is an important one. The two historic Lanna cities sit on different mountain valleys, but the route is commonly travelled by buses, businesses, and locals two and from Northern Thailand’s main cities. Just over the mountain rain separating the
The Angkor Hot Springs of Chiang Rai is an abandoned complex meant to be a hot spring resort next to the popular Mae Kachan Hot Springs rest area. The buildings is now derelict and open for tourists to explore the eerie, yet surprisingly accurate recreated Angkor-style ruins.
The Story of Chiang Rai Angkor Hot Springs
Mae Kachan Hot Springs
There are several areas hosting hot springs throughout northern Thailand, however, the hot springs at Mae Kachan garner significant traffic both from tours and everyday drivers transiting northern Thailand.
The Mae Kachan hot springs sit on the busy Highway 118 between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. They are the highest hot springs in Thailand and are a popular rest stop for cars and buses between the two northern Thai cities and host a number of souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Despite the high volume of visitors they receive, the hot springs at Mae Kachan are a little underwhelming. There are about 4 spots on the site where you can see the hot springs in action.
On the southbound road —
- There is a geyser which smells of sulfur in the parking lot of the roadside stop.
On the northbound road —
- The main hot springs are located in the back of the parking lot of the first roadside stop. These are located in what looks like common rest area bathroom stalls. They charge a small fee for entry. Inside, you can relax your feet in shallow pools of naturally hot water.
- Near the road, in the parking lot of the first rest area is a geyser housed in a stone pool, reminiscent of a well or fountain, which is labeled as “The Highest Hot Spring in Thailand” in Thai, English, and Chinese. The pool is bubbling with warm water and stands as a popular photo spot.
- There is another geyser pool in the second rest area (one the way to the Angkor Hot Springs) near the road which does not receive as many visitors.
And then, there is the abandoned Angkor hot spring resort. There is no public record in English (or in Thai that I was able to find) as to the intended name of the resort and sparse information.
Why Were the Angkor Hot Springs Abandoned?
The reason why these modern ruins exist seems to have fallen into the realm of urban legend and Internet speculation. Some speculate that it was a victim of the Thailand 1997 property bubble that saw much real estate abandoned, including Bangkok’s infamous Ghost Tower.
Others say that the residents objected to having Khmer-style monuments in the local area, a lingering symptom of the age-old Thai-Khmer rivalry that goes back centuries.
To the best of my effort, I haven’t even been able to confirm when construction of this intended hot spring resort began. I first visited in 2013 and the furthest back I can place it is a mention of someone visiting the ruins in 2004.
What Was Angkor’s Influence in Northern Thailand?
Perhaps the more interesting part of the decision to build Angkorian-theme hot springs in this location is that it has no historical connection to the Khmer Empire. By the time the Lanna Kingdom was founded and began to dominate Northern Thailand, Angkor was already in decline.
Even during Angkor’s height, the Khmer Empire never managed to extend into this area. Although, attempts were made when the Khmer-controlled Lavo Kingdom went to war with their breakaway Dvaravati cousins of the Hariphunchai Kingdom based in Lamphun. This series of wars is recounted in victories for Hariphunchai, beginning their golden age before the arrival of the Lanna Thais.
Visiting Chiang Rai Angkor Hot Springs
The first time I saw this strange replica was in early 2013 during a bus ride from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle. After driving Highway 118 through the Doi Saket range our small convoy of buses pulled off into a tourist rest stop with shops selling general tourist apparel, local snacks, and the obligatory 7-11. At the center of this shopping area was a bubbling hot spring encased in a stone-and-mortar fountain reminiscent of a well.
While the rest of the passengers disembarked for the free 45 minutes to the nearby shops or to get some food to hold them over on the route to Chiang Rai, I wandered over to the curious replica of the Khmer towers a couple lots over.
The Roadside Angkorian Ruins
The prang-style towers of the Angkor Hot Springs loom over the cafes and motel of the second road stop. There is a faded billboard advertising the hot spring in Thai, English, and Chinese and the pavement gives way to an open yard of poorly kept grass and a raised courtyard in between the 3 main prangs.
The Angkorian Courtyard
The courtyard is centered around a fountain or pool (that would presumably have been filled like the pools in the adjacent rest areas). This pool is adorned with several naga statues that would have sprayed water from their mouths.
Lining the courtyard and leading into the main buildings are replicas of Angkorian carvings and statues which are surprisingly accurate.
Guarding the entrances to each of the 3 prang buildings is a pair of singha statues. This artistic interpretation of a lion standing guard at the entrance is a common motif in Thai Buddhist temples to this today, and could likewise be found in ancient Khmer temples, as well as being widespread through much of Asia.
In front of the central lobby building is a wall of apsara dancers, a type of spirit or semi-divine being. Images of these apsara dancers appear throughout many Khmer monuments, where they are depicted as topless, well-endowed dancers, a quality that is reproduced here quite accurately.
Inside the Central Prang
The central prang was presumably going to be the lobby of this resort. Lining the exterior entrance are 2 small statues, one of Garuda (the mount of Vishnu), and another human-form that is presumably Vishnu (2-armed form).
On the wall opposite the main entrance is a Khmer style relief depicting a devaraja, the Khmer god-king on his throne and surrounded by subjects.
Stemming off of each side of the lobby are 2 shower rooms. These rooms are filled with walls and counters with the early stages of plumbing,
Perhaps the most unexpectedly impressive aspect of this building is the interior of the prang when you look upwards. In most ruined Khmer temples, looking up will grant you a view of a mostly darkened stone tower interior. However, the combination of metal bars and translucent roofing material in this prang makes for a unique (and perhaps unintentional) view.
Inside the Left & Right Prangs
Unlike the central prang, there is little to see inside either of the side prang buildings. Both of these have been left as open rooms with imitations of false doors along the side. This is a curious choice, considering false doors only appear on the exterior of real Khmer temples.
The Angkorian Hot Spring Resort Behind
Behind the 3 main prangs is the area intended to be the main resort. This consists of a platform connected to the prang buildings that cradle the 3 main prangs. Connected to the side prangs are platforms containing the resort’s 5 hot tubs — found of these (two on either side of the resort and closely connected to the right and left prang buildings.
These 4 hot tubs are surrounded by 4 additional towers that look less like Khmer prangs than they do Thai stupas.
At the center of the resort area is the largest of the hot tubs, at the rear of the resort’s lobby which it spans most of the width of. Above this hot tub is another highly detailed relief depicting the churning of the Ocean of Milk. This is a common motif in Hinduism whereby asuras and devas (demons and gods) are using a naga in a pull-of-war to stir a milk ocean to produce the elixir of life
On the ground level beneath and behind these platforms with the resort’s hot tubs, there are 5 smaller buildings. Each of these is topped with metal frames that would have eventually supported similar prang-style roofs. Several of these are divided into two equal-sized rooms, and these would clearly have been the hotel rooms where guests would have stayed.
Beneath the Hot Spring Resort
Underneath the hot tub platform are areas that would have served as the utility areas of the resort. These were mostly closed off with locked metal doors on my subsequent visit. However, during my first visit, they were open, only leading to barren concrete rooms that were clearly meant to be for the property maintenance, but not an area for guests.
So, how accurate are the Angkor Hot Springs?
Overall, I was impressed with this abandoned resort’s replicas of Khmer imagery and style. The lintels, colonettes, and particularly reliefs were all highly impressive. Not all of these appeared in the correct place, though. For example, the colonettes were used highly accurately in the windows of these buildings, but not in the fence which lines the courtyard.
Aspects like the false door, the floral pattern above the doors and the naga statues and railings are all quite accurate. Likewise, the 3 main prangs could easily pass for a design on some of the more intricate Khmer towers (not the later arogayasalas).
However, not all the replicas of Khmer prangs were accurate, particularly those covering the hot tub section. While these have some characteristics of Khmer temples, particularly the tops resembling Khmer lotus capstones that can be regularly seen strewn about Khmer ruins. However, the boxy shape and rabbeted sides of these rear towers are more reminiscent of Thai Buddhist stupas than Khmer Hindu (or even Buddhist) prangs.
The pool-fountain in the courtyard was also somewhat inaccurate. I have never seen or read of a Khmer temple taking the shape of a U or horseshoe around a courtyard, however that is how this resort’s roadside face is laid out.
Additionally, pools or water containers called barays were used, however, they often took the shape of plain, unadorned rectangles. Perhaps the only example of such a decorated baray is at Prasat Muang Tam in Buriram province.
If you’re on the road between these northern Thai cities, this modern ruin makes for a curious stopoff, and indeed is more interesting than anything found at the souvenir shops and rest areas next door. And while there are dozens of authentic Khmer ruins scattered around Thailand, this provides a different experience with some iconic and surprisingly accurate features from the Angkor Empire.
How to Get to Chiang Rai Angkor Hot Springs
GPS Coordinates: 19.1159, 99.46358
The hot springs at Mae Kachan at the northern base of the mountain along the busy route between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Because of the time needed to traverse the mountain route, this location is a popular stopoff for both buses and independent drivers going either way between the two cities.
There are 3 roadside stops in the area — 2 jetting off from the northbound road and one running parallel to the southbound road. The Angkor Hot Spring is immediately north of the 2 northbound rest areas and takes about 3 minutes to walk to from the farther of the two.
Generally, if a bus in Thailand stops at such a roadside rest area, it don’t stop for long. At most, you usually get 10-15 minutes to rush to a restroom and perhaps grab a snack at the ubiquitous 7-Eleven. You COULD make it from the adjacent parking lot to the Angkor Hot Springs and back in that time, but wouldn’t be able to see much.
Name: Angkor Hot Springs
Where: Wiang Pa Pao, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Location: 19.1159, 99.46358
Description: Abandoned hotspring resort built to imitate the famous Khmer temple, Angkor Wat.
Getting there: The Mae Kachan Angkor Hot Springs are located on the roadside of northbound Highway 118 between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.It is a popular rest stop for buses.
Capital of the Khmer Empire, located near modern day Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Signature monument and Hindu temple mountain built by Khmer king Suryavarman II.
Standardized hospital temple design built throughout the Khmer Empire by Jayavarman VII.
City in northern Thailand and historic capital of the Lanna Kingdom founded by King Mangrai in 1296.
City in northern Thailand founded by the Lanna King Mangrai.
Supernatural or god-like being in Hindu-Buddhist traditions
Southeast Asian “God-king” who was imbued with the divine right to rule the earthly realm.
Mon-Burmese ethnic group based in modern Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. Responsible for the introduction of Buddhism (Theravada sect) to Thailand.
Ancient name of Lamphun, Thailand and the historic capital of the Dvaravati Hariphunchai Kingdom.
Dvaravati kingdom in northern Thailand (c. 750 – 1292 CE) centered in the modern town of Lamphun. Eventually conquered by the Lanna Kingdom.
Dharmic religion centered on the belief of karma and release from the cycle of reincarnation. It stems from Vedic teachings and one of the oldest extant religions in the world.
Austroasiatic ethnic group native to Southeast Asia and the majority inhabitants of the modern nation of Cambodia.
Hindu-Buddhist kingdom which ruled much of Southeast Asia from their capital at Angkor.
Thai kingdom based in northern Thailand and northwestern Laos. Its capitals included Chiang Rai, Wiang Kum Kam, and Chiang Mai.
Dvaravati kingdom in central Thailand centered in the modern town of Lopburi. Eventually conquered by the Khmer Empire.
City in northern Thailand and historic capital of the Lavo Kingdom founded by the Dvaravati culture. It was subsequently ruled by the Khmer Empire and the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
The world’s 12th longest river, which flows from the Himalayas through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vetnam, into the Pacific Ocean.
A Khmer Hindu tower representing Mount Meru and taking the form of a lotus bud. Thai architecture later adopted the design into their Buddhist temples.
Buddhist monument used to enshrine sacred relics or memorialize important figures. Its dome, bell, or otherwise tower-like appearance is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain said to represent the structure of the universe in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology.
City in central-northern Thailand and abandoned capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom.