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All Steamed Up
By Thomas King
8 November 2010


There’s no doubt I will be safe. The billboard spells it out in black and white. “Guests are not allowed to bring in weapons, murder weapons, drugs, explosives, nor to hunt, chop trees, burn & destroy forest, cook and other actions damage to forest and natural resources as stipulated in law of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” With my safety assured I proceed to get into hot water! After all that’s the key reason I have come to Binh Chau. 

Just over 150 km up the road is Saigon. It feels more like 150 years. The sea of motorbike fumes in Saigon has been replaced with fresh breezes here. The deafening hum of the mega city has been swapped for the sounds of happy children. And thankfully there are no concrete highrisers at Binh Chau. Instead it’s towering palm tree greenery that surrounds me. But there’s an odd thing about this forest. Hot water bubbles up everywhere.

There are 70 places at Binh Chau where natural hot water seeps up through the earth. There are pockets where the flow is but a mere trickle with only a transitory wisp of steam marketing the spot. Other places …. well I’m sitting in the biggest one now along with my wife and a busload of complete strangers.

It’s not the most intimate way to take a bath but then I’m only here for a short soak in mineral infused water. Short is the operative word. Another billboard tells me: “YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE Don’t soak and bathe over 15 minutes for the oldmen. Don’t run, don’t jump in to the pool, don’t drink Before and while bathing. ThanK you!” I dispute the inference about age but will heed the warning.

I’ve opted for therapeutic waters; others prefer the dark side. Messy black mud baths are all the rage with some health-minded visitors to Binh Chau. (Russians top the list of foreigners with French and Australians rounding out the top three.) Call me old fashioned but being smeared with a pancake thick layer of tar-like goo and then marinating in an overgrown tub in a little hut in the forest doesn’t have much appeal.
So here I am immersed to the neck in the “Dreamy Spring Pool”. Water pours out from ‘waterfalls’ in Eagle Mountain behind me. The pond and mount are manmade. The 37°C water is very natural and ever so inviting. Remembering the earlier warning, though, I don’t have much time to be seduced with a warm water embrace. It will have to be a quick affair.

My wife is next to me but she doesn’t suspect a thing. Her eyes are closed and she has a contented smile on her face. Is it the calming waters or is she thinking of the bargains she picked up trolling the markets of Saigon? I’m thinking too but it’s about the shape of things to come.

Binh Chau and the nearby seaside area of Ho Coc are the next big thing in Vietnam’s booming tourist industry. I’ve heard stories that Saigon’s newest airport will be located out this way and a multilane freeway is to be built. A high speed train is also mooted.

Perhaps this is light years away but the area – the closest open-air getaway for those closeted in Saigon – is certainly undergoing other changes. There are now five hotels in the 10 year old Binh Chau’ resort, an expansive area which contains the only hot springs in this part of Vietnam, and more are planned.   Meanwhile not very far away, 30 tourism projects have been proposed along a 17 stretch of pristine beach lands fronting the East Sea. Five are under construction and several are already online. At the flagship Ho Coc Beach Resort, 1200 guests will be accommodated when all three restaurants are up and running and the property is upgraded to 5 stars in 2012. 

I wonder how many of them will tootle over for a pre dinner dip n the Dreamy Spring Pool. I must stop dreaming. According to the notice I am nearing the 15 minute limit. I’m ready to get out but not my wife because after living with an ‘oldman’ for so long she can definitely stand the heat!

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