These two places are widely discussed online and the opinions on them differ greatly. My personal one is that the Hot Stream is overrated and a complete rip off, especially if you go off season, but the Emerald Pool is quite a stun – especially at low season when not many tourists are around.
Many local agencies offer a package of a day trip to Tiger Cave, Hot Stream and Emerald Pool. Do not do it! It is way too much for one day. Save a day or an afternoon for the Tiger Cave and combine it with sunset and then another day for the Hot Stream and the Emerald Pool.
Remember that from the end of April till the end of September it is the monsoon time here, so going to the Hot Stream might turn out not to be the best decision. For the price of 160 BHT you get to two small man-made pools with (I believe) heated, but dirty stream water, and / or you walk to the natural pools on the stream, which get really muddy and smelly and cold due to the rapids here throughout the rainy season. Forget about the turquoise, warm a clear water you see on the promotion pictures… you might be happy if you put even your foot in the pools.
The Emerald Pool is about a 15-min drive away from the Hot Stream. If you want to avoid crowds of people and you are – just like me – not an early riser, go off season. Yes, it might get rainy, yes, it is slippery around the pool then, and yes, the Blue Pool (the last lagoon on the circa 1-km-long trail which passes through the Crystal Pool, leads you to the swimmable Emerald Pool and foots at the Blue Pool otherwise) is closed from May to October due to the breeding season of certain bird species living in that ecosystem, but you will mostly encounter just some local people and a few tourist in the monsoon time and since the pool is really small, this is what you may prefer to sunshiny weather but masses of people.
Some people claim that the place is a rip off for the price of 200 BHT and yes, I also get irritated by the fact that the locals get in for 20 BHT, but well, it is what it is. I would say that the beautifully created wooden trail passing through the forest, above the pristine clear streams that lead to the pools, is totally worth the money and the toilets are of European standards (though with no toilet paper or hangers for your bag – that would be too much for Asia to require).
I would say that the only rip off about the place are the taxis and tuk tuks taking you there, they really ask for some unreasonable money, I had to pay 1200 going by a private car (both ways and waiting included though, so yes, it was a very friendly price I gained via help of a local person). If you are a good scooter rider and you are lucky to get a sunshiny day, go by a scooter. It will be quite a ride, but in good weather quite nice. I would have gone on a scooter if it wasn’t raining so hard.
There are no changing rooms by the Emerald pool (of course, since it is a preserved natural area), so make sure you come prepared with your swimming suit on – and do not wear bikini, as you are in the Muslim part of the country and you will see the locals bathing in their normal clothes, they expect you to wear something decent, like a scarf around your body, or longer shorts and a shirt, if sleeveless. I went to the pool alone and my bag was looked after by a local woman who was very kind, but I believe it was also thanks to the fact that I tend to respect the rules of places I visit.
I was told that all visitors are strictly prohibited to bring any food and drink to the area, but I had no security guard checking my bag and I was actually eating as well as drinking just right by the pool, with the security guards just a few metres away from me, so I really don’t know how true this one is. I guess you just can´t leave any mess behind which is anyway something I would not think of doing – unlike the locals, sadly… Anyway, there are plenty of food stalls and restaurants just outside the place with e.g. satays for 10 BHT per piece. Just beware of the hungry stray dogs in the area.
As I have already mentioned, the trail is about 1 km long, so it always makes me smile when people say it was a long way to the pool (and prefer the straight sand and stone path leading directly to it, thus missing the magic of the Crystal pool and the streams around). Really, Krabi is not all about island hopping, it´s good to have other activities away from the beach and this one is quite marvellous.
I experienced a moment of amazing epiphany, love and appreciation on that trek (on the wooden trail, not on the straight, shorter pathway). It was raining hard on the way back, after I have had my swim in the pristine Emerald Pool, due to monsoon storms, and I thought about Forrest Gump (you know the part when he says: “One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin‘ rain, and big ol‘ fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night.”) as well as my faithful connection to water, “in good and in bad”, when it comes to swimming in pristine waters as well as trekking in hard monsoon rain…
At one moment I felt like I really hear water speaking… it was unforgettable…