The Tangshan Hot Springs at the Yishang Resort // © TasteJiangsu.com
When looking for an intimate, relaxing, hot springs getaway, China may not be the first destination that comes to mind. Ancient palaces, historical relics and sweeping landscapes? Yes. Private villas, luxurious spa retreats and natural hot springs? Probably not. Nevertheless, the Chinese tourism industry has been working hard to change that line of thinking.
Natural hot springs have existed in several of China’s provinces for centuries. These springs are rather popular with local tourists for their believed medicinal benefits and mythical beginnings. In recent years, the townships surrounding many of these hot springs have undergone major renovations to transform themselves into thriving resort communities, for which many tour operators have created packages to include.
At the forefront of these growing communities is Tangshan, an ancient town located just outside of Nanjing, and named after the green mountains that surround it. The hot springs here date back more than 1,000 years and the springs’ daily output of water is listed to be 10,000 tons. With its abundance of naturally heated, mineral-infused water, a number of resorts have sprung-up in Tangshan to take advantage of this great resource.
Recently, I visited the Tangshan Hot Springs at the Yishang Resort on a day trip from the urban center of Nanjing. If your client, as I did, chooses to not stay in one of the resorts, a basic entrance ticket costs around $20.
Having never been to a hot springs retreat in China, I had little expectations and could only imagine what a small mountain community could offer as a local tourism hotspot. However, far from the crowded public pool I had envisioned, the Tangshan Hot Springs encompasses 50 different spring-fed outdoor pools in a sprawling complex that blends modern facilities with natural scenery.
The first pool I encountered after exiting the shower rooms reminded me of a toned-down Caesar’s Palace. A long, blue-tiled pool fed by granite fountains stretched between marble resting rooms where terrycloth-robed men and women lounged under heat lamps, and hostesses walked around serving refreshments. Though amused by the setup, this sort of lazy decadence wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, so I quickly left to explore the rest of the pools.
The rest of the grounds were designed much more subtly with nature and tranquility in mind. Steam rose from stone-lined pools surrounded by trees and gazebos. Several marked cobblestone paths led the way to the themed and scented pools. I headed straight for the fish massage pool, where you sit submerged while hundreds of little fish nibble at your skin. Squeamish and not at all excited about the eco-friendly skin exfoliation treatment, I still had to try it. The sensation felt like a dozen little fingers tickling me simultaneously, which isn't so bad until you open your eyes and remember that the sensation comes from plenty of tiny fish dining on your calluses. While this therapy is reputedly good for your skin — I didn’t last in that situation for more than five minutes.
Next, I was off to the scented pools where the waters are infused with natural ingredients. Here, bamboo awnings and red lanterns lent a cultural touch to the understated layout of the pools. With so many options, I had no choice but to pool hop and try every one. The aromas from the wine pool were delicious but heady and, a while later, I felt surprisingly refreshed after a dip in the coffee pool. The traditional herbs made me feel as though I were immersing myself in a cup of tea; I complemented that effect next with a dunk in the milk pool. Afterward, I relaxed in the comparatively normal pools, which were scented simply with fragrant flowers.
My favorite pool was the waterfall pool, where you could stand under the pressure of the falling warm water for a massage. Behind the wall of water was a cave-like atmosphere, where nothing but the sound of water filled my ears. Here, I found solitude and was even beginning to forget that I was in a hot springs resort, imagining that I had stumbled upon some hidden sacred pool in the mountains. Then, however, a little boy wearing goggles came splashing through to send me back to reality.
I don’t mind a community atmosphere — and the Tangshan Hot Springs facilities are large enough to not notice a crowd — but for those clients seeking more exclusivity, the resort also offers VIP pools and couple’s pools that are available for booking. Additionally, newer resorts, such as the Kayumanis Nanjing, offer individual pools in their villas for ultimate privacy.
After such an unexpectedly pleasurable day at the hot springs, I felt I had discovered a completely new side of China, even though these waters have been here for ages. While Tangshan Town is developing at a rapid pace, the locals don't want you to forget that you're still in China and it has succeeded in retaining the charm of a small town and preserving its natural scenery. So, whether as a fun day trip incorporated into a city exploration or a completely tranquil getaway in private settings, a hot springs package is a new way to experience old China.
China National Tourist Office, Los Angeles