Surprising China delivers an unforgettable hot springs experience
Tucked away in the bamboo-shrouded hills next to the Wentang River, 60 km/ 36 mi from downtown Chongqing, China, is a hot springs jewel called Tongjing Hot Springs Resort. Being avid hot springs fans, my wife and I were delighted to find ourselves off the beaten track in an award-winning hot springs wonderland, which provided a perfect place to relax and overcome jet lag before heading on to our Yangtze River cruise. From the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG), our driver took us on a winding but picturesque road through hills, farms and small villages for the 30 km/ 18 mi drive to the resort.
With 317 rooms, including single, double, suite and deluxe suite options, we chose a deluxe suite with elegant furnishings and a private hot tub on the back patio. We couldn’t resist trying the spa, however, so we headed there first. Attendants directed us to the immaculate male/female changing rooms (with lockers, showers, robes and pool slippers) and we quickly discovered that bare feet were taboo, so anytime we lost our slippers, an attendant rushed to provide replacements.
While we wanted to focus on the hot springs, we noted that the facility also offered a Hong Kong-style tea house, café, cyber café, massage spa, and rooms for playing ping pong, billiards or video games.
When we entered the indoor spa, and later the outdoor hot pools, the local bathers’ reactions were priceless: a glance our way, a momentary look of surprise, then one more furtive glance at these foreigners who were such a rarity there. Nonetheless everyone was polite and left us alone to enjoy ourselves.
My wife and I enjoyed lounging in the warm, Olympic-size indoor pool and gently roasting in the nearby dry spa. Eventually, we wanted to see what else this facility offered. Once outside, we discovered an extensive area filled with 48 hot springs pools hidden among shrubs, trees and shade structures.
The curving trails led to hot pools designed to help bathers relax and “enjoy the perfect feeling of harmony between man and nature.” Signs by each pool described its mystical, healing or purifying qualities (qi nourishing, spirit uplifting and Zen heart preserving), while digital thermometers prominently displayed each pool’s water temperature. The slight sulphur smell of the hot water confirmed that it came from pure, natural thermal springs nearby. We felt like excited kids scurrying from one pool to another.
At the end of the compound we found an artificial lake with a wave machine that provided endless entertainment for adults and kids as they played in the modest-sized waves. But my two favorite pools were located nearby.
At first, I thought that a shallow pool filled with small fish was just for decoration. However, as soon as we dangled our feet in the water, a few dozen brownish colored garra rufa fish, from four to eight inches long, eagerly started nibbling on the dead skin of our toes, heels and ankles. The pulsating series of gentle nips on my feet tickled and stimulated nerves in a way that I had never experienced before. The water looked clean and the fish did not appear to be ill-treated, so I spent a delightful half hour getting a unique kind of dermabrasion.
My favorite hot pool was an infinity pool perched above the river’s edge, with water just hot enough to sooth my weary body. As I looked out at the river below and the bamboo covered hills across from me, I thought, “This place has to be one of the most delightful, undiscovered (by foreigners) thermal attractions in this part of China.”
It turned out that in addition to its award-winning hot springs, Tongjing offers mountain climbing, hiking, bungee jumping and boat tours through a magnificent gorge. Before we heading to our next destination, we decided to take a cruise up the river through steep, brush-covered limestone hills that towered far above us. Along the way the captain pointed out ancient wooden coffins barely visible in caves hundreds of feet above the river—how and why did someone put their dead there, we all wondered?
Our tour ultimately brought us to a monkey sanctuary by the edge of the river, and upon disembarking we were surrounded by dozens of wild rhesus monkeys clamoring to be fed. The caretaker tossed food to the monkeys, and allowed us to feed them, too. When he took a small boat across the river with a bucket of food, a small army of monkeys leaped into the river, including mothers whose baby’s heads were barely visible above the water as they swam towards their next snack. We finished our visit by holding a motherless baby monkey; it melted my heart as he snuggled in my hands, gazing up at me with his brown, innocent eyes.
Tongjing Springs with its remarkable variety of natural hot springs, picturesque river cruise and memorable rhesus monkeys was just the start of our ten-day Chongqing discovery tour. I could see why the Chinese government has decided to feature Chongqing and the surrounding region as a new international tourist destination. Travelers to China who want to see more of the country should consider adding Tongjing to their itinerary for a day or two of relaxation before heading to other destinations.
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. See more photos and articles at www.HansenTravel.org or Instagram @doug_hansentravel.
IF YOU GO:
Tongjing Springs Hotel & Spa, No. 66, Jingquan Rd, Tongjing Town, Yubei District, Chongqing City; 023-67288333; www.cqtjwq.com.
Travel agency: Spring Tour, http:spring-tour.com, owner Jimmy Deng. Provides China visa assistance and China tours.