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December 20, 2010

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Springing into healing hot baths

HOT springs are deeply healing and relaxing, and in winter visitors can relieve the chill and soak up spectacular views, from as near as Nanjing to as far as Tibet. Chen Ye takes the waters.

There's nothing like soaking in a hot spring in winter when it's cold outside, and bathers in steamy comfort can take in spectacular scenery, even snow-capped mountains.

Of course, some springs are indoors, so there's no shocking temperature difference between the water and outside temperature. There are different pools of different temperatures from warm to hot.

Balneologists who study therapeutic bathing and medicinal springs document numerous benefits from the dissolved minerals and gases.

In general hot baths are hydrothermal therapy, they help loosen tight muscles, accelerate blood circulation and treat hypertension. They aid in pain relief, stress reduction and improve breathing. A good warm bath can either reduce fatigue or make for a good night's rest.

Trace elements include calcium, carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, sodium, magnesium, potassium chloride, hydrogen sulfide and many others.

Bicarbonate and carbon dioxide open blood vessels and improve circulation. Salts and sulfur can treat skin conditions and ease joint inflammation associated with arthritis.

Some contain tiny little fish that nibble dead, dry skin - some people love it.

Very hot baths are not for everyone. Pregnant women, diabetics, those with severe high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and certain conditions should not take very hot baths. A doctor should be consulted.

Bathers should drink lots of water throughout, get used to the water gradually and pour water on the body beforehand. Soaks longer than 15 minutes are not recommended.

Here are four excellent hot springs - one at the Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province, one near Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, one in the Tibet Autonomous Region and one in Sichuan Province. Most have hotels or inns and provide massage and other spa treatments.

Yellow Mountain

The Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province is renowned for its spectacular scenery with oddly shaped pine trees, grotesque rock formations and seas of clouds.

It's also famous for hot springs, one of the mountain's major attractions.

The area contains 15 clear hot springs near Purple Cloud Peak. They are high-temperature - 42 to 44 degrees Celsius all year - and are slightly acidic (pH 6.6) and of the carbonate type.

The water is of drinking quality.

The waters benefit a wide range of conditions and improve general health. The most famous is Zhusha Spring, discovered and tapped 1,000 years ago and notable in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

The newest hot spring development is Zui Spa Resort, covering 240,000 square meters and offering more than 60 pools.

In addition to the basics, there are springs containing coffee, lemon, aloe, fresh milk, roses and jasmine. One hot spring contains flesh-eating fish, so-called "doctor fish" that suck off at dead and dry skin.

After taking the waters, visitors can take a one-day trip to Tunxi town at the foot of Yellow Mountain. The town has ancient streets, quaint shops and local snacks, such as sesame cakes.

Zui Spa Resort

Ticket: 188 yuan (US$28)

How to get there:

There's a Shanghai-Yellow Mountain train. At the mountain, visitors can flag down taxis for the Zui Spa Resort. A five-minute ride costs around 15 yuan. There's also a five-hour bus from Shanghai to Yellow Mountain. At the entrance of the Yellow Mountain scenic zone, a bus runs to Zui hot springs; a bus ticket costs 5 yuan.


Tangshan Township east of Nanjing City in Shanghai's neighboring Jiangsu Province is a scenic area that includes hot springs, caves, lakes and temples.

The water comes from 2 kilometers underground and averages between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius. It's rich in calcium, magnesium and 30 kinds of trace elements. It's favored by people with arthritis and rheumatism and improves blood circulation.

Legend has it that on Tangshan the hero Hou Yi shot down nine blazing suns, leaving only one sun and saving the people.

Many celebrities went to Tangshan and built villas in the early 20th century.

The most famous villa is Tao Lu, built in 1919 by businessman Tao Baojin and later given to Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek.

Tangshan Yishang Hot Spring Resort

Ticket: 158 yuan

How to get there:

The Nantang bus starting at the Nanjing Railway Station runs to Tangshan Township; the trip takes around 45 minutes and costs 4 yuan.

Tibet Dezhong

Lying in a valley 140 kilometers from Lhasa, Tibet's regional capital, Dezhong has open-air baths and is popular for lamas and Buddhist nuns (separate areas for men and women).

The charming Tibetan village is around 4,300 meters above sea level and the jade-green carbonate waters are around 40 degrees Celsius; the spring is fed by a waterfall.

Dezhong hot spring has a long-standing reputation for its abundant water and warm temperatures.

The facilities are very simple and rustic, however, with just two pools, each around 10 square meters, one for men and one for women. A wall separates the two. Wear a bathing suit.

Dogs, considered man's best friend to Tibetans, are allowed to get in the baths. Because of the warm temperature, there may be a rather long snake or two, harmless and nonvenomous.

Near the hot spring is famous Drigung Monastery, which is believed by Tibetans to be the closest to the heavens. Bodies are taken to the area for sky burials so the souls rise quickly to heaven.

Dezhong Hot Spring

Ticket: 5 yuan

How to get there:

There's little public transport between Lhasa and Dezhong, but cars and rugged vehicles can be rented for around 1,000 yuan per day. Go with friends and split the cost.

Hailuogou Valley

The hot spring is one of the major attractions in glacial Hailuogou Valley in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The resort at 2,620 meters above sea level has spectacular views. It's 340 kilometers from Chengdu, the provincial capital.

The hot spring is located in the glacier park, and each day a waterfall sends 8,900 tons of hot, hot water gushing down cliffs in the park's No. 2 camp. The water temperature could reach up to 90 degrees Celsius.

But the pool water is around 35 degrees Celsius, and it is mild, rich in carbonates and drinkable. People brew tea from the water.

There are 15 hot spring pools and a larger and cooler swimming pool.

Some pools are enclosed. Visitors can soak while watching the snow fall and appreciate more than 40 snow-capped mountains around the valley.

Other attractions in the valley include a glacial waterfall measuring 1,000 meters by 1,100 meters and a 70-square-kilometer wild forest.

Folk art and culture of the local Kangba people are a major attraction.

Hot spring resort at the No. 2 Camp

Ticket: 70 yuan

How to get there:

Take a train or flight from Shanghai to Chengdu, where you can transfer to Hailuogou Valley by bus or chartered flight.


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