Allow me to begin with a brief anecdote or two.
Nanshan南山 is the lushly forrested ‘South Mountain’ ridge that streches roughly north to south along the eastern side of Chongqing, and provides the famous backdrop to the Mountain City skyline.
Apart from sitting pretty, the ridge hosts the insanely popular nightviewing platforms of Yikeshu一棵树观景台, and also the huge golden eagle statue金鹰观景台 perched high up in Nanshan Park, visible for miles across the city down below.
The peak time for ascending the windy narrow road that leads up the mountain generally begins an hour or two before sunset, when locals and tourists vie for limited parking spaces at Yikeshu, and onwards to the plateau where you can find endless manors, restaurants, universities, waterparks, and …… a Japanese style bath house that caught my eye on a Baidu Maps search as a prospective day out.
An old favourite from my time in South Korea were without doubt the spa houses, where for you very small fee, you could soak in the gender segrated baths, then chill out together in the communal area. In the winters, I particularly loved the rooftop bath at Hotpot Sauna in the complex above Wangshimni Station, where you can bathe blissful unaware of the cold while you take in the bright lights of Seoul after dark.
In Chongqing, the only places that bear any resemblence were Dalangtaosha大浪淘沙 and Hanzhengtianxia韩蒸天下. The first is a chain of very large recreation centres where the entrance fee allows for a stay of up to 24 hours. Inside, there are segregated bathing facilities, but also massage centres, halls full of countless reclining sofas, private accommodation, restaurants, fitness rooms, internet cafe, and performance halls, to name a few. The obvious difference is that the scale and range of services well exceeds the average bath house, and this is naturally reflected in the total cost of a visit.
The latter is a chain of Korean style saunas built into residential complex apartments, pleasant and economical to use, but little in the way of services, just sauna rooms and a living room turned recreation area for drinks and snacks. On my only visit a few years ago, there were no bathing facilities, just a bathroom shower in case you don’t want to leave all hot and sweaty.
Haitang Changdu Japanese Bath House 海昌汤都
The bath house belongs to the same complex as Caribbean Bay加勒比海水上游乐园, a popular summer waterpark on Nanshan. On arriving after half an hour’s drive, the attendant directed us towards the main entrance, and we had our pick of virtually the whole car park. Indeed, the lack of activity surprised me a little, though there are a number of factors involved.
Strangely, despite its reputation as one of the three furnaces of China, the summer in Chongqing this year summer has been unusually inclement, cool and overcast most days, making the idea of waterparks less appealing. Secondly, there are now many themed waterparks based in the city, such as Maya Beach, which are more conventiently located, and save you the long crawl up the mountainside.
We walked past the pirate statue, and soon found the bath house on the right. From the outside, we instantly had a feel for the Japanese theme, be it the drapes partly obscuring the entrance, the advertising board with pictures of sushi and kimonos etc, and the vertical placard with name 海昌汤都 adorned further with Japanese text I don’t understand.
On stepping inside, I was amazed by the authenticity of the initial experience. We paid up front, received our wristbands, took off our shoes and placed them in a purposely installed locker. At a desk next to the tatami floored coridoor leading to the bathing rooms, we made our choice of Japanese indoor attire, the black kamifusen纸风船, doing it for me.
Unlike any hot spring in Chongqing, the bathing facilities are all sex segregated. I walked into the male guest section, put all my gear in a locker, and headed for the pools.
Inside the automatic sliding door, rows of open shower cubicles, some standing, and others sitting, much like I was familiar with in Korea.
The first pool was a long jacuzzi, the next an air bubble pool. Further down, there were small individual ceramic tubs. Outside, there were two open air pools and a steam room, with a tub and scoop for rinsing off sweat. A spa is also available for exfoliation, a whole body treatment where a masseur energetically scrubs away all your dead skin with a rough towel. This may feel a little uncomfortable, but the sensation of clean vitalised skin afterwards is well worth it.
Although, the size of the bathing room was sightly underwhelming, they were immaculately clean, as with every square inch of the whole building, and the Japanese design both authentic and visually appealing.
Initially, our plan was to pay the 88 Yuan each for entry, but decided on the lunch buffet option that cost a around 124 Yuan. I can tell you it was worth every penny, though Chinese was the main culinary theme.
For a while, I thought I had seen it all, but on the way back to the main hall, I noticed another guest walking by upstairs, and found a huge floor upstairs, replete with cosy sofas, mats, tatami floors, TV rooms, reading rooms, a bar for snacks and drinks, and a children’s play area. Outside on the open terraces, there are three very hot saunas to crawl into, plus seating and tables to sit down and cool off.
After a very quiet and comfortable afternoon nap while the family sang away in one of the sound proof karaoke booths, I dived into the bathing rooms for one more dip before having to depart.
Based on my impressions of Japan and experiences of Korea, I can honestly say the bath house is authentic, pristine, attractive, highly enjoyable, and great value!