A top favourite activity of mine ever since my first weeks in Chongqing is without doubt the hot springs.
I will introduce a popular resort within easy reach of tourists, and explain how a foreign tourist can visit them from start to finish.
Each resort is different in its own way, but the process of visiting a hot spring that I’ll give an overview of in this article is typical for most.
The hot spring I personally visit most often is called Rongui Hot Springs 融汇温泉 in the southwest of the city. This is mainly down the favourable balance of location, value and quality.
Even living up in the north of Chongqing, the journey by car takes around 20 minutes, and shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes by taxi from any other more distant city locations. These times are strictly based on the assumption that it’s not rush hour, and that the roads are clear.
At the main desk in the entrance hall, most visitors purchase their tickets on the day through Wechat Wallet, as it saves time, and offers better rates than paying on the door, which is still possible. The resort offers different prices depending on the particular day, and whether you want extra services included, such as a buffet, or one of the many massage and spa treatments available.
This app is used by many foreign residents, but as a tourist from overseas, you could request a member of staff to purchase on your behalf and then reimburse them. When this happens, the customer receives a 2D barcode on screen that can be scanned. It is possible to buy tickets for multiple guests, and once this is done, every adult is given a wristband for a private locker, the number of which is also used inside for tallying extra expenses you incur inside, and that are paid when you leave.
It’s important to bear in mind that that if you purchase tickets for multiple guests, you will be asked to sign a receipt before you enter, and you’ll ultimately be responsible for for all their expenses. If you want to leave and pay by yourself, then you should purchase you’re own ticket and sign for it.
On Sundays through to Thursdays, the hot spring resort is open from 10am to midnight, when you are expected to leave. On weekend nights, they are open twenty four hours, and you have the choice of sleeping in the communal areas or in a private room on the third floor.
When you are planning to stay overnight, you must tell them at reception when you arrive, and they will photocopy your passport page for registration.
Walking past the automatic safe boxes, you enter the large locker rooms, and first look for the zone number on your wristband, followed by the individual locker number. Zone is 区 (qu) in Chinese.
There are top and bottom lockers, each having two compartments, the upper for hanging clothes and placing personal articles, the lower for shoes and slippers. The locker is opened by swiping your wristband on the lock, but you might need to attempt this mroe forcefully a couple of times, as the sensors aren’t always that sensitive.
When you open the locker, you will find a pair of slippers and a clean dry towel, and it’s here I must offer a friendly word of warning.
As a foreigner, you need to realise that at any hot spring resort, the slippers and towels you leave behind when taking a dip are practically regarded as communal property. This means you should expect your slippers and towels to disappear if you leave them out of sight for any amount of time. This used to annoy me in the past, but I’ve learnt to chill and just use any another pair if I can’t find my own. As for towels, I tend not to use any until I return indoors.
The entrance fee includes the use of three towels. The one you find in your locker on arrival, and two extra ones you can claim outside in and around the pool areas by swiping your wristband. You can use more towels if you like, but they are charged at three Yuan each.
Time of year
The peak season for hot springs in Chongqing is generally from September to May when the weather is cooler. During this time, you can expect weekends and evenings to be busy. I would strongly suggest avoiding public holidays, when the springs can be absolutely rammed with guests.
The summer months are usually much quieter due to the hot weather, but there are usually excellent value deals available to attract more guests, and, contrary to what you might expect, the heat doesn’t necessarily make the springs any less enjoyable.
The pool temperatures are usually much reduced, so you have a balance between the cold water and the surrounding hot air. There are also outdoor climbing frames with water fountains and spill tubs that kids love to play on.
The indoor recreational areas are all air conditioned, meaning they are fine to use all year round, and offer a cosy getaway from the summer heat.
Past the locker rooms, you will find the bathroom, showers, sauna and exfolitation rooms.
Exfoliation in Chinese is 搓背 (cuo bei). It’s really just a body scrub using a rough towel. You lie on one of the beds bed naked, and a masseur will scrub off dead skin all over from your neck down to your toes. Expect the treatment to feel quite rough at first, but you will feel great and refreshed once it’s done.
The two destinations you can head for are either the pool complex or the indoor recreation centre on the second floor, so you either change into your swimming gear, or put on a set of pyjama tops and shorts they provide you with just before you go out.
The recreational areas
A wide staircase and a pair of lifts lead to an open space the second floor, from where you will see a private gym that is open to paid members, but not guests of the hot springs. A large doorway opens to the restaurant that runs dinner buffets every night, and lunch buffets on weekends on public holidays, and set menus for weekday. The restaurant theme is changed year to year, and is presently based on Southeast Asian cuisine.
Opposite the restaurant are the rest areas. There is a large room with sofas, chairs and tables, plus a snack bar where you can swipe your wristband and take a platter of fruit, cake and biscuits included in the entry price.
Further in, there are two large rooms with adjustable sofa beds. One is lit up brightly, and each bed has a TV that people blare out all day and night. This is fine just to rest a short time, but you might want to use the other room if you hope for any quality sleep overnight.
I find the locals do nod off well in the sleeping room overnight, but I’ve always found it virtually impossible. The light is very dim, and there are no TVs, but there are still a lot of disturbances in the form of people talking, spluttering, snoring and watching phones.
The way around this is to pay for a massage on the third floor. They start for around a hundred Yuan plus, but they will allow you to sleep in the private room until the morning, and I’ve always found this well worth the expense.
In addition to these facilities, there’s a nice children’s playroom, another for games and TV. Adults can also use computers, mahjong facilities, and also an ‘energy’ room, which is a bit like a sauna, but not so hot, and has crystals set into the walls.
Guests first walk into a very large indoor pool complex. Saunas, steam and shower rooms are lined along the main walkway ahead. The main pool is replete with sitting areas, jacuzzis, waterjets, beds, and stoned flooring to massage your feet. At the far end is a shallow children’s pool with fun slides, a climbing frame and sea creature fountains.
The doors lead outside to the open air springs. Most of these are much smaller, and are all themed with different water colours, some with added traditional herbs and medicines. Examples of some more interesting themes are the red chili pool, white milk bath, and springs with names like ‘coffee pool,’ ‘wine pool,’ ‘eucalyptus pool,’ etc.
For each pool, there are Chinglishy signs describing the particular additive and claimed medicinal benefits. Try to find the pool that will help you defer senility!
Another feature of interest is the fish therapy. Here, you dip your feet into the shallow water, and sit still so that the little fish come and start nibbling at your skin. The locals don’t seem very sensitive, but I personally find this far too ticklish beyond a few seconds.
As you walk on through the outdoor complex, you ascend higher onto the hillside where you are surrounded more closely by lush vegetation that offers more privacy and a relaxing ambiance.
About halfway up the hill to the right, past the snack bar, you find the long narrow hut with flooring made up of heated stone slabs. You lie down on these, rest your head on a wooden block, cover up with a towel and take in the atmosphere for as long as you wish.
On the path taking you up the left side, there are two small buildings where people either lie in the spring heated sand and gravel pits. You can have friends or family use the spades to cover you over.
In the centre, there is a large circular communal pool with an island in the middle. During the summer or major holidays, there are often performances, water yoga sessions, aerobics or films played for the guests.
Just down the steps nearby is the wave pool. The pool is normally quiet, but every hour and a half, you’ll suddenly hear catchy club anthem tunes banging out as a call for everyone to go in and wait for the waves to turn on about five minutes later.
The only two small downsides are the mosquitos outside of winter, and the Chongqing-Chengdu expressway bridge that towers high in the background over the wave pool, over which trucks plough across noisily day and night. However, these factors only have a very minor impact on your level of enjoyment here.
Time to go home
Unless the hot spings closes at midnight, you’re ticket is valid for 24 hours, after which you’ll have to pay for another day’s entrance. This does mean that you can go in one afternoon and leave late the next morning, and it still counts as a single entry.
When you’re done, you simply freshen up, gather your belongings and hand in your wristband at the cashier’s desk outside. You pay for any services that you may have used, and are then given a keycard that allows you to exit through the automatic doors.
Whether it be for just a few hours, or maybe longer, no visit to Chongqing is complete without experiencing the hot springs.