It happened that our schedule cleared up for Tuesday, and being the final week of the winter school holidays, this was a perfect opportunity to enjoy the Lantern Festival in some style and comfort.
The Lantern Festival marks the end of festivities for the Chinese New Year, and you will still find people celebrating and setting off a few fireworks at night, albeit much more low key.
Yuan xiao（元宵）is the Chinese name for the Lantern Festival. The first character ‘yuan元’ refers to the first month of the lunar calendar元月(yuan yue), and ‘xiao宵’ is an ancient character that means night夜(ye). The significance is that the fifteenth night is always the first full moon of the year, and it is traditionally celebrated by hanging lanterns and eating glutinous rice balls汤圆 (tang yuan), which is a play on the term ‘团圆tuan yuan’ which means ‘get together’ or ‘family unity.’
Bishan is a county in Chongqing Municipality, bordering on the west of the main city area, which you shall hopefully see on close inspection of the map at the bottom.
The character for ‘Bi璧‘ means a round piece of jade with a hole in the middle, and was an implement used for ceremonial purposes in ancient China. Bi and shan come together in this name to mean something like ‘Jade Mountain.’
There are a few reasons for wanting to spend a night in Bishan. In all my years in Chongqing, I’ve spent almost no time here, but there are now at least two places of interest I would like to take in on this short road trip of about an hour each way.
Hot springs are possibly my number one favourite places to visit. I’ve already mentioned Ronghui融汇温泉 in Shapingba沙坪坝 and Tianzhan天展 in Luzhou泸州 in previous posts. A good English friend of mine here visited a relatively new hot spring resort in Bishan some time ago, and it’s been a plan of mine to go myself once the opportunity rears its head. Like Luzhou. It’s a hotel and spa resort, so we can stay in a room with a private hot spring bath, but also take up the two public bath tickets included in the price.
A second point of interest is a new public attraction for Bishan Children’s Park璧山儿童公园 (Bishan Ertong Gongyuan), which has received rave reviews from friends, family and strangers alike. So hopefully, time permitting, we’ll pay a visit with the little one after we check out.
Well, the Lantern Festival is tomorrow night, so I’ll first post this introduction, then fill you in on the rest when I’m back.
元宵快乐！ Happy Lantern Festival!
To be continued …………….
Bishan Tianci Huatang Hot Spring Resort 璧山天赐华汤温泉度假酒店
From Yubei District, the journey takes you south on the ringroad, across Shuangbei Bridge双碑大桥, through a long tunnel, a fairly long drive across University City, then through another tunnel where you emerge all of a sudden in Bishan.
Bishan is not part of the main city of Chongqing, but is a county belonging to the larger municipality.
Out of the tunnel this time of year, you see very wide and uncongested boulevards lined either side by thick verdant palm trees and blossoming cherry trees. Instead of the usual yellow taxi cabs, the roads are ploughed with all green Suzukis
Two right turns in a less than a kilometre and we were there. About a hundred or so metres along the road came into view the imposing but attractive frontage to the hot spring resort on the right, and to the left was a commercial tourist village that looked complete, but yet to officially open to the public.
The main building has dark wooden panels and neatly carved finishings, with a carefully selected marble floor. Looking upwards, the main structure stands atop of a grand set stone steps, and rises a good three floors, each with ceilings double the height you see at home.
Further still, the lush moutain ridge of Bishan towers close behind, with local farmers tending to crops whilst overlooking the resort that blends discreetly into its surroundings.
Approaching the main entrance, there’s a flock of handsome peacocks tamely watching as guests come and go. Most stay perched freely along the fencetops, but a few venture down to show off their tail feathers for the keen tourists to film and photograph.
The sound of voices and splashing water drew me across the open square separating the hotel lobby and restaurant. Over the fence, a large contiguous pool complex unfolds unto the foot of the Bishan ridge, with enticing green waters crossed by wooden bridges, and all encaptured within dense but neatly landscaped palms.
I was already happy with our choice of lodging for the night.
Our 500 Yuan package included a very spacious and cosy room with a balcony outside the patio windows, a private hot spring on the left, and a table set on the right. On top of this, we had two adult public bath tickets and breakfast for all the next morning.
Down a flight of stairs was the hot spring lobby area. The golden marble floors shone under arrays of bright lights. The atmosphere was lively without any sense of being crowded. For a very nice resort, the entrance fee for non hotel guests is very reasonable at 88 per adult over the weekend, and 68 midweek.
They stow your shoes before showing you to the changing rooms, which also offer large shower cubicles with running spring water, saunas, and even a Turkish bath area.
The main pool outside is particularly large but filled with water at a chilly 22 degrees for this time of year. Joined to this, but separated by a foot wide stone wall, are smaller but still large pools heated to between 36 and 40 degrees.
A pleasant rotten egg like scent told me that real spring water containing sulphur is used at this resort, rather than just mainly hot tap water. This was the same for all the pools, including all the showers and private spring on the hotel room balcony.
Alongside the main pool area were a selection of small rounded pools hidden from prying eyes behind a veil of well tended vegetation.
A stage area at the far end shows films and other entertainment from 8 to 9:30pm on weekend nights. At other times, there is an indoor cinema you can visit and watch whatever the offering is at the time.
Before taking to the water, we quickly dived into the indoor restaurant area, and were surprised to see a generous selection of noodles, dumplings, fried rice and other snacks on offer between ten and twenty yuan, very low for a quality resort. So, for around a hundred Yuan, we ordered around seven dishes for all to share.
The little one continued her favourite habit of smashing crockery on the floor, which set us back a little extra.
Later that night, I filled the balcony pool and bathed in the hot waters until midnight, and even fitted another session in after a good breakfast the next morning. It takes about an hour to fill up with enough water to jump in, so turning on the taps is one of the first things you do when you enter the room.
Being set at the foot of Bishan at a good distance from the main road, there is no noise at all apart from a few merry guests exercising their vocal chords down the coridoors, but falling silent at more unsociable hours.
Towards 11am the next morning, we all left happy and relaxed, with a visit to the Children’s Park before heading back to Chongqing.
Bishan Fengxianghu Children’s Park 璧山枫香湖儿童公园
The new children’s park is a 15 minute drive across Bishan, down more wide palm lined boulevards until a mass of cars parked either side of the road signalled we had arrived.
Feeling lucky, I drove past and tried my luck in the car park, and found a spot along the edge which allowed enough space for others to pass.
Walking from the car park, you first notice an open flat terrace packed with picnic tables. The park is open to the public completely free of charge, and they generously offer powerpoints around the tables for people to plug in portable electric barbecues and grills. There wasn’t a single spot unoccupied, so you might want to arrive early if you plan on having a picnic here.
The park is big, but easy to walk around in an hour or two. There are plenty of attractive but discreet old style food and snack areas, but there’s no sense of any over commercialisation, and it’s easy to look around without sales pitches from the staff.
For kids, there’s a huge range of equipment to ride and climb, with something for all ages, sizes and levels of daring. The tall watermill by the main bridge makes for an eye catching feature. The water is relatively clean, the grass, plants and trees are well looked after, there’s no litter, the play area equipment is safe and hygienic, and there are even a few tent pitches where some people obviously camped for the night on the lakeside.
On the far side of the lake, you can find an old town style wall decorated with Buddhist stone carvings each depicting a story, some models of human powered ancient stone wheel mills you can try out yourself.
Interestingly, the only phenomenon that pertured the otherwise tranquil and relaxed atmosphere were the occasional explosions from a neighbouring development plot. A construction site was placing dynamite into the bedrock to break it up for removal on trucks. The explosions reverberated far into the distance, but didn’t make any impact on our enjoyment that day.
Once the little one became a little more tired and stroppy, it was time for us to drive home.
For somebody based in Chongqing, this lovely park is that little bit too far, even by personal transport, to make the express trip worthwhile, unless you plan to spend the entire day there, which is perfectly feasible.
I would suggest doing things the way we did, visiting a few hours along with another attraction, especially like the hot springs.
Other than that, I felt the park thoroughly deserved the positive reviews I’ve heard from people I know and online.
The trip home took longer than the hour I expected. A few rogues had conspired to pile up in the left lane of the Shuangbei Tunnel, holding the traffic up a good twenty minutes. At the ‘Trojan Intersection石马河立交,’ a kind road maintanence vehicle sat contently in the right lane of the ringroad access lane, holding us up again.
Never minding that, our pleasant and successful Lantern Festival meant we returned home in good spirits.
Stay tuned for the next installement.