By Doug Hansen
Tucked away in the bamboo-shrouded hills next to the Wentang River some 36 miles from downtown Chongqing, China, is a hot-springs jewel called Tongjing Hot Springs Resort. This award-winning hot springs wonderland provided a perfect place for my wife and me to relax and overcome jet lag before heading on to our Yangtze River cruise. From the Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, our driver took us on a winding, picturesque road through hills, farms and small villages for the 18-mile drive to the resort.
With 317 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 immaculate changing rooms with lockers, showers, robes and pool slippers. We quickly discovered that bare feet were taboo, so any time we lost our slippers an attendant rushed to provide replacements.
We 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 (chi nourishing, spirit uplifting and Zen heart preserving), while digital thermometers prominently displayed each pool's water temperature. The slight sulfur smell of the hot water confirmed that it came from natural thermal springs nearby. We scurried from one pool to another like excited kids.
At the end of the compound, we found an artificial lake with a wave machine that provided endless entertainment for the adults and kids who 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 4 to 8 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 other favorite was an infinity pool perched above the river's edge, with water just hot enough to soothe my weary body. As I looked out at the river below and the bamboo-covered hills across from me, I thought this place must 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 headed 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.
The 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 little army of monkeys leaped into the river, including mothers whose babies' heads were barely visible above the water as they swam toward their next snack.
Tongjing Springs, with its remarkable variety of natural hot springs, picturesque river cruise and memorable rhesus monkeys was just the start of our 10-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.
WHEN YOU GO
Tongjing Springs Hotel and Spa: www.cqtjwq.com
Spring Tour provides China visa assistance and China tours: www.spring-tour.com.
Doug Hansen is a freelance writer and photographer whose articles and photos are at www.hansentravel.org. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The 48 Tongjing hot springs, each with its own healing properties, are scattered across a large property near Chongqing, China. Photo courtesy of Lee Daley.