There is nothing quite like being immersed in a 40°C water while feeling below-freezing air on the skin of your shoulders. But while we can appreciate the therapeutic effects of hot water gushing from beneath the earth, a major drawback of traditional hot springs is the fact that you have to share a pool with strangers. Luckily, many hotels and resorts in Beijing’s suburbs now offer private hot springs on balconies and courtyards.
Most of these are located approximately 40km north of Beijing in Changping District. The small town of Xiaotangshan may have a somewhat unfortunate reputation as a former SARS treatment site, after the government hastily built a hospital there in 2003 to deal with the outbreak, but it is traditionally known for its rich geothermal resources.
It is said that whenever you dig a hole deep enough in the town, hot water will appear. This may be an exaggeration, but all the spas we called claimed to use natural hot spring water from more than 3,000m underground.
We visited one of these hot spring resorts, Beijing Meishen Palace Castle Spa. This western-style destination offers rooms with both an ensuite hot spring pool and a private outdoor pool on the balcony.
From Wangjing (where we started), the drive took around 40 minutes. Take the Jingcheng Expressway north until you reach the North Sixth Ring Road. Follow the ring road to Changping District and head west for ten minutes until you see the Xiaotangshan exit. Turn off and take a left at the first set of traffic lights, then drive along for 2km to
Beijing Changping National Agricultural Science Park, where the hotel is located.
The four-story hotel has 54 rooms, all of which come with 24 hour access to hot spring water. Our cavernous room on the top floor (RMB 880 per night), reached through a spiral staircase and an elevator, was very spacious, and came with a king-size bed, large flat screen TV, a small fridge, shower, and toiletries for after your soak.
There were no water-based games in sight, no shrieking children running around, and no cheesy Chinese pan flute music playing from the speakers. There is nothing to disturb the peace of our private two by two meter pool on balcony – a perfect retreat for a couple or a family of three or four.
The hot spring water in Xiaotangshan is rich in sulfur, a naturally-occurring mineral that can also be found near volcanic craters. Sulfur hot springs are known to have soothing properties for the skin and arthritic pain. Some also believe that the iron content in hot springs may boost the body’s immune system and improve its ability to fight infections.
You can identify sulfur in water from the strong “rotten egg” smell caused by the sulfur dioxide gas released into the air, though you get used to it surprisingly quickly. The temperature of natural hot spring water can reach as high as 60°C, so it is often mixed with tap water to balance the heat.
At the first resort we visited, the water pipe leading into the pool seemed to have already turned red from rust, despite the fact that the hotel opened only a few months ago. We noticed the same phenomenon at other resorts however, and realized it was because of residue left by the brownish mineral water.
There were two taps in the pool – one for hot spring water and one for cold tap water. The water pressure is strong; within ten minutes, the pool was 90 percent full. To keep the water temperature just right, try limiting the hot spring tap to a very small stream and leaving it on for the duration of your dip.
The hotel was very quiet at night. The pool seemed miles away from the din of cars on North Sixth Ring Road. For a truly decadent experience, bring your own candles, milk, essential oils, or bath salts.
However, there are precautions to take. It is not recommended to stay in a hot spring pool for more than half an hour; the sudden decrease in blood pressure can cause dizziness. Be sure to drink plenty of water to replace the fluids being lost through perspiration.
That being said, it is normal to feel a bit dizzy after the dip. Kids should take a shower afterwards to wash away the minerals in the hot spring water, paying special attention to their hair. Have snacks on hand to replenish their energy.
It is also worth taking a look around the resort. Next door, Yiquan Hot Spring Resort, a farmhouse-style compound with individual courtyards (starting from RMB 680/night), features its own hot springs enclosed in a bamboo fence. Yiquan also has a restaurant (the nearest place to dine if you are staying at Meishen Palace Castle Spa) and a zoo with peacocks, ostriches, and goats that remains open even in winter. There were also a number of dogs in the garden, but not to worry – they were all friendly and quiet.
Bigger groups or families looking for a livelier atmosphere and water-based fun might enjoy Jiuhua Resort and Convention Center, located about 4km north of Beijing Meishen Palace Castle Spa. The spacious resort, which can host around 2,000 guests, was built on the site where the Qianlong Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi used to bathe. Known for its luxury, popularity with businesspeople, different types of herbal baths, saunas, massages, and water games, Jiuhua has also started to offer hotel rooms with ensuite hot spring pools.
Beijing Meishen Palace Castle Spa 北京美神宫温泉城堡
Daily 24hrs. East District, Beijing Changping National Agricultural Science Park, Changping District (6179 0203)
Yiquan Hot Spring Resort 益泉休闲会所
Daily 24hrs. East District, Beijing Changping National Agricultural Science Park, Changping District (5166 8564)
Jiuhua Resort and Convention Center 九华山庄
Daily 8am-10pm (public hot springs). Jiuhua Shanzhuang, Xiaotangshan, Changping District (400 882 1696) 昌平区小汤山九华山庄
For resorts that are easily accessible by public transportation, try Hot Spring Leisure City (bus 966 from Tiantongyuan Bei and bus 996 from Xi’erqi subway station) or Longmai Hot Spring Village (bus 912 from Andingmen and bus 949 from Deshengmen).
Hot Spring Leisure City 温都水城
Daily 24hrs. Zhenggezhuang Village, Qijia Town, Changping District (8178 8888) www.bjwendushuicheng.com 昌平区北七家镇郑各庄村
Longmai Hot Spring Village 龙脉温泉
Daily 24hrs. Xiaotangshan, Changping District (6178 7676) firstname.lastname@example.org www.longmaiwenquan.com 昌平区小汤山镇
photos courtesy of Yiquan Hot Spring Resort
This article originally appeared on p30-33 of the beijingkids February 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com