Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
Travelers to China often tour to Beijing (one of the oldest cities in the world; the Great Wall), Xi’an (Terracotta warriors), Chongqing (Three Gorge Yangtze Cruise) and Shanghai (The Bund), but they usually miss the hidden beauty of a rest-stop resort located just outside Chongqing city. Well known to locals for centuries in the Ba-Yu region as Wuling Wonderland, Tongjing Hot Springs Resort is an award winning hot springs spa resort. Located about a half hour drive (30km/19 miles ) from the Chongqing Jiangbei International airport (CKG) near the confluence of the Yangtze and Yulin rivers, the natural hot springs and mountainous landscape of the “Small Three Gorges” are a treat for the senses and especially the tired-traveler-body. My wife and I stopped there for a little overnight restorative jetlag R&R after the long flight from the US West Coast (13 hrs.) and before a Three Gorges Yangtze River tour.
Hot Springs Site: Covering 9 miles (14.5 km) of area, the hot springs site encompasses mountain cliffs, verdant bamboo forests, rivers, springs, caves, waterfalls and river gorges home to the Chinese white monkey. With 48 springs feeding healing pools to choose from, it was hard to know where to start.
Arriving late, we dined on a banquet of traditional Chinese foods at the resort café and then checked into our room in “The Villas.”
The Villas: Seeing our own personal natural hot springs tub there was no longer any doubt about what to do first. We quickly lowered the shades around the hot tub, decreased the temperature of the water (from 43.2°C/110°F), shed our clothes and dropped into the 30°C/86°F water. After half an hour of restorative cleansing for body and soul, we were ready for a deep night’s sleep.
The Spa: The large modern reception area and dressing rooms in the spa are just the beginning. “Harmony between man and nature” is the theme in the quiet relaxing spa indoor and outdoor climate of mountain, bamboo forest and river views. Natural cool water pools are available for work-out or recreational swimming and surfing. Large and small group healing pools have different temperatures and different mineral contents.
All spring pools are straight from the source, not recirculated, and with daily monitoring of water quality, nightly cleaning of the pools and weekly disinfection of the ground. Pools with small fish specialize in Chinese dermabrasion. Other pools offer different Chinese ayurvedic options for qi nourishment, spirit uplift and Zen heart preservation. Included are sand, pearl, hang, herbal and “geographical proliferation” springs pools. The hot springs are of the calcium sulfate type with a natural calcium carbonate buffering system that maintains the pH in a comfortable range (pH 7.7.) They are rich in sulfur, potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium; with trace strontium, lithium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Straight from the source, the waters are crystal clear. We didn’t have time to enjoy them, but spa services included physical therapy and a range of traditional Chinese and Western massages including hot-rock massages. Friends who tried the hot-rock and deep healing massages said the masseuses were excellent. Next time we’ll know better and allow more time. Our visit definitely needed more than just an overnight stop.
Small Three Gorges: Our morning walk took us to the nearby “cruise terminal” featuring boat tours into the Small Three Gorges as well as white monkey viewing at a cliff-side monkey care center. We opted for the morning white monkey cruise. Twenty minutes later we were surrounded by hungry hominids each seeking attention and feeding. The cruises are timed for monkey feeding time. With a diet of mostly corn and grains, visitors can throw the food distributed by the caretakers. Direct contact is discouraged, which is a good, because the monkeys have developed a craving for bright shiny objects including sun glasses, ear rings, watches and necklaces.
As the feeding wound down, the monkeys returned to their cliff side homes in the caves and we too needed to return to our metal cave in the bus taking us back to Chongqing city. Next stop: A Yangtze river cruise in the Three Gorges.
IF YOU GO: Try to stay two to three nights. Arriving late, our visit was too short and we missed out on the massage experiences, as well as, some healing hot springs. There are a range of accommodations to fit the budget. We stayed in a two room suite in the “villas” with its own private hot spring hot tub. The resort is presently off the beaten path for English-speaking tourists and, with favorable currency exchange rates, the room rates were reasonable. Modern neo-Chinese rooms, condos and budget hotel rooms are also available. The resort website can be found at www.cqtjwq.com (in Mandarin.) For help with the booking, (and language, visa and tour issues), we found Jimmy Deng and the staff at Spring Tour (http://www.spring-tour.com/) in Los Angeles most helpful (China@spring-tour.com .) While their hotel rates were not always the lowest available online, they are one of the largest most reputable tour companies in China with their own fleet of aircraft. Following the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’, we used Jimmy. Be advised that there are very few English-speaking Chinese, especially when you need them so, if you don’t speak Mandarin, advance planning is requisite. English-speaking tour groups are definitely an option worth considering.
At Tong Jing Resort independent bars, restaurants and gift shops are located just off-site, an easy walking distance across the river bridge as well as in the nearby small town of Tongjing. Hiking trails lead from the resort area through giant bamboo forests to Jinyinta hill and karst caves including Monkey Cave, Yangia Cave, Lower Telepathy Cave and a Buddha Cave. Recreational facilities at the resort include ping pong, billiards, video, swimming, surfing and kayaking. (We saw people bungee jumping into the gorge. If you’re thinking about this, as always, check the equipment thoroughly.)