Health and wellness

Hot springs in Asia: From wilderness gems to luxurious retreats

Head into the cold to warm up with this most natural kind of therapy. By ANSHEL MA and ANICA KIM

Taiwan: Lisong hot springs

River at the Li Song Hot Spring, Taitung, Taiwan

Expect an hour’s hike across hills and water to get to this remote valley in Taidong, where a striking sight awaits: the mineral water of this river hot spring cascades down the cliffs in blue and green hues, thanks to calcium carbonate crystals and algae. At 45-65°C, the water is slightly alkaline and therapeutic for the skin. A word of caution: these hot springs are as wild as they come, with no safety facilities. It is not advisable to go at the height of the rainy season (May to October), when water levels are high.

Hot tip

A shower cap is a must when visiting public baths in Taiwan. Prepare one in advance.

Nepal: Tatopani

Trekkers relaxing in the hot springs near Chhomrong on the Annapurna circuit trek, Nepal
Credit: Les Gibbon / Alamy Stock Photo / Argusphoto

This mountain nation may not be known for its hot springs, but it has them in spades. Tatopani is arguably its finest. But you won’t find a luxury resort here; Tatopani is a rustic place with little more than a shower area and sauna rooms. Sitting near Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge, surrounded by dramatic granite mountains and a cascading whitewater river, the spot is known among locals for its curative powers. The rich minerals in the water are said to help detoxify the blood, relieve symptoms of rheumatism and relax stiff muscles. The water contains plentiful black salt and phosphorus, both of them natural antibiotics. The most straightforward way to get there is to join a hiking tour at Kathmandu that will pass by the hot spring – a relaxing stop that will have you re-energised.

Hot fact

There’s a legend that Shiva used his trident to break the ground and let hot water out as he couldn’t stand the torment of cold water in his ascetic practices.

Japan: Yufuin hot springs

Yufuin Lake, Kinrin Onsen
Credit: Hideki Nawate/Sebun Photo/amanaimages/Argusphoto

You might have heard of the famed Beppu resort area, but the nearby town of Yufuin is the Kyushu hot spring for those really in the know. Yufuin Sansou Murata, a seriously luxurious retreat in the mountains, is built on a four-acre parcel of land, offering impressive views. Each of its 12 accommodations is a lodge from the Meiji (1868-1912) or Shōwa (1926-1989) periods. The sparse layout and in-room baths offer optimal privacy, while guests can also find plenty of amenities on-site, from the hotel’s soba restaurant to a private art museum and a bar filled with the sounds of jazz.

Hot tip

Paying respect to a Japanese onsen god (Okuninushi, master of the great land, or Sukunahikona, god of health and medicine) before a hot spring bath is supposed to enhance the healing effects.

South Korea: Dukgu hot springs

The 600-year-old hot spring at Dukgu in South Korea
Credit: Amana images RF/Getty Images

Unlike other places where water is pumped up from below, the 600-year-old hot spring at Dukgu is the only one in South Korea where the water flows naturally to the surface. If you’re looking for top-notch facilities in the area, head to the Dugku Hot Spring and Spa. Located near Mount Taebaek, not too far from the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula, this is a resort complex offering diverse spa facilities and hotel accommodations. The resort prides itself on the purity of its water, which is said to be good for nerve pain, rheumatism, skin problems, diabetes and paralysis.

Hot fact

At Korean-style spas, called jimjilbangs, an expert will make sure that you are scrubbed from head to toe using what in Korean is called an Italian towel.

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