XIAMEN, CHINA - Things are getting hot and steamy. It’s dark and I hear people whispering. Suddenly, a voice from behind asks: “What are you in the mood for?”
But cool your over-active imagination. Martin Seow is simply asking what flavour of hot spring I’d like to experience. Seow is the general manager of the upscale Riyuegu Hot Springs Resort in this ancient Chinese city, where the hot springs come infused with different flavours — oolong tea, ginger tea, coffee, rose, lavender and aloe vera.
“There is a flavour for everything and everybody,” says the charming Seow, who suggests the coffee hot spring might be more to my liking.
“The coffee pot flavour is a perfect brew of the finest coffee and natural hot spring water,” he explains. “It is brewed to stimulate the senses, relieve fatigue and stimulate mental concentration.”
There are so many flavours to choose from, I’m confused. I feel like I’m at Starbucks for the first time and don’t know where to begin.
Above: From manager Martin Seow, left, to his staff and even the locals, everyone is made feel welcome here.
The flavoured hot spring water is just one of many thrills to experience at the resort, which is nestled in the Tianzhu Mountains that dominate this charming imperial city.
The resort’s other amenities include the spa, steam rooms and saunas. Seow encourages us to “inhale” the sweet floral scents as we pass through the property’s “bouquet gardens.”
Then he suggests we “lay on a granite floor that is naturally heated by the springs” and afterwards jump into one of the three pools to truly appreciate the relaxing effects. The pools are equipped with massaging jets which, according to Seow, “target a particular area of the body.”
Soon, we arrive at the source of the hot spring.
“This is where the hot spring water bubbles to the surface at 82C,” Seow says. “The hot spring water is piped into more than 100 pools located throughout this area.”
The lush greenery, along with the delicate Asian and Hindu influences of the resort, creates a tropical paradise. The Riyuegu is the perfect escape from the crowded streets of this seaside city where 3.7 million people live and another 11 million like to vacation annually.
But the luxury doesn’t end at the spa. When I enter my spacious room, I’m struck by the sight of rose petals strewn on my bed and the butterfly arrangement of the sheets. There’s a deep soaker soapstone bath tub, equipped with a large wooden ladle to rinse off with, but I have a hot springs appointment to keep.
Guests are whisked from their rooms to the resort’s spa area by a fleet of golf carts. When I arrive, a pleasant young attendant says hello to me in Chinese and offers me a refreshing cup of green tea.
Clothed in a cotton robe and bathing suit, I’m ready to experience one of 100 treatments on offer — options range from energizing, healing, relaxing, and so on. The coffee pot treatment energizes me and later I dip my body in the oolong tea and jasmine pools because, according to the attendant, they encourage circulation. Suddenly, I feel like a tea bag.
When my travelling companions join me later in the hot spring, we discuss the different flavours on offer and most agree the beer and red wine springs top the list. Then someone mentions the resort has a fish spa.
“The fish spa is filled with hundreds of fish originating from Turkey,” my friend Gina reads from a sign. “The warm water softens your feet so the fish can nibble away accumulated dead skin cells.”
I squeal and remove my feet every time the school of fish approaches. We all act like a bunch of giggling school girls as the tiny fish go about the business of eating our flesh.
Above: The spa's gardens are Eden-like and the treatments are a bit exotic.
Reinvigorated, we decide to explore Xiamen at night and end up on Coffee Street where locals socialize over steaming cups of brew; twinkling lights hanging from balconies, patios and palm trees light our way. There’s a California feel to this area and the locals are eager to learn more about where we’ve come from.
Next morning, I wake early and take a peaceful walk along the river. As the early morning fog lifts, Xiamen’s impressive skyline comes into view. The people passing flash genuine smiles and those practising tai chi on the river bank wave at the stranger in their midst.
An old fisherman, his face chiseled by time, casts a line into the murky water and I sit on the bank and watch him patiently wait for a nibble. Nothing happens and soon he moves on, but not before he approaches me and offers his hand in friendship.
That’s when I determine — Xiamen is my cup of tea.
The resort offers many packages throughout the year and one of the most popular is the “Room Package” that includes 2-day, 1-night stay for 2 people and features a superior room, a 60 minute aromatherapy spa treartment for two, entrance to the hot springs, a “fish spa”, breakfast for 2 and much more. For details, go to www.riyuegu.com
/ The best way to get to Xiamen from Toronto or Vancouver is via Beijing or Shanghai. Air Canada offers daily service to both those Chinese cities and China Eastern now offers service to China from Toronto. / Canadians need a visa to enter China. / Tour East Holidays offers a number of well-priced tours to China and can easily arrange to trip to Xiamen, which overlooks the southern islands of Taiwan. If you’d like to find out more about Tour East’s extensive lineup of Chinese tours, go to www.toureast.com