Reading the signs around the hot springs district of Anning, a town one hour southwest of Kunming, there is a consistent theme: stone-bottomed hot springs, mud-bottomed hot springs, hot springs hotel, hot springs hospital. There's even a hot springs Party office - an enormous, ivy-covered mansion.
Though these springs have existed for thousands of years, Jinfang Forest Hot Springs, opened in 2002, distinguishes itself by being the only Japanese-style hot springs here. Whereas other locales around town generally charge by the hour and offer private indoor springs, these Japanese-style hot springs are outside, with a stronger emphasis on the atmosphere around the springs, not just the water itself.
In the lobby of Jinfang, we are greeted by a friendly legion of xiaojies and pore over the various hot spring packages: 88 RMB for a day of hot springs, 118 RMB to add foot massages, and 188 RMB (notice the price jump) to add something else called 'flirtatious expressions' weight-loss treatment. This is, ostensibly, an oil massage method, by which the masseuse - presumably with flirtatious expressions - will massage the fat out of your stomach or legs. Hmmm.
Successfully resisting such frills, we plunk down a 300 kuai deposit for two and are given locker keys. The facilities at Jinfang are very nice - and not just by Chinese resort standards: clean locker rooms, crisp towels and robes, a sauna, powerful showers and name-brand toiletries.
The first thing you see walking out onto the grounds are soaring pine trees, straight as telephone poles. Stone foot paths weave around the swimming pool and into the forest downhill toward the springs. Jinfang is on the side of a hill, and the varying terrain adds a feeling of exploration to the place.
Though the hot springs at Jinfang are shared, there are enough of them - around 20 - to find some relaxing privacy away from others. The other visitors tended to find their own pools.
Each hot spring can hold a dozen people comfortably. The temperatures range between 36˚C and 46˚C, so finding a suitable temperature is not difficult. The water is constantly being cleaned by the staff. One spring is dyed fuchsia with rose petals floating on the top, another is filled with milk.
There is no shortage of Chinese kitsch: one spring is flavored like sour apple candy, music is piped in from fake rocks, etc. Some of the more curious workers watch a little too closely as you hang your robe on a bamboo pole. But on the whole, the place feels very far from Kunming, very far removed from other Chinese tourist locales.
Despite being far from Kunming, business is good. "Many people come from Kunming, also Shanghai - mostly rich people," said one woman working at the hot springs. "More and more foreigners are visiting every year. The majority of them are Korean."
Back in the water, we're letting our fingers prune. Head leaning back, eyes closed, hours slip by, a few more people arrive, a few people leave and nothing really happens - which is exactly what we were looking for.
Jinfang Forest Hot Springs
Wenquan Zhenlong Xi Lu
Hours: 10am-2am daily
Buses and small vans leave regularly for Anning from Kunming at the station on Renmin Xilu at Xiao Ximen. Both are six yuan and will drop you off on Baihua Lanlu on the eastside of small lake in Anning City. From here, there are taxis (20-30 yuan) or small vans (three yuan/person) to the hot springs 15-20 minutes north of Anning proper.