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Hot springs steam up winter excursions

When winter comes, nothing is more relaxing than a hot spring bath. It is the perfect remedy for recharging your mind and body when the fierce cold overtakes you and diminishes your desire to step out of a warm house. If you are ready to brace yourself against the cold of winter and go all out for total relaxation, we have several destinations for you to consider.

Believed to have properties to improve health, hot springs often come from deep within the earth, bringing to the surface a combination of minerals that can soothe the body and are even believed to heal some diseases.

Situated at the northern foot of Mt. Lishan in Lintong County, Shaanxi Province, lies the 'Huaqing Hot Springs'. It's famed for both its beautiful spring scenery and was the setting for the romantic love story of Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine Yang Guifei during the Tang Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago.

With a history stretching back 6,000 years, Huaqing Pool is one of the most famous hot springs in China. Limpid and mild, the water in the pool is about 43 degrees Celsius all year round.

It is said that Emperor You built a palace there during the Western Zhou Dynasty about 3,000 years ago. Additions were subsequently made by later emperors. During his reign more than 1,000 years ago, Emperor Xuanzong spent dizzying amounts of his funds and built a luxurious palace and changed its name to 'Huaqing Palace'. He visited the palace 36 times during his 41 years in power.

The palace has been listed as one of China's top one hundred gardens. It is also a cultural relic under state level protection.

Xiao Yin, a tourist from central China, came especially for the hot spring spa. He says he was longing to come here for a long time and found it deserves its reputation.

"It feels great. Huaqing Hot Spring was a royal pool in ancient times. But now everyone is allowed to visit. It's a nice place to come to, especially in winter."

Huaqing Pool receives one million visitors from home and abroad every year. It is also one of the favourite places for local residents. Costing just 40 yuan during off-season or 70 yuan during busy season, people come here to socialize with friends while enjoying a bath in the hot spring.

Retired teacher Gu Lijun is a frequent visitor in winter.

"The water here is rich in minerals. It has therapeutic effects on the skin while it also stimulates blood circulation. I come here every week and my skin has become smoother with every bath. With people's living conditions improving, more and more people like to come here to relax and enjoy the environment."

Water originating from the four springs discharges more than 100 tons of water per hour. The ever-flowing water is rich in minerals and organic materials.

Zhao Wuquan is deputy general manager of Huaqingchi Tourism Company. He says that the spa area covers more than 10,000 square meters. While soaking in the pool, customers can listen to ancient Tang Dynasty music, watch ancient dances and enjoy Tang style tea. New services also include European style surf baths, an acupuncture therapy bath, a Japanese style open air bath and a Tang style bath. Various services and programs have made the pool so popular that demand always exceeds supply. Customers often have to wait in a queue to use the pool. Here's deputy general manager Zhao Wuquan.

"We have developed some tourism projects based on the spa culture. For example we have set up an exhibition hall where spa history and Tang Dynasty culture are displayed and explained. Our next plan is to expand the Huaqingchi garden to its original size as it was in the Tang Dynasty. We'll also restore and launch some ancient sports programs including polo, a popular sport during the Tang Dynasty."

Sixty kilometres west of the Hot Spring, Xianyang is another ancient city and popular destination for hot springs.

Wang Faxiang is a local resident. He says the chilblains in his feet have been greatly relieved after several months of taking spas in the hot springs.

"Hot springs can help build up the body by enhancing blood circulation. It has some healing effects on things such as rheumatism, arthritis, and even some skin diseases. I come here very often. I used to have numb legs but it has been cured thanks to the hot springs."

Tourist Ren Xian agrees.

"The ticket costs 30 yuan and it's worthwhile and reasonable. Since living conditions have improved, we are happy to spend money on the activities that can keep us healthy and fit."

Compared with those in Shaanxi, hot spring resorts in Beijing are small and delicate.

Beijing has a dozen hot spring resorts, among which the Xiaotangshan Mountain hot springs in the north of the city are the most popular. The water is kind of golden in colour and is famed for its purity and fragrant smell and is thus dubbed "a pool of golden water".

Sun Zhiwei is a visitor.

"A hot spring spa makes me feel I'm in a place where I can relax and forget about all my worries. I was so indulged that I was almost oblivious to the beautiful scenery and other aspects of my surroundings."

There are eight hot spring pools in Xiaotangshan Resort. The large ones are the size of an average swimming pool and the small ones are only suitable for three or four people at any one time.

Zhang Ruoqi is a fan of the hot spring spa. He says he prefers those outdoor pools where there might as well be big snow falling while having a spa.

"I like the feeling so much that you soak yourself in a pool of hot water while the snow is falling and it is chilly and cold outside the water. At this moment, you relax yourself while enjoying the scene of falling snow. I hope there will be snow soon in Beijing and I pray that I just happen to be in a spa pool when it happens."

Thank you Ning Yan for sharing so much wonderful information about how to have fun in the cold winter days.