However dreamy our hotel hot tubs and jacuzzis may be, there’s nothing quite like a soak in one of nature’s own thermal spas. Our Destination Specialists enjoy visiting a hot spring (or ten!) on their travels, and have narrowed down eight of the best hot springs in Asia to help you choose yours. Enjoy mentally unwinding as you imagine stepping into that warm, mineral-rich water...
Where? In the countryside surrounding Pai, Mae Hong Son province
What? Shallow, naturally formed thermal pools, cascading downwards in gentle shelves shaded by trees. Clear, moving water.
Why? This is the epitome of what natural hot springs are all about: beautiful surroundings, organically-formed pools, and relaxing thermal waters just deep enough to lay back in. The pools vary in temperature with the top ones being the hottest (some hot enough to boil an egg, and you can buy eggs en route for just that purpose!), getting gradually cooler as they descend. Find your perfect temperature and settle in for a soak.
Tips: Though the Tha Pai hot springs (8km south of Pai itself) are the area’s most famous, check out the ‘secret’ hot springs to the north at Sai Ngam. These larger thermal lagoons are just as nature formed them, have fewer crowds, and are a deliciously comfortable 34°C.
(pictured: the Reverie Siam boutique)
Where? Nagano prefecture, Honshu
What? A picturesque and historic spa town with a laid-back atmosphere, nine public bath houses and numerous small ryokans, including some that are over 400 years old.
Why? Though Hakone offers a wealth of hot spring options in undisputedly gorgeous surroundings, head to Shibu onsen for a more off-the-tourist-trail experience. Stay in a rural ryokan, enjoy guest-only access to the town’s public baths, and take a day-trip to watch nature’s hot-spring experts - Nagano's famous snow monkeys - showing how it’s done at Jigokudani National Park.
Tips: It is perfectly acceptable to wander between your ryokan and the public onsen wearing just traditional spa attire of a yukata robe and geta sandals, which are both comfy and practical, adding an extra level to the laid-back and traditional vibe.
Where? Just outside Coron town, Busuanga Island, Palawan
What? Beautifully landscaped pools with curved edges that mirror the natural sweep of the surrounding jungle. Saltwater at a skin-tingling 37-40°C.
Why? After a thigh-toning climb up Mount Tapyas to admire the view over Coron, there’s nothing quite as heavenly as a soak in these hot pools. It might seem a bit too hot at first, but your body soon acclimatises and you’ll feel the benefits of that uber-warmth long after you’ve finished your spa.
Tips: Visiting during the day rewards you with great views over the bay, but we love a dip after sunset when you can stargaze while enjoying a cosy bathe. The water is hotter than you realise though, so don’t stay in too long!
Where? Muang La, northern Laos
What? A relatively off-trail resort, even for Laos, with natural hot springs by the riverside and luxurious naturally-heated hot tubs to soak in each evening.
Why? Muang La Lodge epitomises the ideal of ‘getting away from it all’ - somewhere to turn up, unplug and chill out - and gets a top recommendation from Selective Asia’s founder, Nick. The sublimely relaxing hot spring pools are open to locals as well as hotel guests and offer a moment to touch base with the traditions of rural Lao life away from the usually-inescapable tech distractions.
Tips: Don’t rush it. This resort is so much more than somewhere for a quick recharge-and-go, and you’ll be sad to leave too soon. Add a little extra luxury to your hot spring indulgence with a traditional Lao sauna, where steam mixed with fragrant herbs helps relax body and mind.
Where? Ipoh, north-east Malaysia
What? A deluxe resort built around a variety of natural and curated hot springs, caves and jungle walkways.
Why? One of Karl’s favourites, this distinctive resort has everything onsite for enjoying a few days of idyllic time out. The geothermal dipping pools are positioned with striking views over the forest, and fill daily with fresh, hot water that bubbles up from deep underground. You can spend some time underground too, enjoying a natural sauna in the thermal steam cave, or pausing for meditation and reiki healing among the crystal rock formations.
Tips: For an experience which is, quite literally, breathtaking, plunge into the ice bath between thermal soaks – it’s meant to improve circulation. Enjoy a nightcap in ‘Jeff’s Cellar’, the resort’s otherworldly subterranean wine bar with mini hot spring features.
Where? Hilltop and foothills of Guanziling (also spelt Guanzihling or Kuantzuling), Tainan
What? Hot spring resorts with mud springs alongside traditional spa pools. The waters are described as ‘bitter, grey’ and have sulphuric properties.
Why? One of only three hot spring resorts in the world to feature rare mud springs, which leave the skin feeling wonderfully soft and are reputed to have healing properties. Cover yourself in the smooth, light mud solution, let it dry a little on the skin, then wash it off in a spa pool. It’s like a rejuvenating face-pack for the whole body (and a bit of a giggle too!).
Tips: Don’t miss the Fire and Water phenomenon, formed when natural methane ignites as it bubbles up to the surface making the water appear to be on fire! Stay at King’s Garden Villa (pictured) to enjoy additional pampering treatments after a session wallowing in the thermal mud.
Where? Near Medan, northern Sumatra
What? Asia’s largest volcanic lake, formed in a caldera left after a super-eruption over 75,000 years ago. Clear, sulphuric waters and soda springs.
Why? This region is the place to come for dizzying hot spring choice. Opt for a leisurely sojourn by your favourite lake-side pool, or do a tour around the perimeter sampling the different thermal waters, including the only soda spring in Indonesia. A dip in a soda spring is a different experience altogether, as the warm water contains natural bubbles which create a ‘fizzy’ texture, like a natural jacuzzi.
Tips: Lionel recommends taking a dip straight off the rocks at Pangururan (also known as Aek Rangat) or enjoying a refreshing swim in the ‘lake within a lake’ after a hot spring soak on Samosir island.
Where? Chihpen (also spelt Chihben, Zhiben or Jhiben), Taitung
What? A large, ancient hot spring area with a variety of hot spring bathing options. Weak alkaline carbonate waters, colourless and odourless.
Why? The rich mineral content of the Chihpen hot springs has attracted bathers for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years and the area has a blossoming hospitality industry centred around the luxurious spa experience. Surrounded by national parkland, this resort offers exhilarating forest trekking alongside restorative spa relaxation – the best of both.
Tips: The springs around the outside of the resort tend to be more crowded, so head for a hotel on the inner springs, nearer to the forest, for a high-end but unpretentious experience. The Hotel Royal, for example, combines soaking under the stars in a private tub, pampering indoor treatments and family-friendly splashing.