Shenyang’s Public Showers: The Chinese Bathhouse

Shenyang’s Public Showers: The Chinese Bathhouse
By Duncan Muir ,

To the uninitiated, a trip to one of Shenyang's many bathhouses can be a daunting prospect. There is something quite mysterious about Chinese bathhouses: the imposing architecture, the spacious marble foyers and sweeping staircases. Often these stand out like veritable palaces among the surrounding grey, concrete architecture. Public bathhouses in the UK, for example, are largely a thing of the past, having fallen from fashion thanks to swimming pools and every home having its own shower, at the very least. For many Westerners, the idea of getting washed, while naked, in front of a room full of strangers is enough to create some understandable anxiety. So, is there anything to gain from a visit to a local bathhouse? The best way to find out is to get over the discomfort and give it a go. It may not be what you expected.

Public Bathhouse vs. Spa Bathhouse

One of the first things that should be said about bathhouses in China is that there are two kinds. Firstly, there is the public bathhouse, or 澡堂 (zǎotáng), and secondly there is the more upmarket spa-style bathhouse, or 洗浴 (xǐyù). This article is mainly concerned with the latter, as if you're going to bathe in public, then you might as well be in the most comfortable surroundings possible. Traditional public bathhouses are simple and functional. They offer somewhere to bathe for the many Shenyang residents who still live in old-fashioned apartments with no showering or bathing facilities. Though they are much cheaper than their luxury counterparts, one visit should cost around 50 RMB, most public bathhouses offer many of the same services you will find in a spa-bathhouse. Really it's the ambiance and size of the establishment that are the main differences.

The Spa-style Bathhouse

The entire ethos behind the spa-style bathhouse is to be a luxury version of its more functional counterpart and establishments go all out to be as luxurious as they can be. Expect marble in abundance, from the moment you walk in the door and swap your shoes for a numbered wristband all the way up the sweeping marble staircase to the marble-walled changing rooms with their leather, or maybe pleather, banquettes and marble floors. The bathhouse I visited even had gold and silver foil masquerading as gold and silver leaf varnished into a pattern on the ceiling. This sounds like a revolting piece of décor, but somehow it worked with the rest of the surroundings.

After you've changed out of your clothes into nothing but the rubber slippers and numbered rubber wristband provided you can move into the actual bathing room, where you can expect the now established marble theme to continue. The bathing rooms themselves are split, one for men and one for women. An American friend refers to the bathing room of his local bathhouse as 'The James Bond Room', but in truth it seems more like the kind of place that James Bond's nemeses are likely to hang out. It's a large room with wooden pool chairs and wicker rockers, all with an ashtray in easy reach. There are fake palm trees dotted around the place and there's even a fish tank spreading itself across one wall with three enormous fish swimming around among shoals of smaller ones. As well as the Bond villain décor, this is where you'll find the showers (more marble) and the actual bathing pools that give the place its name. Usually there will be a selection of pools, known as 池汤 (chítāng), to choose from: some hot, some warm and some cold. If you've been missing having a bath at home since you came to Shenyang, then this is the place to take advantage of lounging around in the steaming pools and soak away any bodily aches and pains.

Treatments Available

If you really want the full treatment, after you've soaked a while in the chítāng you can lie on a massage bed while an attendant scrubs your body down with lemon juice and a loofah. Do be prepared to be scrubbed everywhere though, even between your fingers and toes, and you'll be amazed, not only by how much dead skin this rather vigorous scrub dislodges, but how soft your skin will feel for days afterwards. Of course, this costs extra, but just show the attendant the number on your wristband and he'll add the fee to your account, to be settled on your way out.

As well as the pools there are also saunas and sometimes steam rooms in bathhouses, and all establishments have a lounge bar area where you can eat some food and have a drink, often with more sauna rooms and stone therapy rooms adjoining. The lounge and massage sections of the bathhouse are unisex though, so you will be provided with a pair of shorts and a short sleeved shirt, a bit like a pair of summer pyjamas before you rejoin members of the opposite sex. There is also a large, dimly-lit massage room filled with row upon row of chaise-type, perhaps 50 in all, sofas where you can spread out and watch some TV or just lie and relax, or have some àn?mó massage (按摩). You can have a foot massage or a full body massage, it's up to you. There are also private rooms where you can have other Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments such as guasha and fire cupping, depending on what time you make your visit.

Water World Bathhouse  水世界 View In Map
Add: 1 Jiuwei Lu, near Beiliujing Jie, Heping District, Shenyang
地址: 沈阳市和平区北六经街九纬路1号
Tel:  024 2289 9666
Opening hours: 24 hours
Price: from 99 RMB, entrance plus full body scrub and full body massage cost 158 RMB
Getting there: take Subway line 1 to Nanshi Chang

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Keywords: bathhouses Shenyang water world bathhouse Shenyang spas Shenyang massage Shenyang


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