Bathhouses can be a little scary from the outside. Are they clean? Are they dirty? If they’re dirty, is it in a good (sexy) way? Or in a bad (pubes on the soap) way? Are foreigners welcome? Will we be stared at? Do we care if we are? How do we know which ones are huge brothels and which ones are family places where we can get a long soak, a body scrub and potter around in pajamas until the early hours of the morning?Here are the best Korean, Chinese and Japanese bathhouses in Shanghai for a supremely relaxing experience.
Let’s start with the Japanese, because it’s the newest and the one fewer people already know about. Gokurakuyu is this colossal place out in this huge industrial park area on a motorway in Pudong. Sounds pretty cozy, right? In fact, it’s the best bathhouse we’ve found in Shanghai. You enter into a spotless hall of eye-scouringly bright marble, hand in your shoes and receive a lump of wood in return.
Go to the back of the hall and receive a plastic wristband with your number on it. You’re then directed to a hatch where you collect your pajamas. There are six designs to choose from, plus a VIP pajamas option. It doesn’t matter which ones you choose, they’re all the same, except for the VIP ones, which offer you access to special VIP zones. We went for some fetching (non-VIP) mustard-colored togs.
Then you go into the changing room – men on the left, women on the right – and put everything in a locker: pajamas, clothes, phone, everything. By this point you’ll be naked. Then you head out to the baths area. Gokurakuyu’s baths are segregated. Each (the men’s and the women’s) has four hot pools of different temperatures, all from 36 degrees to about 42 degrees, plus a cold pool (18 degrees). There’s also a long line of loungers lying under the water in another long thin pool, and these jets that pummel your body while you lie in the water.
It’s good etiquette to sloosh yourself off before you get in any of the pools, either by taking a shower or by ladling a few buckets of water over your head from a central tub. Then you’re free to go from pool to pool, steeping yourself in varying degrees of hot water. There’s one milky pool with some sort of special mineral water that’s meant to be good for the skin. Steam rises. Men chatter and slap themselves with wet towels. There’s lots of cocks everywhere. Cocks and balls just hanging right out there. But everyone’s over it. No one’s making a fuss. Sit in the hot pool then jump in the cold one or pour buckets of cold water over your bits. They provide the buckets. All good.
Add: 600 Xin Jinqiao Lu, near Jinxin Lu
Second up is Yundu, a hotel and spa close to the airport out in Hongqiao. This is the Chinese option. On the Wednesday afternoon we visited it was, except for maybe a handful of business men, very, very empty.
This is how it works: you go through the lobby to the reception desk and they hand you a bracelet and lead you into the changing area. The people here assume that no foreigner speaks Chinese so they pretty much show you what to do: a little ayi in an orange jumpsuit takes you to the locker and shows you where you should go. The ayi gives you a towel and slippers and a bathing suit because here there’s a communal bathing area, as well as a single-sex area, and you have to wear a bathing suit for that bit. The bathing suits they offer you are clean and packed in plastic. Or you can bring your own if you’re worried about them having your size.
In the single-sex bit, there are showers, a massage room, a steam room and a sauna. The whole area isn’t too big but it’s very nice and clean. For all this bit you’re gloriously naked. When you leave the single sex naked area you have to put on a swimsuit and then you get access to a big, but pretty shallow cold water pool. There’s also a smaller salt-water pool, a fitness room and a range of hot pools. Then there’s a separate area with three Chinese medicine hot spring pools, one that’s looks a bit tea-egg-ish, a bubbly sulfurous-looking one, and one fresh minty one. Behind that, there’s a separate room with a big window looking out onto a small garden and outside, there’s another pool surrounded by bamboo.
Drinks and snacks can be ordered from anywhere, even in the pools. The menu has juices, soft drinks, milkshakes, ice cream sundaes and of course cigarettes. All are quite reasonably priced. Just give your bracelet to the waiter to pay. Next to the pool they also have a few lockers for phones and valuables, or you can go nuts and leave your phone in the changing room. Imagine that! No phone. What a world!
Add: 266 Huqingping Highway, near Hanghua Xicun, Minhang District
New Star 纽斯桑拿会所
This is one of the best-known bathhouses in town, and it’s often really packed. However, it’s also improved over the past couple of years and the popularity is well-deserved. It’s out in Changning and draws a mixed crowd of Chinese, Japanese and many Koreans. The setup is pretty much the same as Gokurakuyu above: you go in, give them your shoes, get a bracelet and go into the changing area – girls on the left, guys on the right. They used to have this annoying system where you needed a guy to come and open your locker for you every time you wanted to get something out, but they’ve done away with that now and you just use your bracelet to open up a locker, then strip and go into single-sex bathing areas.
There are two large hot pools set up with TVs so you can soak and watch our dear leaders visit glorious tractor factories, plus a small cold pool to plunge in when you get too hot. There’s also a small steam room and a sauna, plus an area for getting body scrubbed (68rmb for the basic scrub plus 48rmb for each additional substance they scrub you with). The scrubs used to be much cheaper, like 48rmb plus 28 for each topping, but they also used to have these semi-aggressive scrubbers who’d come out and demand that you come in and have yourself scrubbed. They’ve gone now, and the atmosphere is more chilled.
Last thing about this place that’s worth noting is they have a large, outdoor communal swimming pool. It’s never been open when we’ve been there, but in the summer when the cover comes off, that could be an excellent alternative to the city pools that get rammed on a hot day.
The spa’s 128rmb to get in and stay as long as you like. Food is pretty reasonable. Expect to spend about 250rmb for a few hours of bathing, a meal and a snooze upstairs, or 350rmb if you want to add in a massage or a scrub.
Add: Lane 258, Jinhui Nan Lu near Hongquan Lu
Xiao Nanguo Tang Heyuan 小南国湯河源
While New Star’s post-bath feel is unmatched in the city, it’s the Gubei branch of Xiao Nan Guo (58RMB) that has the best bathing area, with a wide range of baths at various temperatures and even a pleasant outdoor spot. It’s easily the best branch of this chain, and the experience includes stage shows, good food and games of shuffle board to relax with after you’ve had a soak.
Add: 3337 Hongmei Lu, near Yanan Lu
Yi Sheng Tang 汤宜绳
This three floor spa is inspired by Japanese medical stone spas. It’s a tranquil environment that specializes in this detoxifying process. The stones contain 15 different kinds of natural iron ores and are heated to around 45 degrees temperature. The refreshing spa will speed up your blood circulatory system and help you feel revived.
Add: Building 3, 555 Gubei Road, Changing District
Phone: 021 6241 2228
How Much: RMB58 (before 5:30 pm), RMB88 (after 5:30pm)