Far from a pedicure production line, China's Haikou spa – officially the world's largest spa resort – is a study in the art of relaxation, writes Paul Chai
Think of spas and you tend to think of the most intimate of zen-like experiences: bottomless cups of soothing herbal tea before and after a skilled massage to the accompaniment of a suitably soporific ambient music soundtrack in your own private dimly-lit world. But can you maintain that intimacy when you have a spa that can process 4000 guests in a single weekend across 61 suites?
I am about to find out at Mission Hills Resort, located on the island of Hainan, China, which holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of "World's Largest Mineral Springs Resort", clocking in at 88 square kilometres. It's no surprise that the previous holder of this record was in Beijing since in China these days, tourism runs on steroids, with hundreds of millions of local tourists alone for which to cater.
Mission Hills is known worldwide as China's Disneyland of Golf. They do that big here too, because Mission Hills is also the world's largest golfing resort with a dozen – yes, a dozen – 18-hole courses to choose from including the signature Blackstone course. The resort even holds a Celebrity Pro Am tournament that will take place on October 24-26 this year and features Morgan Freeman, Jessica Alba and Chris "Captain America" Evans.
But Mission Hills chairman, Ken Chu, a fitness fanatic, has recently expanded the focus of the resort beyond golf to include wellness, hence the world's largest spa. My room in the 18-storey main building overlooks the mineral springs, 168 pools of naturally warm water, so I decide to start there in the evening as suggested at reception.
The pools are open late into the night so I grab a robe and set off for the springs, an amusingly kitschy affair, themed by continent. What better place to start than the cradle of civilisation where my first pool is a tepid bath overlooked by stone elephants and lions, a small stone bed submerged underwater.
I'm not sure I like being watched so it's is off to the far more engaging Middle East, where a series of small caves are strung with Persian-inspired lanterns and the pools are scented with small hessian bags of herbs and spices and vary in temperature. The black pepper pool is skin-tingling hot, the cardamon pool a cold shock by comparison, but the thyme pool is Goldilocks just right, now I finally start to get this mineral springs idea.
It's restful bobbing in the dark with the strong scents of the Middle East but I have a whole world to explore so I robe up again and head to Oceania, Asia and Europe. The highlight turns out to be a tour of the Amazon River in the Americas section through winding caves, tidal pools and waterfalls aimed at massaging your head.
Relaxed? Sure. Amused? Without a doubt. The following morning I am booked in for a traditional Chinese reflexology session in the main Hakou Spa. It is a coliseum-like circular house based on traditional architecture from Fuijian Tulou where smaller versions of this structure would house an entire family.
The huge reception is dominated by a high roof supported by traditional bamboo (reinforced with concrete due to the large scale. I am escorted down the long hallway of rooms but once inside the warm wood and stone rooms are intimate and my 45-minute foot reflexology had me walking on air.
Mission Hills may be mass market relaxation but it is done with flair and an eye on traditional cultural references. This resort did not get to be a premier golfing destination just by breaking records. It wants to makes sure you come back for the experience not just to say you have been to the biggest, but also the best.
The writer stayed as a guest of Mission Hills.
Cathay Pacific has direct flights to Hainan from Sydney and Melbourne (cathaypacific.com). Or fly to Singapore where low-cost carriers Tigerair, Jetstar and Air Asia all have flights to Haikou.
Mission Hills is just 15 minutes from Haikou airport. Rooms start from $A180.
Try the chilli oil noodles inspired by the Xian noodle dish at Magma Cafe, Level 1, Mission Hills Clubhouse.