Monday, 30 August 2010

Beyond soaking

Surprise visit to Paris
Sometimes hot springs are surprises. The hot spring of Parang Wedang, the only hot spring in Yogyakarta province, is one of such.

Parang Wedang can be found in the village of Parangkusumo, which in reality is just part of the seaside town of Parangtritis, which the locals refer to as Paris!
Though I stated that Parangtritis is a seaside town one should not conjure images of a blinding white beach swayed with gentle waves, everyone hanging out under the coconut trees.

Instead it’s a wide windswept black sand beach between the mouth of a river and huge cliffs to the east. Behind the 200m wide beach strip, a strip of houses whose main cause is to assist visitors in sheltering from the wind. Where the waves are crashing on the shore there are a couple of stalls along the high tide mark, catering (and providing shade) to the visitors. Risk-takers try getting into the surf but know when enough is enough; the beach is full with signboards advising against swimming. Motorcyclists and quads thunder up and down the beach overtaking the horsedrawn carts.

Mythical Paris

One would hardly expect that Parangtritis is the place of myths, but the opposite is the case. Author Barrie Lie-Birchall who has an often copied (and plagiarized) travel article titled ‘Parangtritis – a beach not too far’ which itself is unfortunately undated, but I suspect is from as far back as 2002.

‘Parangtritis is steeped in Javanese mysticism and culture. It is believed there is a south axis connecting Mount Merapi, the Kraton and Parangtritis Beach. According to legend, the Queen of the South Seas - Kanjeng Ratu Kidul together with her confident Nyai Loro Kidul reign over the Southern seas and all within it. It is said that any person wearing clothing coloured green will be lured into the sea by the Queen and to their fate - a superstition firmly entrenched in the minds of all Javanese; even as far North as Jakarta. It is the legend of Parangtritis that entrances all who listen - according to the legend, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul was at one time wed to Panembahan Senopati, a ruler of the mighty Mataram kingdom and enjoyed his company on occasions. The Western section of Parangtritis beach - Parangkusumo Beach - is believed to have been the meeting place between the two mighty rulers; that of the sea and of the land.
It is also at Parangkusumo Beach where the ceremony of 'Labuhan' is performed, coinciding with the inaugural commemoration of Sri Sultan Haamengku Buwono X. Each year, on the 30th day of the Javanese month of 'Rejeb', offerings are given to Kanjeng Ratu Kidul. These offerings, in the ceremony of Labuhan, consist of fingernail cuttings and hair of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, food and clothing - all cast into the sea in the hope that the Sultan and the people of Yogyakarta will have continuous peace and prosperity. The same ceremony is held on top of Mount Merapi and Lawu.
According to legend, volcanic activity also occurred at Parangkusumo Beach. This resulted in a formation of rocks supposedly where the Sultan of Yogyakarta and Kajeng Ratu Kidul met to discuss the well-being of the people of Yogyakarta - and of their love for each other. Upon this formation of rock was built a small rest house’.
This does add an additional dimension to an otherwise non-descript wind-swept village, though other than the annual celebration myths are just that.

Pottering around
Apart from the attraction of the mythical mystery there are other attractions in Parangtritis such as a well-perched resort and good fishing in front of it.

Then there are caves in the cliffs beyond Paris, most notably a peculiar located meditation cave:

‘How about Langse cave, according to the legend, this is the place of Nyai Loro Kidul. And the cave often visited by Sultan of Mataram. It would be a challenged to reach the cave, situated high up 400 meters on the cliffs. The nature stairs exist from some stones and roots. Once in the cave you can take a bath in one of the room. The water comes from the springs of the cave, cold and it consist high sulfur to make your tired body very relaxed. After doing some bath you can do meditation. The silence of the cave can help you that. You will only hear the sound of the south sea '(source).
Hot Spring
And then there is of course the hot spring. Heading back out of town towards Yogyakarta from Parangtritis, after 1 km one sees the well-signposted ‘Sumber Air Panas - Parang Wedang’. It lies at the foot of a small hill on the land side of the road.

Through the small entrance in the wall one believes to have arrived at a temple complex. On this weekday ( July 2010) everything is serene and the few people there seem more to be annoyed by our visit. We nose around, to see whether we are in the correct place. This is at once all too obvious by the existence of the many cells, each with a blocked pipe sticking out of the wall. All these cubicles are situated around a large pond which most probably is the hot spring itself.

For a meager price (4,000 INR, 0,35$US) one rents an as best described as rudimentary cubicle, takes out the blockage and using the mandi one continues to bathe oneself, no real soaking just a rinse.

There’s a small stall with a couple of biscuits and soda’s.

More info
The water is hot (guess-estimate 40 C) and saltish. This source adds:
‘Parangwedang is a hot spring that is rich of mineral (the mostly elements are Na, Cl, and Mg). Uniquely, the sulfur element, the most common content of spring, is not found there’.
This site oddly enough has the exact dimensions:
‘Parangwedang well is a warm mineral water resource of 1140 square meter .There you may find a reservoir of 9 m length and 8 m width,6 warm water bathrooms and other 6 fresh water bathrooms’ [see photo below].

The aforementioned Barrie also ventured to take a soak here:
‘A mineral hot spring, named Parang Wedang, with continuous flowing water attracts visitors who bathe there because it is believed to have healing properties for skin ailments - although not in need of it, I found the water to be soothing and pleasant. Small change rooms or lidos are available for those wishing to bathe in private. The pool, as I was told, was found by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono VII. He found it his duty to care for the pool. Many locals believe the place to be a sacred site - many meditate there and congregate to discuss matters of importance affecting their village’.
Which sort of goes some way as to why I would call the atmosphere temple-like.

Another unknown aspect which a
website provides is as follows:
‘In the yard, we can see some sawo kecik trees’.
From wikipedia:
'Sawo Kecik: This ugly fruit called Sawo Kecik- or small sawo- Manilkara Kauki . The taste is very watery sweet . Long time ago this sawo kecik only owned by the royal families but now you can find them everywhere. Mostly Javanese families planted them in the front yard . Some people believe that it will bring some lucks. Whether it is true or not , i like this fruit so much !!!
If desperate one can stay overnite at Parangtritis, especially the resort east of town is fabulously located. But otherwise Yogyakarta is one of Indonesia’s main tourist towns, what with the Borobodur, Merapi volcano and the city having it’s own palace.

Soaking experience?

Getting there: From Yogyakarta buses leave for Parangtritis quite regularly, best to be picked up from Parangtritis street with. The journey to Parangtritis (less than 30 km) takes an hour and you can sit upright in this local bus!

Soaking experience: As stated it was more of rinse than a soak. Pity a good soak was not possible; the natural salty-nish would result in a special soak. Cubicles were poorly maintained, unhygienic (?).

Overall experience: If heading for Parangtritis add a visit to Parang Wedang on your way back, to wash off the sand and seawater. Otherwise the setting was sort of special but not necessarily something for soaking.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Followed suit

Batu city, located 25 km west of Malang, East Java is due to the natural surroundings and it’s climate a magnet for Indonesian tourism. (see also Batu's entry on wikitravel) Considering that potatoes and apples grow here, a hot soak is also a worthy pursuit.

The village of Songgoriti lies 5 km west of Batu. It is at the end of a narrowing valley just before the watershed divide. Songgoriti is well-known for it’s natural swimming pool (Tirtanirwana, but not for it's mineral water), it’s small touristy market and the developed hot spring. It also has good access to Cobanrundo waterfall just beyond the surrounding hill.

However just 300m up from the market is the Air Panas Songgoriti complex (named Pa Pa?), which seems to be a resort with overnight staying possibilities as well as place accustomed just for visiting for the hot water. The source of the hot springs itself is not obvious, but there is an kidney shaped smallish pool and indoor bath tubs (15,000 INR; with jacuzzi facilities 25,000 INR (~2,75$US)) available for rent. That seems to be it. The facilities do look well kept and there is the added attraction of an ancient Hindu statue in the front garden. Not so many visitors though.

The Air Panas Songgoriti hot spring complex. In front garden, ancient Hindu statue.

I opt out of a soak, at least until I have explored the surroundings in more detail. Just beyond the resort boundary a makeshift sign calls out once more 'Sumber Air Panas Belerang' (see lead photo), belerang implying sulphur. Down a few steps and one is besides a small stream with next to the stream a few cement protected springs. A couple of men are bathing by using the water from these bubbling springs as a mandi, i.e. they are throwing the water over themselves using a small bucket. The water itself is not as hot as one would expect. The bubbles are most probably formed by soda. The men wholeheartedly ask me to join in bathing. To my surprise one of the men is showering au-natural. I am compelled to join him.

One of the springs. Sand bags protect it from wash outs. Note mandi's on the edge.

This bathing custom though natural seems to raise eyebrows; even when sex segregated most Southeast Asians seam squeamish about undressing in each other's company. Though I did note that when I visited Bali, nudity was sometimes apparent when bathing; on the other hand tourists where often asked to refrain from such manner, at for instance Banjar hot spring. On the odd chance that I might have stumbled on the village mad man (and followed his initiative!), elsewhere on Java I later saw more people bathing (semi-) naked. It so much more pleasant. At least on flickr I saw another blatant voyeur photo (nsfw!) from the same soaking site. Possibly he might have been of the same fellow! Hopefully the foliage kept out the voyeurs, wonder if women follow suit?

Enjoying the springs costs just 1,000 INRs (~0,10$US) which is collected in an honesty box, below the stairs. entry on Songgoriti with more info on the ancient statues. Another source adds:
'This old temple is located in Songgoriti tourism area and often visited by many tourists. Supo Temple is a heritage temple of mojopahit and believed by society around as place to wash heirloom thousands years ago'.
Getting there: From Batu (20 km west from Malang) head further west to Songgoriti. From the Songgoriti market it is 300m upstream, both places are on your left. Can’t be missed.
Soaking experience: The hot spring resort looked well cared and maintained and certainly a soak is worthwhile here. Nearer the source(s) a real soak can not be had but a dunking, which has it’s merits as well. Beautiful surroundings as well, not locked in.
Overall impression: Both the resort as well as the wild soaking area are well recommended. At least by this website …

The main building: more happy soakers.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Dare to compare

Soaking in Southeast Asia and it’s sister / daughter sites focus mainly on countries within Asia where enjoying hot springs are less well-known practices and/or totally waiting to be discovered. In many cases these hot springs are under-developed or poorly developed.

Intending to seek out why in for instance Europe, soaking (and bathing) is very much a part of life, I was in the circumstance to visit a town known for it’s mineral waters while on business in Germany’s Harz region over the past summer.

Bathing History

Bad Lauterberg lies on the edge of the Harz, hemmed in by hills to the north, which shield the town from cooler winds. On the confluence of 3 streams, Lauterberg was known until the 19th century for mining, as was the whole of the Harz region. Wikipedia has a good entry on mining in the Harz.
It was then discovered that water emanating from lower layers of the mountains also contained high concentrations of minerals which can be attributed to an improved health level if frequently bathed in. Such was the interest that gradually the Lauterberg economy shifted from relying on mining (and metal manufacturing) to relying on bathing and it’s associated culture to survive; it became one of Germany's oldest spa-towns (
A few (up-scale) bathing places were created as well as the town undergoing development so as to make the bathers more happy, for instance the construction of promenades and parks.


Since the demise of mining, Lautenberg has been named
Bad Lautenberg as in Germany much is gained by the term Bad. It is a government approved qualitative acknowledgment of being a place to bathe which can lead to an improved health status; a main reason why Germans are interested in ‘baden / kuren’ (and soaking).
In the case of Bad Lautenberg, the bathing waters are natural, though unheated. In Germany there is little difference between the two, as unheated waters are heated for bathing and both forms (heated and unheated) can be regarded as having significant health properties. This is scientifically backed up.

More famous bathing places such as Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden and Aachen do have natural hot waters. But not Bad Lautenberg.

Soaking in Bad

Bad Lautenberg possesses three locations for bathing. The choice falls on the Kirchberg Therme as it combines swimming pools with sauna without aiming at families, with the complete water circus of wave pools, slides, chutes and what have you. After all silence is golden ...
Connected to the Kirchberg Medical Centre, the therme (or spa) is part of the overall facilities used by ‘patients’ and/or guests. The therme consists of a restaurant, a fitness centre, two indoor swimming basins and a sauna complex.
Visiting on an early morning, most bathers were guests from the medical centre; use of the therme was free for these guests before 2 in the afternoon.
The 2 modern free-form swimming basins were little used this morning (why?) and the cooler of the 2 pools surely could not be described as an attraction to me (too cold!).
Much better was the clothesfree sauna complex which contained a variety of sauna’s, a steam room and an outside swimming pool with extensive sunning lawn.

Somehow the larger swimming area required bathing clothes, possibly because the benefits of soaking should not be withheld from the less inhibited. However as said, the pools were mostly deserted whereas the sauna area was considerably populated by 20 or more patrons on that particular morning. Clearly most thought more highly of sauna use than of the possible advantages of the pool use; or couldn’t be bothered dressing up to use the pools.

A photo from the spa's own web site.
In front the two pools while behind the rocks is the sauna garden ...

Your notes
Comparing to any experience in Southeast Asia is hardly possible.
First of all there is Germany's love affair with hot springs, which dates back to at least the era of Roman occupation (Cooper-Erfurt & Cooper, 2009) Since, soaking modes in Germany have waxed and waned, but to Germans soaking or 'kuren' is a scientifically proven method of medicine.

How important is this?
  • For instance the bible of Germany's spa's, Größchen's
    'Heilbäder und Kurorte in Deutschland. Conradi-Bäderkunde-Lexikon'
    counts more than 600 pages!
  • In 2006 nearly 6.5 million soakers were recorded (Erfurt-Cooper & Cooper, 2010); visits lasting multiple days .
One must also note that when taking a longer wellness treatment German health insurance will covers this. No wonder soaking is so important ... See also the following:
'Today, Germany has one of the most comprehensive spa cultures in Europe, with the support of the German federal health care system to boot! The German equivalent for spa is Heilbad or 'healing bath' or Kurort which literally mean 'cure place'. Any town in Germany can qualify and choose to use the prefix 'Bad' or bath before their town name i.e. Bad Soden. Those towns that qualify have met the strictest air and water quality standards and have been able to establish the necessary medical staff and infrastructure to cater to those seeking treatment.
Once a Kur or cure therapy has been approved, a patient will be sent to a certified Kurort or spa where a patient will enjoy a holistic experience of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, communication and motivation custom-fitted by doctors and medical staff. The focus is to provide a Kur guest with the best possible natural environment to cure or prevent the further development of illnesses'.
Then there is the level of facilities to draw in the comparison.
Concerning the emphasis on medical efficiency in Germany and German cultural pursuit of high standards, levels of hygiene are extremely high and are first most in thoughts of managers.
Competition between facilities means that increasingly higher lay-outs are required and for the visitor this means the facilities are more and more luxurious and at the same time larger and more diverse.

But other than these two aspects (medical culture / standards ) I believe there is little that would differ between soaking here in Southeast Asia and in Germany. In general soaks in both are mostly visited by locals, most patrons are slightly older and / or health conscious.
Having such facilities in Southeast Asia could be possible, though the price differential would exclude most locals.
So an in-between situation could be created.
For instance hygiene is greatly lacking at 99.9% of Southeast Asia's soaking sites, but simple measures need not cost too much but can result in far better hygienic situation.

My own preference? Well that would be a bit unfair. making a choice. The soaking culture in Southeast Asia is mostly non-existent and / or real foreign to myself whereas the experience above isn't ...

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Update 2010- II

Followers may have noted that most of my effort has been directed towards the Hot soaks of the Himalaya blog, which has detailed listings of many (if not most) hot springs in or near the Himalaya. I am still to include more, but from regions further away.
It's also good to see that the number of visitors to that site is matching those to this site!
On this blog site coming are more entries from a recent journey to Central and East Java, which I liked a lot. Also to be included is a report from a visit to a wellness center in Germany.

In actuality there's not much to be updated on. One of the premier spa resorts in Asia, the
Banyan Tree gives some additional info concerning it's management culture. Ho Kwan Ping, the founder, reveals that challenging the authorities in the past has helped him shape the Banyan Tree now. He's a ‘Capitalist in his pocket and socialist in his heart’. A brand criterion: 'all swimming pools must be built in such a way that guests can skinny dip without being seen beyond the walls of the villa'. If the Banyan Tree got itself involved with hot springs, now there's a concept ... But despite the socialist talk, Banyan tree is totally focused on the free spending elite ...

Hot hippies?
A hot spring in pill form?
'You can re-create the hot springs in your own bath as I do'.
Suzy Cohen (who can be 'reached' at proposes adding all kinds of minerals to your bath, so as to gain the same benefits from a bath at home as you would from a soak in the 'wild'. Unfortunately it's not clear whether there is such a pill or that she proposes taking a whole bucketful of pills. Nonetheless I can imagine people being enticed by this. Does it already exist?
Elsewhere she has to answer a queries about her Facebook page which includes a photo of her soaking in a Utah, USA hot spring:
'Q: This maybe personal, but are you sick? What is in the water that is so healing? I'm curious because around here, hot springs are for hippies only [!]'.
'A: Hippies? I am an Aquarian, so perhaps I qualify. The mere thought of hot springs brings a rush of peace into my body and a deep breath. I prefer undeveloped hot springs that are nestled deep in the woods or amidst a waterfall.
The waters contain minerals and sulfur compounds which go right through your skin to soothe aching muscles, ease joint pain, improve circulation, relieve skin irritations, boost immunity and ease breathing difficulties. Sulfur-based compounds help unstick dangerous pollutants. The experience can create harmony, because you are soaking up healing nutrients from ancient waters bubbling up from the Earth's core, and you absorb energy from the fresh air, the Earth, the trees and the sun'.
Not sick thus.
This last mentioned aspects fall much in line with a
thread on concerning 'spiritual aspects of soaking'. Unfortunately I have yet to come across any spirituality in soaking here in Southeast Asia other than that awarded to water in general.

A previous link to a Malaysian language blog entry concerning Kunak hot spring has been changed. Apparently according to the new link the springs here are not only hot but salty as well.
Caution must be applied though to this as of yet undeveloped hot spring:
'Fredolin [Sabah state Mineral and Geoscience Department senior geologist] advised visitors not to simply taste the hot water in order to avoid untoward incidents. “We are concerned that the water could contain toxic susbstances such as mercury and arsenic”, he added'.
Elsewhere there is a 'mud volcano' closeby. Can't resist posting this picture from Semuakonak, even though it's not a hot spring:

  • At the beginning of June it was reported that repairs to Bhutan's premier hot spring (required due to a flash flood) would involve the Japanese. Though in this more recent report, the Italians seem to have outbid the Japanese.
  • The Daclan soaking vs. geothermal energy production quandry has once more delayed geothermailty as the local government favours local sentiment (should they do otherwise?) against geothermal energy according to this press clipping.
  • From the same source, more reports of favourite soaking haunts being developed to provide more energy.
  • 'If a man swims naked in a pond and there are no women there to see him is he acting immorally? A group of men in Yuxi who use a local reservoir as a nude swimming social club say the answer is "no".'
    This shocking
    story (though not concerning a hot spring) uncovered by the blogoshere at the end of June. It concerns a small lake near Yuxi, Yunnan, where this tradition has just been found out. Apparently no outcry as of yet.
    'Pundits such as Southern Daily columnist Ao Tianma say that the legality of nude swimming is open to interpretation. The law stipulates that public exposure must be flagrant in order to be a crime, and it is unclear if that label applies to such a secluded area.
    For their part the One Hundred Birds [local swimming club] simply want the recent media attention to go away. A club member surnamed Yang was quoted as saying, "We just want to keep the place and go about our swimming quietly."
    A great story nonetheless which literally reveals that bathing practices even in China are diverse. But also how internetisation (or may we also add, a form of cultural globalisation) is threatening this diversity and conditioning all non-mainstream practices to fit in with just the single line of thought. So much for the internet being a tool of power!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Eagle cries

Volcanic or not?
Though one associates volcanoes with hot springs, in reality this is not always the case. On Java, Indonesia, there are many (distinct and active) volcanoes. This though hardly implies there are many hot springs.
That said the hot springs there are, are close to volcanoes, Java virtually being an island of volcanoes.

On the very distant slopes before the Lawu volcano mountain becomes part of the riverine plain surrounding Solo city, lies the hot spring of Bayanan. Coming from the northern plain city of Sragen (itself 30 km from northeast of Solo) after 15 km and just beyond the village of Sambirejo, the paddy fields give way to small hillocks covered in teak.

Located in this area, the hot spring of Bayanan is located 2 km beyond the village of the same name on a recently laid asphalt road. With the parking area also covered with the same new surface, it’s a disappointment to see that whatever constituted the recreation area of this hot spring, it’s features are now clinging on to dear life. Private warungs (shop stalls selling everything and doubling as restaurants) seem ok, but the public facilities for which further up the road 2,000 INR was paid (~0,20 $US), are gradually deteriorating.

Despite this, on this Saturday morning, a number of youthful (and very silent, or were they just shy?) couples were occupying the few and far between seating areas. Two small kids were the only ones active; their efforts were focused on throwing bucketfuls of water to the encaged eagle which had little choice than to accept this fate as just one of those days. It was one of those places.

The soak?
Soaking might have taking place in earlier days in a larger swimming pool, but possibly as this was the drier season, the pool was empty.
Beyond the pool is a cemented enclosure which had to be the source. The small view of it’s interior revealed only a reflection, which has to be attributed to a water surface.
Continuing, thick water pipes lead to a number of bathing cubicles which in contrast to the rest of the area, have been maintained. Inside are a bath tub and enough space to change.
It looks clean, so a soak can be enjoyed, why else come here. After the soak, it’s another 2 hour journey to cover the 50 km back to Solo. In just two hours.

Other sources
local government website of Sragen regency has extensive info on the Bayanan hot spring recreation zone. Which includes all info on how to get here and photo's from better times.
'Through scientific research was known that hot water and the substance that were contained inside it was suspected came from the touch magma (geothermal) that touched the source very deep ground water and to was felt in the surface as the source of hot water. Hot exact water in his source + 44 0 C, and after until the surface in the bath to + 36 0 C, in accordance with the temperature of the human body, so as to will be felt was glad and comfortable to bath. Investigation that was done by the Balai Penyelidikan Dan Pengembangan Teknologi Kegunungapian Yogyakarta showed the existence of many elements/the chemical compound that was contained in the Bayanan Hot Water Bathing Place including the sulphur (Sulphur)'.
Tourists are to be persuaded by this text. A selection:
'Bayanan hot spa is considered to have many advantages in curing many kinds of diseases, such as f rheumatism, itch, and so an. Many visitors coming to this place have proven that the hot spa in Bayanan is really curable. Besides curing several diseases mentioned above, this hot spa can also decrease cholesterol level in blood, revitalize our body and muscles, relieve the tiredness, and keep us young'.
A video perhaps?

Getting there: Sragen is closest major town, conveniently found on the main highway from Solo to Surabaya. Train also passes through here. Getting to Bayanan might mean finding some kind of deal with either a small microbus or an ojek (motorcycle). Bayanan is well known, not far from Sambirejo.
Soaking experience: The water was hot, but not too hot (see above). The bath was clean. The cubicle was dark.
Overall impression: Not really worth all the trouble to get out here. Cheap though.
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