Monday, 28 March 2011

Mud on our mind

Tiermas, Navarra, Spain: natural geothermal spring and mud bath: better than a soak? By Patrick_22_b:
'Tiermas Stuwmeer met zwavelbronnen bij ruïnes van oud dorpje'
Hot on the heels of Soaking in Southeast Asia's blog on Thap Ba hot spring (Nha Trang, Vietnam) I got to wondering what would the basis of this hot spring's success. Some suggestions in that blog were:
  • ease of access,
  • high degree of visits by tourists and
  • many potential domestic visitors.
But these do not seem to be the key.

Elsewhere Soaking in Southeast Asia read that the rate of foreign visitors versus nationals was like 40:60, a fact which in itself is not so surprising. However on most visits to hot springs in Southeast Asia, I was the only foreigner. So why so many foreigners?

The only reason why, could be due to the difference in tourists nationalities (many Russians) and/or the potential to take a mud bath.
Yes, mud. Essential to the Thap Ba experience is a mud bath. While in Nha Trang, tourists will go out of their way to take a mud bath, a highlight of their holidays.

Now, as slopping around in slurry is such a draw, why aren't mud baths more commonplace?

Soaking in Southeast Asia put this thought into some research:
  • Mud is healthy
Yes, besides vitamins and organics, mud is essentially a lot of minerals packed together. And we know that these minerals are an essential part of hot spring soaking. And bathing in hot mineral water can assist disease treatment, as well as have marked health benefits when used long term.

World's most used online reference manual, Wikipedia, hardly expands on this theme which seems a bit strange. 'Therapeutic' is one suggestion, another points to 'relieving of arthritis'. Others inputs include 'healing properties' and 'skin revitalization'.

A better source of reference is the entry on mud baths (under the alternative medicine chapter):
'Mud bath is a detox therapy, which has become extremely popular around the globe. Until rather recently, many European practitioners promoted mud baths as a treatment for arthritis. This back to the basics, relatively simplest of alternative therapies, tends to help relax muscles, soothe aches, improve blood circulation and smoothen the skin. With today's emerging trends mud baths are often recommended to help reduce stress and leave us feel rejuvenated at the end of the session.
Taking a hot bath or sauna promotes sweating that flushes the toxins away from the body. Mud baths draw out the toxins and impurities from the body, exfoliating and nourishing the skin'.
Despite this
'Deep relaxation is the primary and most-proven reason to take a hot mineral mud bath. The warm, soft mixture cocoons and buoys up the body and sucks the stress out. There’s no pressure anywhere on the body. The heat of the mud (usually over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) makes you perspire and cleans the pores. The treatment consists of 10-15 minutes of immersion, which improves the complexion, removes toxins, and soothes and relieves joint and muscle pain' (source).
Ooh, that sounds great.

'Analysis of Mud'
From Hell's gate, Wai-ora, Rotorua, New Zealand. Source

Another good source of info is the page on (mud) spa's in Calistoga, California, U.S.A.. Historically it mentions that Cleopatra was one of the first users of (in her case) Dead Sea mud which appears to be the most widely used mud in mud treatments in the global spa industry.
The combination hot springs and volcanic ash seem to be the key. So no wonder that other popular muds are from New Zealand, Ischia and Hungary. Other well known muds (not necessarily of volcanic origin) seeing global use are Multani Mitti (India), Moor Mud (Central Europe; high organic content) and Great Salt Lake mud.

Another trend setter was Queen Sheba (source). Soaking in Southeast Asia notes that links seem to favour queens ... No, not. When retreating from Bulgaria, Hitler has been said to have asked for three train wagons full of local mud (source)!

Bhutan believes that the use of mud can heal war wounds (source) though it doesn't mention whether this concerned physical or psychological wounds ...

Even throughout the animal kingdom, mud baths are known for their propensity to cool down, provide positive skin healing and a source of additional minerals.

Some notes:
- A mud wrap distinguishes from a mud bath as it is essentially a layer of mud brought on the skin, left to dry and then rinsed off, in general less relaxing.
- Clay vs mud. Medindia:

'Clay like mud comes from the earth. However, due to its composition nature it has a tendency to soak up or dry, hence it is used in cosmetic products as a drying agent. It is a component found in many cosmetic products like foundation and powders. Clay has the ability to remove matter suspended in liquid, as its natural property is oil balancing. Thus, clay helps to assist the body in the systemic removal of many industrial chemicals that the body would otherwise have difficulty eliminating'.
But a clay bath?
- Sand baths are quite different, though very easy to produce on a beach. Beppu, Japan has geothermal warmed sand baths.
- Clothing? Any family laundry person would effortlessly point out that mud and clothes are not an ideal combination. Clothing seems to get in the way. For instance, a month after I visited Thap Ba there was still dirt stuck on me after a swim. However other than in festivals (see chapter below on anti-society) clothing seems to be an important part of the more social forms of mud bathing. Naturally further off the paved road, less so. But with a few exceptions (see below: Krinides, Hoyo) the major mud baths of the world are not clothing optional.
No clothing in mud is offensive? In NZ they think not ...
- Mud-wrestling. looks like fun, but why are only women involved? Soaking in Southeast Asia thinks it's not for vanity sakes ...
But what should be stressed is the fun part, relax part and possible social part (We tend to forget socializing in our modern day spa's, it's all me, me, me).

  • Mud is anti-society
Is it? Society seems to prefer clean and proper. Even as kids we know the best way to upset parents is to get dirty. So why not muddy?

Extending this theory, it's easy to see why (pop)festivals go out of their way to feature mud. Even the first festival of festivals (Woodstock) saw revelers seek to unconsciously shock older generations with a mud bath.
Besides underlining their supposed street credibility, at the end of the day a mud bath is just plain fun. Do note that clothing was / is optional and often dispensed of, in favour of practicality while simultaneously increasing the 'shock' value (at least initially, now not so much more in current days ...).

Just a few of the global examples are Woodstock '94 (U.S.A.), Paleo-Nyon (France, the only festival which has institutionalized the mud bath), ConFest (Australia), Big Green Gathering (Australia), Glastonbury (U.K.), Future Music (Australia), Burning Man, (U.S.A.), Down to Earth, (Australia), Rainforest Festival (Malaysia), Confest (Australia), Boryeong (Korea), Bloco de Lama (Brazil) and Sziget (Hungary). Just to name a few.

The Burning Man festival plays out on a dry lake bed deep in Nevada, U.S.A.. Despite the hot spring (muds) of Trego nearby, revelers take the opportunity to enjoy a mud bath during the festival itself. Photo by Gorightly:
'mud_people The attack of the naked mud people, Burning Man, 1997 or 98'.
Not under anti-society but with the summing up of festivals, in India the festival of Babba Jitto (Jhiri, Jammu) pays tribute to the liberator of the farming community. Besides a holy bath devotees also cover themselves with 'holy' mud (source).
  • Mud is different
Seems logical.
  • Mud is cheap.
Mud is everywhere, so a mud bath can be had virtually everywhere as long as it doesn't freeze. That said, there is a tendency for mud baths to take place in the summer or in warmer climes.
In reality there are not many naturally occurring hot mud baths. Nearly everywhere where there is hot mud, there's hot water and thus the latter is more desirable for consummation ...

That's not to say that taking a mud bath in a spa is cheap. Glen Ivy in California charges $85 while in the same state in Calistoga spa's charge about $65. Prices in Europe are no less cheaper ...

Muck around the world
Following is just a short overview of natural mud baths (excl. those spontaneous ones occurring after a rain shower) as well as whether or not these are thermal mud baths (gt: geothermal). Oddly many mud baths are also located on or near a beach.

A Calistoga mud bath. By Simon Edward


'Volcan del Totumo'.
A real mud volcano with a mud bath inside. Colombia. By davidcovo

Vulcano island mud bath, Italy. By daturi
Hoyoland mud onsen, Beppu, Japan; blogged by lorraineorsunshine

Muddying in Southeast Asia
So if worldwide available, they most certainly exist in Southeast Asia? Yes, they do.

Though hot springs have a certain following / touristic value, mud baths are yet to catch up in possibilities despite all what can be said in their favour.

As said Thap Ba (in Vietnam) is by far the most popular in Southeast Asia (even though the mud is resourced from elsewhere, the suggestion that there is both a hot spring and hot mud endures) and others spas and hot springs in the same country are catching up, for instance Binh Chau.

Outside of Vietnam there is the Phu Klon of Mae Hon Song province, Thailand which combines hot water and naturally occurring mud. Marketing wise they are mainly focused on the 'spa' crowd (as opposed to those who want to experience / have fun). At the lower end is the ad-hoc mud bath near one of Pai's hot springs.

The same focus on higher end tourists applies to the mud baths of
Pinatubo, Philippines.

Then there are the mud 'volcanoes' on Malaysia's
Pulau Tiga, an off-shore island off the state of Sabah; the islands high point for tourists is the experience of a mud bath.

Another hot item on the tourism trail. Malaysia's Tiga island mud volcanoes. By cephiroth.chin:
Here you are: Transformed into Mud Man! Actually its adviseble not to jump inside the mud area, to avoid mud go into your eyes & mouth~~~'
Sarawak hosts Kampung Meritam's mud volcanoes (source). Here's an experience by Wilson Chin

More off the track is Bali's Singsing waterfall which should include a mud bath. Not when I was there.

More popular is the mud bath of Vang Viang (Lao) which probably is just a wallow of mud watered from the nearby Nam Song river; with the large amount of near drunk visitors and the lack of drainage there's probably a health issue here, but nevertheless popular. It's more for the rite of passage than any health aspect.

Are there any more mud baths in Southeast Asia?

Muddying the business
Sensing both the increasing popularity and the untapped resources of mud bathing in Southeast Asia, one would expect this to be a growing trend both to expand the offers as well as appealing to a younger generation.
Soaking in hot springs in Southeast Asia as well as worldwide is mostly associated with the elderly and as this blog entry witnesses, the young are often as eager, if not more so, to indulge a soak if dirty (and weird) business is included.

One aspect that might deter the popularization of mud baths, is that muddy baths require possibly even higher standards of hygiene, a fact which could give the whole sector (especially here in Southeast Asia) an impulse to improve standards (but a not much loved move away from naturally, the way Soaking in Southeast Asia approves of ...).

Certainly in Vietnam, I have seen some companies willing to get in on the business. Especially around Nha Trang, despite the proximity of Thap Ba, many high-end hotels are offering their 'own' mud treatments. Naturally they will be followers and though to a certain limit stand to profit from Thap Ba's popularity. On the other hand they'll miss most of the free publicity, why on earth would visitors sign up for an expensive clinically mud treatment when the real thing is just around the corner? Snobbery?

But think about it, Vietnam for instance has quite a few hot springs but usually they are at least 2-3 hours away from each other, so most probably no competition from each other. Another factor favouring the development is mud's cheapness.

Even more exciting is the recent event of new 'mud volcanoes' coming to life. Though Azerbaijan is struggling with it's mud volcano, in Ninh Thuan, Vietnam new mud volcanoes have occurred. Who know's, this might be a destination of the future. Do note that a mud volcano does not always offer an opportunity for a mud bath ...

That's not saying that all mud is good. Probably the worst example of mud gone bad is here in Southeast Asia where in Indonesia, the Lapindo mud lake stands for poor planning, poor regulation and implicit government involvement in avoiding offering adequate compensation to those affected.

So quite an exciting business, might just warrant a blog of it's own ...

On a totally different aspect, I came across an article in the about Munchen's last mud bath. In the article it mentions how in 2009 the last public multiperson mud bath of 2 by 4 m of Munchen was to close.
Decreasing numbers of visitors:
'"Wellness muss eher sauber und steril aussehen" - und nicht braun und schlammig'.
Which translates as wellness should be clean and sterile - not brown and muddy. Really. Soaking in Southeast Asia begs to differ.
And increasing costs: Two truckloads of mud were required each week costing 400 Euro each. Not so dirt cheap!

So is the exception to the rule?

[Note: special extensive mud feature on European Natural Soaking Society (Jan 2013)]

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