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7 Cheap Travel Destinations in Asia for Onsen & Hot Spring Lovers

cheap onsen hot spring asia

I know it makes no sense in sauna-like Singapore, but I am a huge sucker for hot springs of any sort. 

Now that the rainy gloomy days are on us, I feel even more gian whenever I look at the onsen egg floating blissfully in my bowl of steaming hot noodle soup. If only we could trade places!

The ultimate destination for hot spring lovers like me is Japan, the birthplace of the onsen. But last I checked, return flights to Tokyo cost significantly more than $1,000 in December. 

That’s crazy! I’m not going to sacrifice my early retirement plans just to soak in hot water…

 

7 cheap travel destinations for onsen & hot spring lovers

As it turns out, you don’t actually have to fly to Japan to experience the healing effects of a good hot soak. There are quite a few places in Southeast Asia with options too — and they all cost just a few hundred bucks to fly to and back.

Here are 7 cheap onsens / hot springs you can go to this year-end:

Destination Return flight fare*
JB, Malaysia (KSL Hot Spring Resort)
Ipoh, Malaysia (Banjaran Hot Spring) $140 to $200
Bangkok, Thailand (Yunomori Onsen) $200 to $250
Krabi, Thailand (Krabi Hot Spring) $200 to $250
Bali, Indonesia (Banyuwedang Hot Spring) $200 to $300
Medan, Indonesia (Lake Toba hot springs) $200 to $300
Manila, Philippines (Laguna hot springs) $300 to $500

* This range of return flight fares is based on Google Flight results for direct flights in December.

None of these is going to replicate the full Japanese onsen ryokan experience, but then again, they cost a fraction of the price. Let’s dip our toes in.

 

Johor Bahru, Malaysia (KSL Hot Spring Resort)

Okay, some of you are probably rolling your eyes at my suggestion to go to JB for hot springs. Obviously there are no real hot springs in JB… Or in most of Malaysia, for that matter, being located outside of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

But KSL Hot Spring Resort should hit the spot if you want a cheap soak that’s relatively easy to get to. No planning or flight booking needed — you can even go there right now, if you’re so inclined.

 

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Prices are crazy-cheap. Rooms start from $50/night and they include access to the onsen-style baths. The water is supposedly real spring water shipped from Malacca, but at this price, I really don’t care.

How to get there: Drive, take a bus or hop on a train from Singapore to JB ($10 return). The hotel is about a 20 minute drive from JB customs in good traffic.

 

Ipoh, Malaysia (Banjaran Hot Spring Retreat)

Actually, Malaysia does have a few real hot springs, though they’re non-volcanic in nature. They’re mostly scattered throughout the country so there isn’t an obvious place to go to, and some of them are just random pools in the open, so you’d have to share them with whoever else decided to take a day trip there.

 

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But one hot spring that really stands out is Banjaran Hot Spring Retreat in Ipoh, which is a luxury resort set in what looks like an enchanted forest atop a hill. There are no rooms, only villas, and these start from $450 to $500 a night in December.

Price may seem steep, but consider the fact that each couple gets a villa, private pool and personal geothermal hot tub all to themselves. Kids are also not allowed here, so as not to spoil the romance in the air.

 

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How to get there: Direct flights from Singapore to Ipoh cost around $140 to $200 return in December. It takes 30 minutes to drive from Ipoh airport to Banjaran Hot Spring Resort.

 

Bangkok, Thailand (Yunomori Onsen)

Everybody loves Bangkok’s shopping malls, street food, markets and cheap massages, but here’s one more reason to go: Yunomori Onsen Bangkok.

You might have been to the Yunomori Onsen in Singapore (at Kallang Wave) but trust me, the Bangkok one is WAY better: It’s more spacious with lots of natural light, there are more pools and wooden tubs to soak in, and even the water is hotter.

 

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At Yunomori Onsen Bangkok,  a full day pass costs only 480 baht (about $22) compared to the $40 we pay here.

If you’re shy about bathing with other people, you can try another Bangkok onsen called Kashikiri. It’s very traditional-looking Japanese day spa that offers private onsen sessions at 700 baht ($32) for 45 min.

How to get there: Return flights to Bangkok cost $200 to $250 in December. Yunomori Onsen is along Rama IV Road, walking distance from Queen Sirikit National Convention Center MRT.

 

Krabi, Thailand (Krabi Hot Springs)

For a real outdoor hot spring experience in Thailand — not a bunch of manmade hot pools — you will have to go to Krabi for the famous Krabi Hot Springs.

Like virtually everything else in Krabi, this hot spring isn’t for delicate flowers. It’s outdoors, often crowded, and au naturale, so you will have to deal with actual rocks, branches and even dirt.

But it’s geologically fascinating, because the rocks form natural “soaking tubs” and you can feel the hot water flow past your body as you sit there.

 

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The Krabi hot springs trip is usually concluded with a cooling dip in the nearby Emerald Pool. It’s really beautiful.

 

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How to get there: Return flights from Singapore to Krabi cost $200 to $250 in December. The hot springs are about an hour away from central Krabi, but it’s a top tourist attraction there and you shouldn’t have a problem arranging a trip with any hotel or travel agency.

 

Bali, Indonesia (Banyuwedang Hot Spring)

Despite its abundance of geothermal springs, there isn’t much of an onsen culture in Indonesia. Even the hot springs in Bali are not exactly yogi retreats. For example, the most famous one, Banjar Hot Spring, appears more like a public wading pool.

If you want to enjoy Bali’s hot springs in a more meditative resort-type atmosphere, you’d have to venture to northwestern Bali for Banyuwedang Hot Spring.

Like Banjar, the hot spring itself is a public pool and it can get quite crowded. But there are a few upscale resorts here that offer private hot springs, like Mimpi Resort and Naya Gawana Resort. Rooms start from $100 a night.

 

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How to get there: Flights from Singapore to Bali (Denpasar) cost $200 to $300 return in December. It takes about 4 hours to drive from the airport to Banyuwedang hot spring, which is in the extreme northwestern corner of the island.

 

Medan, Indonesia (Lake Toba hot springs)

Anyone remember Lake Toba from geography class? It’s a massive, massive lake in Indonesia, located in the hollow of a volcano (“caldera”, remember?).

This seemingly exotic destination is actually quite cheap for Singaporeans to visit, since we are blessed with an abundance of budget airlines that fly return to the nearest city of Medan.

 

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Lake Toba is known to have a number of hot springs, but there isn’t really one main area or a special hot spring resort, so it’s best to arrange a hot spring tour with your hotel or resort.

There are tons of accommodation options around Lake Toba, from Parapat (main tourist town on the edge of the lake) to Samosir (the island inside the lake) to more remote resorts up on the hillsides (where you can wake up to a view of the entire lake). Accommodation typically costs around $50 a night.

How to get there: It costs about $200 to $300 in December to fly from Singapore to Medan. From there, it’s about a 4-hour drive to Parapat town. Samosir island is a short boat ride across.

 

Manila, Philippines (Laguna hot springs)

I can’t believe I’ve lived this long without realising there’s a whole hot spring cluster only about 3 hours away from Manila airport, but there you go.

This area is called Laguna and it’s a popular bathing / holidaying spot for city dwellers in need of a hot soak. There are countless Airbnbs, hotels, bathhouses and resorts all claiming to offer access to hot spring water baths, so it can be challenging to pick one that’s legit.

After considerable research, I found one that looks quite promising in terms of that Japanese onsen-style experience: The Makiling Onsen Hotel.

 

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If you don’t mind a journey into the wilderness, there’s another one called Hidden Valley Springs Resort, which looks spectacular — a series of hot spring pools in the middle of a jungle:

 

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It’s not exactly the Four Seasons, but if you don’t mind roughing it in nature, you can stay here overnight. Otherwise, day passes are also available — in fact, many travel agencies offer this as a day trip from Manila.

How to get there: Flights to Manila cost between $300 and $500 at the end of the year. From Manila, it’s about 2 to 3 hours’ drive to Laguna.

 

Onsen holidays don’t have to be expensive, but…

… If you’ve got a bigger budget, then here are a few more luxurious hot spring options to consider:

Tokyo, Japan (Hakone onsens)

Of course, the original onsen experience can only be enjoyed in Japan, and one of the best places to do it is in Hakone, the hot spring resort town, less than 2 hours’ drive away from Tokyo. The resorts here are amazing: Imagine relaxing in a perfectly hot and scrupulously clean pool overlooking Mount Fuji.

But the cost is a real killer. I mentioned that round trip flights to Tokyo are really expensive at the end of the year (over $1,000). And as if that wasn’t expensive enough, Hakone’s hot spring resorts typically cost at least $300 or $400 a night.

Taipei, Taiwan (Beitou, Yangmingshan or Wulai onsens)

A cheaper but much less authentic alternative to Hakone is the famous Beitou district near Taipei, Taiwan. Easily-accessible by Taipei’s MRT, Beitou is chock-full of private onsens and resorts. If you want a less-crowded option, you can go to Yangmingshan or Wulai (both easy day trips from Taipei).

That said, no matter which hot spring area you go to, staying overnight at a hot spring hotel will be very expensive and can set you back anything from $200 to $300 a night. However, you do save on flight costs, as return fares to Taipei are about $500 to $600 in December.

Chongqing, China (upscale hot spring resorts)

Like Japan, China also has a rich hot spring bathing culture (hey, where do you think the hotpot concept came from?). Right now, one of the best places for Singaporeans to catch a glimpse of how the Chinese nouveau riche pamper themselves is in Chongqing.

Chongqing is home to at least 2 palatial 5-star onsen resorts: Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei (from about $500 a night) and Bolian Resort & Spa (close to a $1,000 a night, dear god). With resorts at these heart attack-inducing prices, it’s a good thing flights to Chongqing cost “only” about $500 to $600 return.

 

Should you buy travel insurance?

A spa / onsen / hot spring holiday may seem like the ultimate do-nothing kind of trip — what could possibly happen?? — but it’s still important to get travel insurance.

This is especially the case if you’re travelling to a country known for volcanic activity and/or other natural disasters, such as Japan, Taiwan or Indonesia. If this is the case, make sure that your travel insurance actually covers natural disasters. (Not every policy does!!)

Otherwise, you may still want to make sure you’re covered because onsen trips involve high temperatures and sometimes high altitudes. Not to scare you, but, you know, people do faint and require medical attention when doing these things.

If you’re looking for a cheap travel insurance policy that covers the travel destination of your choice, use this handy MoneySmart wizard to compare price and coverage from multiple insurers.

Do you have a favourite onsen that’s not on the list? Tell us in the comments.

 

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