HANOI -- Yoko Onsen resort lies nestled deep in lush mountain forests in Vietnam's Quang Ninh Province. It has all the trappings a traditional upscale Japanese resort needs, from luxurious ryokan-style buildings to baths bubbling with mineral-rich hot-spring water.
Since it opened in June, the new leisure complex has become a hot topic among trend-conscious Vietnamese. It may help spread the Japanese onsen culture of bathing nude for relaxation and wellness in the country, where the closest thing to an onsen is a hot-spring pool to take a dip in while wearing a bathing suit.
Yoko Onsen, the first Japanese-style hot spring resort in Vietnam, is a three-hour drive from Hanoi, the capital. It is located off the beaten track and in a beautiful tranquil setting overlooking forests and hills in the karst landscape stretching from Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
"It is good to be able to enjoy bathing in a Japanese-style onsen in Vietnam when you cannot travel to Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic," a 41-year-old corporate employee visiting from Hanoi said with a smile.
All baths are outdoors. The complex is divided into three zones: separate areas for men and women, and one for both men and women to bathe together in swimsuits.
Besides 25 bathtubs, the complex also has bedrock bathing facilities and saunas. The water is rich in sodium and chloride ions, and the temperature of the spring's source is 42 degrees Celsius. The spring water is diluted with no other water.
Unlike Japanese, Vietnamese do not bathe or soak with strangers completely naked. When this reporter visited Yoko Onsen, young guests were making a lot of noise in the mixed bathing area. A manager at the resort said it will try to help Vietnamese learn how to enjoy onsens in the Japanese style.
The charge for bathing during daytime on weekdays is 1 million dong (about $43) for an adult. That is more than 20 times the amount an average Vietnamese spends on lunch.
But the resort complex is generating a wave of interest in a country whose tourism industry is gaining steam. Reservations are needed for weekends because it may be full. The state-run TV broadcaster recently aired a report on its growing popularity.
The government aims to promote the tourism sector, and so Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attended the opening ceremony.
The resort is operated by Sun Group, a Vietnamese conglomerate developing and operating leisure and travel facilities. The company is considering the construction of an adjacent rehabilitation hospital using the hot spring. Sun Group Chairman Dang Minh Truong said, "We want to make Yoko Onsen a world-class health care service facility."
Since there are few volcanoes in Vietnam, the country is not strongly associated with hot springs. However, there are some 400 hot spring sources in the country, according to local media.
A growing number of resorts with hot spring facilities are popping up. In December 2020, Katsuura Hotel Mikazuki, a spa operator based in Japan's Chiba Prefecture, opened an onsen-themed leisure complex in Da Nang City. Onsens are gradually gaining recognition in the country.
As Vietnam has managed to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control, domestic demand for tourism has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
After the pandemic ends, many Vietnamese who have become enamored by the onsen culture may visit Japan to dip in a hot spring.