Here's to health with a beer bath
FROM hot springs to the Dead Sea, fresh milk and the blood of virgins, humans have been tireless in the search for the ultimate bath.
But it's an endeavour that's doomed to failure: Our finicky tastes will make sure we'll never be satisfied with whatever infusion/broth/goop that we manage to concoct just so we can soak ourselves in something a little more exotic.
Yet, judging from the following list of unusual baths found around the world, bathtime may just be the most transforming - if not the weirdest - experience of our lives:
Azerbaijan is so rich in oil that you can literally take a bath in it. At the Naftalan Health Centre, in the city of Naftalan, visitors can treat themselves to crude-oil baths that advocates claim can treat over 70 types of ailments including arthritis, skin diseases, allergies, headaches, insomnia and even infertility.
While it's hard to believe that dunking yourself in the black-brown gooey substance can do all that, the practice has deep historical cred. Oil spas have existed here as early as the 6th century, and the town's crude oil was traded as far away as India and China during the heyday of the Silk Road - its healing qualities were even noted by Marco Polo.
The secret of Naftalan oil lies in the oil itself, which is unique to the town. Unlike other crude-oil grades, Naftalan's contain a high percentage of naphthenic hydrocarbons that have anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities, while lacking flammable compounds.
At the Yunessun Spa Resort in the city of Hakone, Japan, you can spend your entire stay soaking in various themed baths, kitschy decor included. While most of the baths are normal by most people's standards, it's the speciality baths that they flock here for.
Having already poured sake, red wine, green tea and coffee into its tubs, the resort reached a new level of kooky when it began offering ramen noodle baths in 2009.
Sitting in a tub filled with synthetic noodles (you can't eat them) and pork broth, as though you were an ingredient in a bowl of ramen, may sound more surreal than therapeutic. But spa owner Ichiro Furuya claims it's good for the skin.
"Lately, people are very concerned about having beautiful skin, and they know the effect of collagen, which is in our pork-based broth," he says with the dermatologically unverified authority of a street-corner noodle hawker.
In Prague, the famed capital of the Czech Republic, locals drink liquid amber like water, but that's not all they do with it.
At Spa Beerland, named the top beer spa by Tripadvisor, patrons soak themselves for 20 minutes in oak tubs filled with a warm yeasty mix of hops and malt that reeks unmistakably of beer, before resting on a bed of wheat straw.
The spa's website claims that the "high hop oil content contributes to overall vitality and helps open pores on the skin" while the "high dose of vitamin B and active enzymes in the brewer's yeast have a salutary effect on skin regeneration".
To enjoy the full benefits of the beer bath, clients are advised by the spa not to shower it off for five hours, with the assurance that the bath will not leave them stinking like a sailor on shore leave.
From the South Tyrol region of Italy comes the hay bath, an old practice that apparently began when farmers, tired after working in the high alpine meadows, laid down on beds of hay and woke up feeling refreshed.
These days, however, you don't have to trudge up the slopes to find grass to lie on. You can opt for a less rustic approach at Hotel Heubad, opened in 1903 as the first spa to offer hay baths.
Patrons are covered in hay collected from "unfertilised meadows above 2,000m" on Seiser Alm, the highest meadow in Europe.
The hay is then heated to about 40 deg C, at which point you will sweat for about half an hour and hopefully absorb some of its all-natural healing properties. The hay is believed to relieve muscle and joint ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, sore backs and necks.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK