Lanzhou, China: Sleeping in a ‘Health Spa’


This is my debut post on ooaworld, a travel diary extract. I hope there will be many more traveling stories to come, including travel tips for travelers, backpackers and wannabe travelers out there. Hope you enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts with me.

– Coco

After two days in Dunhuang visiting the Mogao Grottoes and desert dunes, we took a flight at midnight and arrived in Lanzhou at 1:20 AM – we were looking to take the 5:45am train towards Xi’an.

Wow! So we didn’t get the 5:45 train for Xi’an. It was freezing, two in the morning at Lanzhou train station and the only thing open was a 24/7 KFC. No coffee at the KFC but they gave us black tea with an orange-ish flavor – weird but warm. We thought that at least we’d be warm and might steal a few hours of sleep… but that didn’t happen as the cleaning lady came by and asked us to move over. So we decided we’d try find a hotel and some Wifi.

We found a ‘business hotel.’ The clerk didn’t speak English, and had no idea what we were looking for. Great. I leafed through my Survival Chinese book and gestured that we were trying to make it to Xi’an, pointing to the word ‘bus station,’ hoping that she’d understand. She did. Yes! “There are buses for Xi’an, simply go straight and take a left.” Got it. Great.

“Xie xie, bye.” We return towards the train station and took a left, and came upon a parked bus. Everything is dead quiet though, closed for the night. There’s a man dozing off in an office. I knock on his door and do the best I can to perfectly say in Chinese “ We want to go to Xi’an.” There’s a strong smell of skunk or weed in the office – but this is no time to do detective work.

The man answers (from what I gather) that “the office is closed, try the train station, you’ll be better off.” No kidding. If there were trains, we wouldn’t be here. Again, “Xie xie, bye.”

We find another hotel nearby the train station. We go in. There’s a security guard and large sofas in the lobby. We try to explain that we’d like to sit down for a while, and possibly use a computer if there’s any Wifi. Is there? The man looks at us sleepily, with a complete lack of understanding.

We pull out the big guns, do some theatrics, some mimicking/acting, some Survival Chinese pointing. We are not getting through. Then he points to his ear, either to say he’s deaf or doesn’t understand, and motions towards the above floor. We say “hao” (okay), hoping that there’s perhaps a business center or something, and follow him towards the elevator. We both get in.

The elevator doors close. The lights go dim. The doors open again, and we’re still on the ground floor. The security guard comes in to accompany us, to the third floor. We’re greeted by a sign that says “Health Spa.” There are three people sleeping on couches, complete with comforter. We follow the guard into another room.

Here we find about fifteen people lying on mattresses, clutching suitcases. Are these spa beds? But they’ve got pillows, comforters and are snoring. We gather that they’re also waiting for their train the next day. On the walls of the room are wallpapers of a half-naked Venus and colorful lamps. In the back, there are two empty beds. The guard whispers: “100 RMB for the two of you” – about $16, or the price of a ‘nice’ regular room. We look at each other, we’re exhausted and need some rest, so we pay.

A (very) well-endowed, tiny woman comes in and gives us pillows and comforters. Well, that’ll do. We are way past our bedtime. We’re beginning to think this is a “happy ending” spa – there are massage tables and obscure backrooms. No equipment for mani/pedis or facials though. But we promptly fall asleep, holding hands together – and our bags.

The next day, we awake to a nearly empty room. There’s one man left, who spent most of the night on his phone smoking cigarettes – we’re always appreciative of the ethics of politeness around here. We get ready to leave. The men in the spa are ogling me, wondering whether I’m a new recruit. Don’t think so.

Oh well, we’re laughing about it already. We found a bus at 1:30pm to Xi’an – who knows how long it’ll take. I’m now writing from the hotel lobby, sitting on the chairs we wanted to sit on 12 hours ago, where we first met the security guard. I don’t think he was deaf: he was probably gesturing ‘sleep.’ It got lost in translation.

Our Roommate

Our Roommate

4 Responses

  1. When I was in Roma, Italy. Attempting to check-in and out of the monastery I was staying in there was a bit of a language barrier. Luckily when I checked out their was a woman who spoke Italian and was able to help me out. My little Italian dictionary helped but I would have been there much longer without the language help. Continued safe travels.

    • coconutwp says:

      Thank you Jim! Don’t these little “mis”-adventures make the trip more fun? Safe travels to you too!

  2. Kieran Maynard says:

    Great story. I had no idea you could sleep inside a spa like that. Technically, foreigners are only allowed to check into certain (more expensive) hotels, so it can be hard to find places that will let you in.


    • coconutwp says:

      We had no idea either! We were just thankful to have found a warm place to stay that night. Thanks for reading 🙂

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