One minute I am in a modern golf resort surrounded by several sprawling 18-hole courses, the next I am in 1940s Shanghai surrounded by antique signage, hand-painted movie historic posters, and vintage tea exporters.
Shop owners flit up and down the street in bright-coloured cheongsams against a backdrop of buildings that have been recreated from historical photographs, places like the West Hill Clock Tower and the fully operational Chongqing Guotai movie theatre.
This is Movie Town, or Hainanese Hollywood, the brainchild of Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, whose hits include Aftershock, If You Are the One, and Back to 1942, on which the first phase of Movie Town is based.
Feng – known as the “Chinese Spielberg” – realised how sad he feels on the completion of a film when the sets that he has spent months on are torn down and his solution was to pack them up and make them a permanent fixture at Mission Hills resort.
On the day it opened, 8000 tourists made their way through Movie Town’s Chonqing Street, many renting traditional costumes and parasols to make them feel more like time travellers as well as tourists.
I opt out of wearing a changshan for my tour but once enveloped by the time-worn buildings –which are made from wood that is burned and sanded to look aged – you can’t help but feel as if you are part of another time.
There is a sprinkle of Hollywood magic back at Mission Hills proper too as we walk along the Avenue of Stars, handprints of the great and good that have taken part in the Mission Hills Celebrity Pro Am. There are imprints from Hugh Grant and Adrien Brody, the latter of whom broke ground on Movie Town.
That evening I head to Haikou town and into the hands of another famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who has moved from directing films, to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and now Impressions Hainan, a large-scale expressive dance performance said to “represent the essence of Hainan life”.
It’s a technically impressive affair, though Hainan’s indigenous cultures play a supporting role to choreographed beach frolics that seem more Beach Blanket Bingo than House of Flying Daggers but it’s a brassy attempt to woo tourists to an idealised way of life in Hainan.
The big chill
They don’t do things by half in China, and Mission Hills Resort holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of “World’s Largest Mineral Springs Resort” clocking in at 88 kilometres square.
My room in the 18-storey main building overlooks the mineral springs, 168 pools of naturally warm water, so I decide to start there in the evening as suggested at reception. The pools are open late into the night so I grab a robe and set off for the springs, an amusingly kitschy affair, themed by continent. What better place to start than the cradle of civilisation where my first pool is a tepid bath overlooked by stone elephants and lions, a small stone bed submerged underwater.
I’m not sure I like being watched so it’s is off the far more engaging Middle East, where a series of small caves are strung with Persian-inspired lanterns and the pools are scented with small hessian bags of herbs and spices and vary in temperature. The black pepper pool is skin-tingling hot, the cardamon pool a cold shock by comparison, but the thyme pool is Goldilocks just right, now I finally start to get this mineral springs idea.
It’s restful bobbing in the dark with the strong scents of the middle east but I have a whole world to explore so I robe up again and head to Oceania, Asia and Europe. The highlight turns out to be a tour of the Amazon River in the Americas section through winding caves, tidal pools and waterfalls aimed at massaging your head. Relaxed? Sure. Amused? Without a doubt.
The following morning I am booked in for a traditional Chinese reflexology session in the main Hakou Spa. It is a coliseum-like circular house based on traditional architecture from Fuijian Tulou where smaller versions of this structure would house an entire family. The huge reception is dominated by a high roof supported by traditional bamboo (reinforced with concrete due to the large scale. I am escorted down the long hallway of rooms but once inside the warm wood and stone rooms are intimate and my 45-minute foot reflexology had me walking on air.
Mission Hills may be mass market relaxation, but it is done with flair and an eye on traditional cultural references. This resort did not get to be a premier golfing destination just by breaking records, it wants to makes sure you come back for the experience not just to say you have been to the biggest, but also the best.
Images sourced from Mission Hills China
Disclosure: The writer explored Hainan with assistance from Mission Hills China
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