Hot Cupping in China Therapy or Just Pain?

Written By: The Planet D

If the idea of having 30 big round bruises on your back for about a week sounds like fun to you, make sure to try hot cupping while in Yangshuo, China.

For some unknown reason hot cupping sounded like fun to Dave and I.

After a week of cycling and climbing in China not to mention a of a couple of weeks of hard adventure travel in Fiji, we thought that a relaxing session of hot cupping would be an excellent way to work out the kinks from travel.

Hot Cupping – Yangschuo, China

bamboo cups for  hot cupping session in china
Traditional hot cups

Recommended by the Lonely Planet and our Intrepid Travel guide, we booked a session with Dr. Lilly Li.

For Y40, we were whisked into the massage room and immediately told to get on the table.

Dr. Li told Dave that it was fine to take photographs because she would be giving us two separate sessions so he stayed to record it all for you to see.  (We have no shame, anything for the blog)

I am glad that I went first because if I had to watch it happen, I probably would have chickened out.

About the Hot Cup Massage in China

hot cupping china deb
Deb with the cups on

Within seconds she popped the hot cups onto my back.  As she stuck them to my skin, I felt a constrictive feeling. 

My muscles started to tighten up and I wondered if I would start to panic. 

As I breathed through it and talked about how it felt, I started to relax and actually enjoy the sensation.

Once the final cup is put on, you have 10 minutes to relax and let them do work their magic. 

I started to feel very calm and enjoyed the squeezing of my muscles as the tension melted away.

The cups came off with a sting, almost like having a band-aid ripped off in one swift motion and before I knew it, my session was over.

Hot Cupping originated in China.

hot cupping china back
Marks will be there for at least 1 week.

It may be unpleasant, but when in China, one must sample everything.

Once the pain subsided, I felt completely chilled out and my back was very loose. 

Dave however had to go next and he just finished watching it all. 

To watch the process, hot cupping looks painful and he was a bit freaked out.

Dave’s Turn

hot cupping procedure
Dave’s turn for Hot cupping

As she put the hot cups onto his back, I had the chance to see exactly what I had gone through. I had no idea what it looked like.

Dr. Li uses the traditional bamboo hot cups and lights each one with fire before setting them onto our backs.

Most people in the West now use glass cups and stick on far fewer cups.

Dave commented on the tightening feeling he had on his.  

I remembered my session (because talking made me feel better) as the squeeze started to make me feel panicky.  

The squeeze of the hot cups makes you almost feel a little claustrophobic.  But it quickly subsides as you breathe into the uneasiness.

Check out our video of Hot Cupping and Decide if you want to give it a try

hot cup

It was quite a sight to see the 20 or so cups piled onto his back.

It took Dave a little more time to relax than me and I think that it was because he just finished watching the process on me. 

What you don’t know won’t hurt you and I had no idea what ordeal I was going through.

As our cups came off, we both had deeper and darker bruising around our shoulder areas.

hot cupping china dave
Darker bruises on shoulders from carrying packs

The cups draw out toxins from the body and muscles and we were probably darker around our shoulders because of carrying our packs day in and day out. 

Karen, our Intrepid guide looked at our marks and laughed at how bruised we were.  “

You are obviously more toxic than others and carry a lot more tension.”  She. She had never seen bruises so bad.

About Hot Cup Therapy

A person can do two sessions of hot cupping per month. 

It is not advisable to do more as you will stretch your skin and there is no need to detoxify too much.  

We are quite toxic, so I think that we will be doing another Hot Cupping session during our time in China.

What’s the verdict on Hot Cupping?

dr lily li
The recommended place to go

While we found it odd and a bit stressful during the procedure, we felt great afterwards.

But we were stuck with bruises on our back for two weeks while walking around China in the heat.

I think if we do it more often, we won’t be so bruised and they won’t use as many cups. If there are a few slight bruises it won’t be so embarrassing.

But we give Hot Cupping a thumbs up and when in China, be sure to give it a try!

Hot Cupping in Yangshuo Fast Facts.

Dr Lilly Li is located on the canal near the Chinese Food Bazaar. Look for the Lonely Planet Sign out front.

Costs are:

Hot Cupping Y40
Therapeutic Massage Y80  (50 minutes)
Foot Reflexology Y90 (1 Hour)
1 CAD = Y6.8
1 USD =  Y 7

See more unique massage treatments

Read More about travel in China

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

40 thoughts on “Hot Cupping in China Therapy or Just Pain?”

  1. Cupping, is a great option for those who want all the pains in their bodies to be thrown away instantly. The medical experts put on the cups at right areas that can suck the aches right away.

  2. So, exactly what “toxins” are removed by cupping? And why would this procedure cause the “toxins” to be drawn out? Why wouldn’t it be just as likely to pull out, say, the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antibodies, and other beneficial compounds that your body needs?

  3. Well, if you want another extreme cupping therapy (Higama), just come to my place in Jakarta, Indonesia.
    It’s not only give you red dots. But also remove your dirty and thick blood (about 120 cc) out of your body by using a small lancet. Though looks horrible because your blackish ang gelly-like blood out of your body, but it’s not painful at all. Just like bitten by a small ant. Much less painful than having an injection.

    It’s very effective to prevent and cure blood related disease like hypertension, stroke, diabetes, gout, etc or simply fatigue.

    You could look people who have blood cupping therapy here:

    If you are afraid having blood cupping therapy, just look at 6 year old boy here that raise his 2 thumbs up while having blood cupping therapy:

    It’s only take 20 minutes, and you feel your fatigue and headache away and your vision become sharp and clear.

  4. A friend of mine who lives in China had told me about this and that it is actually somewhat painful, and about the scars too. But I never thought that the scars could be this bad. Frankly it doesn’t seem much fun, but then something to be tried!
    .-= Federico´s last blog ..Washington DC in aย Day =-.

    • Yes, it was a little painful and freaky. It is interesting to try though:) It has been almost a month and we still have faint scars on our backs, can you believe it?

  5. My dad used to trade hot cupping sessions for lawyer work way back when (my dad was a good guy and liked to help people in need much to his dismay) and I would always giggle when he would come out of the room with the equivalent of giant hickies all over his back. He swore by it though!
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Why Travel Now =-.

  6. Not going to lie … that looks incredibly painful to me! I’ll take a massage any day!
    .-= JoAnna´s last blog ..Crawling Through the Cu Chi Tunnels- Vietnam =-.

  7. Well, that’s just completely put me off the notion of trying hot cupping, I have to say. Though whenever I see a picture of a celebrity with cupping marks, I will think of you guys, face down on that table…
    .-= Theodora´s last blog ..Seeing Stars in the Outback =-.

  8. Wow – you two are so brave! I love that you’re willing to try out the most bizarre things so that you can tell the rest of us about it……and Deb I agree that it was best that you went first – I”m guessing that Dave is like most guys who would never chicken out and admit that they are afraid to try something that their wife/girlfriend just tried! ๐Ÿ™‚
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..How to Get Invited on Press Trips =-.

  9. So how does it feel a couple of days later? do you still have the bruising?
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Dec 3- Luxury Hotels in Paris will add to the Romance on your next romantic trip to Paris =-.

  10. You guys are nutters, but in the nicest possible way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Kim (who is on the trip with you)
    .-= kimbofo´s last blog ..Dead Lovely by Helen FitzGerald =-.

    • Haha, I knew it was you as soon as I read the comment. Now I have your blog and I can find out what books I need to be reading when we get to Thailand. Are you going to do the fire foot massage with us tomorrow?

  11. You know, my Russian teacher told me about this in Kyrgyzstan and I thought she was nuts. She said it helped to cure a cold.

    • We are going to to it again in a week or so. I have felt exhausted ever since doing the first session and I wonder if it is because I have a lot of toxins built up. Maybe a second session will take away all the toxins and I will feel amazing.

  12. Your blog just keeps getting better and better; I love that you have no shame ๐Ÿ™‚ btw, if you develop a taste for this torture, er, treatment, I know a very good Chinese doctor here in Toronto who does this. In fact, I’ve had it done, but she used a lot less cups. Though more acupuncture needles.
    .-= Mariellen Ward´s last blog ..India and Canada shake hands and dance =-.

    • Thanks Mariellen. That means so much to us for you to say. You know how it is, we are always questioning everything. Is it interesting, do people care, are we providing any valuable information. When someone leaves a comment like yours, it makes us feel just a little better about things :-)

  13. I have always wondered about this – the celebs all do it so I told myself I would give it a try if ever given the chance ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the video and insiders look…the thought of it feeling claustrophobic sounds intimidating, but detoxing as a side benefit would be worth it!

    • You should try it Shannon, and now that you are warned about the tightness, you will be prepared. I am a bit of a wimp and suffer from claustrophobia every once in a while so I bet it won’t be so bad for you.

  14. Whooooooa, definitely had a different kind of “cupping” in mind.
    .-= Candice´s last blog ..When Rose Blooms โ€“ A special plea from The GODโ€™S CHILD Project =-.

    • It wasn’t as painful as it looks, we were just unprepared for what we were getting ourselves into. It mostly just stings when they are taking the cups off, the rest is just a little uneasiness.

  15. One of my colleagues tried cupping when I worked in Malaysia…watching them go through it was enough for me! Good on you for taking it on!
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Dec 1- The Ipad – Kids Best Friend =-.

    • Thanks Yi Lin. You should try it sometime. We are definitely going to do it again before we leave China. We need all the help we can get to become healthy. Thanks for the well wishes. We are absolutely loving your country.

    • Thanks so much. How is your daughters Mandarin coming along? It will be very helpful for you once you get to China and yes, you will definitely have to give it a try. Since you have done it before, you won’t be as surprised by the sensation as we were:-)

  16. I’ve seen this a couple times and always been quite curious on the way it feels. Thanks for the briefing and explanation of the effects and affects. Looks like I’ll have to try it out!
    .-= Migrationology´s last blog ..Into Nubia- Aswan- Abu Simbel and Temple of Isis at Philae =-.

    • Good to hear you’ll give it a try Mark. Tomorrow we are going for a foot massage where we get our feet set on fire. Now that is going to be fun!

    • It will definitely help the pain in your shoulder. It squeezes the muscles like nothing I have ever felt before. I am totally going to have to watch the Karate Kid. Since being in China and Hong Kong I want to rent a bunch of Hong Kong action movies. We have visited all the amazing places that they are set in. Bamboo forests, mountains, karst formations, rivers. I keep envisioning all of them.

  17. Holly molly,
    Those marks do look pretty gnarly. Err, I think I’ll stick to deep tissue massage. Then again, I’m sorta curious to see how bruised my shoulders would look from 9 hours in front of a computer every day.
    .-= Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s last blog

    • Jill, you should give it a try. I carry my pack on my left shoulder and my left shoulder was very black and Dave carries his on his right shoulder and his right was black. it definitely targets the areas that need the most help.

  18. I’ve had cupping in the US many times. The tiny ones can hurt but the size you had is not bad. My husband doesn’t like when I get it done because he says it looks like I was attacked by a giant octopus!
    .-= Jennifer Barry´s last blog ..Kyoto Comes to Texas =-.

  19. Ummm… wow. Ouch. We have done a lot of crazy massage therapy things but this is the most awful spa therapy I have ever seen. Good on y’all for trying it and I’m glad you both enjoyed it.