Happy Friday people! It’s the first day I’m ‘jobless’ and it’s pretty gratifying to be lounging around at home while you know everyone is working… Anyway here’s a little post that’s been sitting around my drafts for awhile… enjoy and daydream on a Friday people!
One huge reason I love going to Taiwan is that they are full of Hot Springs, or better known as Wen Chuen ??. In Singapore, our closest claim to a natural hot spring is a tap in Sembawang, so you can see why I’m so fascinated by the proliferation of them in Taiwan! Not only are they everywhere, but there are even different types of Hot Spring waters, and in my grad trip in 2007, I had the chance to try out 5 of them, all in different parts of Taiwan.
Bathing in hot springs is so refreshing. In cold weather it’s an absolute joy to be all warm and fuzzy, and practically immune to the chill when you emerge… for awhile at least! Even in warm weather, hot springs always leave me feeling refreshed, relaxed, and really hungry.
The Taiwanese use a certain symbol to represent Hot Springs (see picture above) Kinda looks like steamboat, but 3 strands of steam rising up from a bowl gets the idea across. Look out for this sign when you’re looking for your next hot dip.
More about hot springs in general below, and those that I visited in Taiwan!
Hot Spring Etiquette
There are certain rules to follow when bathing in the hot springs.
- The public hot springs I visited didn’t require you to strip down like those that I’ve encountered in Japan – but you had to be in swimming gear and they were unisex
- People don’t wrap in towels like you see on travel shows, but they do normally bring a small towel along with them.
- The small towel, I was once told, was something you could wet and put on top of your head so the heat difference between your body and head wouldn’t be so extreme, and you wouldn’t feel faint.
- Don’t bring things into the pool with you – and remember to remove your jewelery!
- Bring a water bottle and keep yourself hydrated – the hot water dehydrates you quickly.
- Wash yourself before you enter the pools, and wash yourself again when you get out. There are usually showers or taps in plain sight.
- Don’t soak for too long at one go. You can spend the whole afternoon there if you like, but pop in and out every few minutes or so you don’t overheat.
- Take note of the cleaning time for the pool! Normally they close the hot spring pools for a short period (from half an hour to longer) to clean, so find out the times beforehand if possible so you don’t get caught waiting. I missed out on checking out Yang Ming Shan’s hot springs because of this!
Millennium Hot Springs – Bei Tou ?? Public Baths
Location: Xin Bei Tou ??? (Xin Dian – Dan Shui Line, the red one), Taipei
Easily reached via MRT – you have to change for just one stop at Bei Tou station for Xin Bei Tou. The baths are just a quick walk from the Xin Bei Tou MRT station, located near the Hot Springs park, down the road just after the Hot Spring museum* and before Hell Valley**.
I’ve visited this particular bath 3 times to date, because it’s the most convenient (in Taipei) and also because it’s really cheap – it costs just NT40 to enter. There are lockers to stash your stuff too for another NT20.
It’s an outdoor area, open air and surrounded by walls and some greenery for privacy. You are subjected to the weather though, which can be pretty hot in summer, but otherwise it’s pretty charming.
It’s the public baths, so it’s like a public swimming pool – you get all sorts of people sharing the baths. Most of the people are old folks though – there are hardly any young people who seem to like hot springs in Taiwan – or perhaps they prefer the private baths? There are a whole slew of private bath/hot spring hotels around the area which couples might prefer. I personally like that it’s common so friends of different genders can hang out together. You might get lotsa weird stares by the old folk for being young, foreign, and in a bikini. But hey, you’re a tourist, who cares!
There are 4 pools here, with different levels of hotness from the lowest to the highest.
- Level 1 (the lowest pool) is pooh-pooh, lukewarm.
- Level 2 (in the middle) is a comfortable sort of warm.
- Level 3 (on the top, uncovered) is the hot spring hot – you can feel the heat when you move or wiggle your fingers
- Level 4 (covered by the pavilion) is kinda prickly painful! I’ve only ever made it so far as my knees… only the real hardcore old folk stay in here!
There are also 2 cool pools to chill out in between hot dips, these are nice when its a hot summer afternoon.
* Hot Spring Museum – it’s free to enter, and pretty informative. Little old ladies (volunteers I think) act as guides in this 2 storey museum built in a restored building. The top level talks about the history of the Bei Tou area as is styled after old Japanese houses. The bottom level talks about hot springs in general, the science et all, and is styled after the western baths. Pretty interesting tour if you’re waiting around for the baths to be cleaned…
** Hell’s Valley – further along the river and the closest you can get to the ‘source’ of the hot spring water, it’s a geothermal pool of steaming sulphur water. This is hot spring water you DON’T want to be soaking in as it’s steaming HOT; you’d probably cook alive if you fell in! Oddly, in my head I kept calling this place Hell’s Kitchen. Or Devil’s Valley.
* When I was there in 2008 they were doing some construction in that area so we couldn’t see the pool… Not sure if that’s still going on…
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Rui Sui Yong Quan
Location: Somewhere in the countryside, Rui Sui, Hua Lien County
This particular hot spring experience was arranged by the hostel we stayed at as part of a package deal including accommodation and a rather unsuccessful attempt to white water raft. (My advice? rafting in May is NOT a good idea) We were all tired out from the ‘rafting’ and were looking forward to a nice soak. We took a chartered mini van out to a more rural part of Rui Sui (though it’s not that far from the town center, which is really just 1 main street).
The place looked a little dubious at first – there was a dingy looking outdoor pool which needed cleaning so we opted for the indoor baths. Each of us took a cubicle, within which contained a little changing area and a stone lined bath. The bath isn’t very big – I can sit in it, but I can’t stretch my legs out fully. There’s a hot and cold water tap to adjust the temperature to your liking.
The special thing about these hot springs is that the water is carbonated, not the more common sulphuric sort (ala Bei Tou). The water is clearer and doesn’t smell. Not a big difference to me though, I just enjoy being able to soak in comfortingly hot water.
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Lyu Dao ?? (Green Island) Zhao Ri Hot Springs ????
Location: Southern end of Lyudao, the latter being a choppy hour’s ferry ride from Tai Tung. Most people get around Lyudao by motorbike, though none of us could ride so we rented a car. There’s only one road around the island so it’s hard to get lost, but the roads are pretty dark in the pre-dawn hours.
This would be my FAVOURITE hot spring, in Taiwan and ever. It’s 1 of just 3 saltwater hot springs in the world (the other 2 are in Japan and Italy) and it’s right by the sea, so most people go early to catch the sunrise while soaking. We went really early – like 3am or something, it was still dark, I was still groggy and the buses of tourists hadn’t arrived yet, so we managed to get the best spot in the warm pool facing the ocean.
The sun rise was magnificent. It was marred only by the onset of tourists who talked really loudly. Argh. The crowds are mostly there just before and after sunrise though, so the rest of the time we had the place mostly to ourselves.
It’s a pretty nice place – there are indoor pools, but the ones to catch the sunrise in are outdoors with 3 temperatures – lukewarm, comfy warm and hot. A little further out there are these pools of perfect temperature water – they’re neither hot not cold and you feel like you could swim in them all day. After the sun rose I spent most of my time in these lovely pools instead.
There are also troughs where they pipe up the boiling hot water and allow you to cook stuff! We bought raw eggs the day before to cook. Stupidly we didn’t bring any thing to cook it with, but we found some discarded nettings which were very useful. Hot Spring Eggs are a lot springier than hard boiled eggs, very yummy!
Loved this place! I hope to go back again some day.
2 more locations to go! Here is Part 2…