Taiwan has always been one of my all-time favourite countries, and one of the main reason is because I adore hot springs of all sorts. Thermal, mineral, man-made… I just love soaking in a hot bath and coming out feeling like I’ve sweated all the toxins out my skin.
But while I was exploring Yilan in the northeastern end of Taiwan during my Career Break, I found the polar opposite of the hot springs – the Su Ao Cold Spring 蘇澳冷泉 – with carbonic acid water and apparently quite rare around the world. Of course I had to check out this cool new find and spend an afternoon chillaxing there. (See how many ‘cold’ puns I managed to fit in there?)
*Update July 2018: The Cold Springs seem to be undergoing major renovation when I was in Su’ao. But while the main outdoor pool features (i.e. the giant leaf) are gone, the private cabins in the back are still open! Also, there is a tiny little public access cold spring right next to the official car park that you can check out for free! More on that soon.
GETTING TO SU AO
I had spent that morning on a failed attempt to make shallot pancakes in Sanxing (the perils of being a solo traveller and not being able to make up minimum numbers) and was pretty hot and tired. From Luodong train station, I hopped on a train to Su Ao for just 20 NTD and arrived in Su Ao in just half an hour.
The Su Ao Cold Springs are really easy to find – they are just a short distance from the train station.
THE SU AO COLD SPRING BATH EXPERIENCE
The Su Ao Cold Springs aren’t the most brand new of premises, but I really liked the fancy giant leaf shelter over the outdoor public baths. I picked a really good time to go because it was nice and empty – I have seen pictures and heard some stories about how it gets really crowded during the peak of summer when everyone wants some reprieve from the sweltering heat. But a midweek afternoon in May is apparently nice and quiet.
Instead, I shelled out for a private bath cabin for 200NTD – it would have cost just 70NTD if I used the public baths, but I hadn’t really planned to visit Su Ao that day so while I did have a towel with me, I did not have my swimming gear, so a private bath it was. The ticket stated that I had an hour, but I was told I had just 40 minutes to enjoy my soak in the cold water and someone would come to knock on my door. It sounds like a short time, but honestly it is sufficient – you’ll see why in a bit.
My little private cabin had a little pool of cold 22 degrees celcius cold spring water, a little wooden bench for my stuff and a pail for the old school bath experience. There was a bench in the water so I could just soak my lower half, or I could sit/kneel on the floor of the stone covered floor for a total soak.
I stripped down and hopped into the little bathing pool, or well more accurately I gingerly lowered myself in because that first plunge was COLD. 22 degrees doesn’t sound so bad, but remember this is almost half your normal body temperature so the cold really pierces through your body. There were some very muffled squeaks from me as I inched my body into the water. I do surprisingly well with cold temperatures considering I’m very much a person of the tropics, but it still took awhile before I could get comfortable.
It’s like when you are soaking in a hot spring and every movement you make sends sharp heat waves along your skin where the ripples touch you. In this case, it’s cold waves. Some people just do the cannonball and get it done and over with – also very much not me. I usually get stuck when it comes to my chest area – dipping into a cold bath makes your lungs feel like they shrunk or something.
What’s cool about the Su Ao Cold Springs water is that you feel like you’re soaking in 7-up, or sparkling water would be more accurate. The water is super carbonated and all the bubbles of carbon dioxide in the water just cling to your skin and you feel a bit like you are fizzing – very cool, but kinda weird feeling.
Also super cool – the cold springs water is drinkable. I wouldn’t drink the bath water you’ve just been soaking because you have no idea how often they clean the bath – the water pretty clear but you can also see that the stones in the water are kinda mossy, and you don’t have that false sense of security like in hot springs where you can just imagine the heat is killing any errant germs in the water.
Still I was pretty happy for my good soak – I popped in and out of the water every few minutes to prevent myself from getting too chilly, and by the time I was done I was feeling super refreshed and my skin felt pretty soft as well. I saw this video from Heels to Wheels where she had a hot tub in her cabin. I kinda wish I had one too.
THE COLD SPRING FACIAL EXPERIENCE
Two things you have to try though – first is sticking your face into the water. I usually avoid putting my face in hot spring waters just because I’m a bit paranoid about being accidentally sensitive to the minerals in there, but a very persuasive local man convinced me of the magical healing powers of the minerals in this carbonated water and said that I had to listen to the signs and stick my face in the Suao Cold Spring Waters.
So of course I did. It’s what I imagine doing a facial in a bowl of Coca Cola or a plate of poprocks must feel like, just without the sticky sugary feeling. You can feel all the bubbles popping merrily against your facial features, and the cold water really wakes you up. Imagine doing this every morning, I’d probably be a lot less grumpy and have excellent morning skin to boot.
The persuasive old man I spoke of earlier is called Mr Xiao, and he’s a resident of Suao and absolutely swears by the awesomeness of the Su Ao Cold Spring Waters as he’s had the good fortune of drinking it every day. He also makes up little fizzy drinks that you can buy at the entrance – the cold spring water on its own tastes like sparkling mineral water (yucks), so he adds a bit of syrup and suddenly you have quite a nice fizzy soda drink on hand (yum).
I definitely had a great afternoon there, but all the cooling benefits of my cold bath in Su Ao were probably washed away by the very long and rainy afternoon hike I did to nearby Nan Fang Ao. That’s something I’ll have to talk about in another post soon, but wow that was a pretty intensive day for me!
Sadly I didn’t get to try the cold spring delicacy that’s unique and famous in Su Ao called Yokan or Yang Geng in Chinese. It translates to Goat Soup, but is really a sweet jelly like dessert that’s made with the Su Ao Spring Waters.. Check out this post to get the lowdown on what on earth Yokan really is, and make sure you bring some back when you visit Su Ao in future!
WHERE I STAYED IN YILAN
There’s not that much to do in Su Ao itself. For my Yilan explorations, I based myself out of Luodong mostly because I’d heard amazing things about the Luodong Night Market.
I stayed at the Green Hostel in a shared dormitory, though it was rather quiet when I was there – I only had one or two other people in my 6 bed dorm room in the two nights I was there. The lady boss Maggie was amazing and super friendly, she gave me so many tips on what to see, where to go and how exactly to get there, so if you are a bit of a clueless wanderer like I am, she’s definitely a great source of information.