I’m not really a huge fan of hot springs. I mean, I like them enough. They’re relaxing and rejuvenating and don’t require any physical exertion. It’s mostly that I can’t manage to stay in them longer than five minutes because of the sweat that begins to pour down my face, coupling with the steam rising off the water, that leaves me with dried-out, sticky contacts.
That being said, Dan and I just got back from a hot spring hotel in Central Taiwan, and I loved it—blurry vision and all. It probably helped that we had a private hot spring bath in our room, overlooking the adjacent valley and mountains. And I must admit, even if I don’t normally get excited about hot springs, I always feel amazing afterwards. In Asia, hot springs are believed to raise energy levels while possibly treating chronic fatigue, eczema and arthritis—a pretty good reason to give the popular Taiwanese pastime a go.
There are two main things to remember before jumping right into the hot springs:
1) If hot spring baths are separated by gender, you’re expected to bathe nude. I was bit worried it would be totally awkward sporting by birthday suit with a bunch of old Taiwanese women, but it’s not actually that bad. Plus, these hot springs are typically a bit nicer, with various showerheads, more variety in water temperature, steam rooms, and no obnoxious children splashing sulfur water in your face.
2) You must wear a shower cap before entering the hot springs. Sometimes these will be provided, other times you are expected to bring your own.
Beyond that, just follow common sense. Don’t bathe if you have any health risks, don’t stay in the hot springs too long, don’t drink alcohol while immersed in scalding hot water, etc.
With the ring of fire rumbling just below Taiwan’s seaboard, there is plenty of lava-heated spring water to go around. Hot springs range from wild and natural baths in the mountains to commercialized spas and resorts. Here are a few of the ones we’ve tried and can recommend:
The hot springs at Beitou are arguably the most frequented by tourists in Taiwan, and easily accessible off the New Beitou MRT stop (from Taipei). Beitou’s history of developed hot springs dates back to the early 1900s and the Japanese era. Today, public and private hot springs are abundant, and easily found via a quick stroll through the area. English signs pave the way.
Located in a small aboriginal village in Hsinchu County, these hot springs are famed for being some of the best in all of Taiwan due to their soft mineral water. We love the rustic feeling emanating from the town, and the beautiful mountain views from the hot springs. After your revitalizing soak, go for a stroll and meet some Atayal people, who will be more than happy to chat with you, regardless of Chinese proficiency.
Dragon Valley (Taichung County)
It takes a lot of work to get here, but the seclusion is well worth the effort. Dragon Valley is about a two-hour bus ride from the nearest train station at Fengyuan, just north of Taichung. It has a similar vibe to Chingchuan due to its location deep in mountain country, which is a welcome relief from the overly congested urbanization that plagues much of Taiwan. With a few sizeable resorts to choose from, including the immense Dragon Valley Resort and Paradise, you’ll be sweating off stress in no time. When you’ve had all you can take of the purifying waters, head down the public hot spring trail to “the ditch”. Here you’ll find a combination of 3 ankle-deep foot-cleansing ponds. Only this time, it’s not the water that’s special; it’s the fish. These hungry little tickle-monsters bite the dead skin right off your feet. Yummy!
Bordering Yilan on the east coast, Jioashi has a high concentration of hot spring hotels, perfect for restoring your wave-beaten body after a long day of surfing. However, if you don’t have the time or the budget to commit to one of these hotels, there are also public and private baths available at a reasonable hourly rate. Unfortunately, some of the private baths here tend to be enclosed by sheet metal, leaving something to be desired in terms of scenery.
While these are the hot spring areas we have visited, there are still over 150 other hot springs all across Taiwan! A map with some of the more popular destinations can be found here.
Prices are hugely variable, ranging from NT$150 for public baths to NT$6000 for five star hot spring hotels (including accommodation). Just be sure to take a peek at the hot springs before paying, as some offer better value than others. It’s never fun to end up squashed in a luke-warm pool with a hundred other people.
We’re especially excited to be visiting Green Island in the next couple weeks, after a three-day cycling trip down the East Coast. (Which, by the way, should be interesting seeing as neither of us has ever taken any sort of cycling trip at all.) Green Island boasts one of the only salt water hot springs in the world. We’ll keep you posted on how it ranks compared to these!
Do you love hot springs as much as the Taiwanese do? Have you ever been to a salt water hot spring? Where’s your favorite hot spring in Taiwan? Don’t forget to leave a comment below!