In the Hot Springs of Beitou
Mostly known for its night markets, the supertall Taipei 101, and for one of the biggest Chinese art museums in the world, Taipei has another attraction that visitors must experience - the hot springs.
Located in the northern part of the city, Beitou is mountainous and is criss-crossed by rivers and creeks, often enveloped by steam caused by geothermal warming. The name Beitou originally means 'witch,' probably an oblique reference to the steam rising in the valley - like that of a witch's cauldron.
During the Japanese occupation, the area was developed into a resort town, with inns equipped with hot mineral baths were constructed, much like the onsen in Japan. During my weekend visit to Taipei I swung by the hot spring resorts at the end of the day, as a way to relax after a whole day of exploring the urban side of the city.
The area where I went to is called Xingyi Road. Navigating to the area was a bit challenging at first as most of the road signs were in Chinese, and I actually missed my stop when I took the bus. I ended up alighting at the last stop, which I then have to wait for another bus to go back to the other direction. There were many establishments in Xingyi and I selected somewhat randomly, as I cannot even read the signs (and luckily I've correctly chosen a hot spring resort and not something else).
|One of the streams crisscrossing Beitou
Most of the resorts cater to mixed clientele, but are gender separated. After paying I went inside, and like in the onsen, I stripped to my birthday suit. Coming from a culture with prudish tendencies, it took a while for me to get use to my nakedness, then I realize that nobody really cares (or stares) as everyone is just as naked as I am. So I just tried to relax amid the very visceral experience. I did not interact much with the locals - who were also in their own world - and there was no other foreigner there to chat up with, like when I was in Hakuba.
There were several pools inside the complex, with varying temperatures. The baths were patronized by all ages - I can see old people and kids inside. I went from one pool to another, like Goldilocks testing her porridge, until I found one with tolerable heat where I can soak my stress away (including the stress of being consciously naked in public, I guess).
|The hot spring resorts as seen from Xingyi Road
How to Get There
Xingyi Road is accessible by bus or taxi. First you need to take the Tamsui-Xinyi line of the Taipei MRT. Do not get off at Beitou station but rather at Shipai, which is three stations before it. From the station go to Shipai Road, walk to the corner and wait for the bus No. 508, 535 or 536. The bus stop is in front of CTBC Bank. Get off at Stop #3 at Xingyi Road, which is on your right. Walk down the path and just pick any of the resorts there.
Like in the onsen there were rules inside the hot springs. One must wash and scrub before getting in the pools. No clothing is allowed, and open wounds are a big no no. You also need to bring (or buy) bottled water for hydration, and you will need coins for the locker (NT$10). The fee to the resort is about NT$200. There are restaurants outside the baths so you can get a meal there after soaking in.