Hot Springs-ing it in Taipei
January 22, 2011
TAIPEI, TAIWAN – A favorite Taiwanese pastime brought over by the Japanese during the colonial period, hot springs bathing is a wonderful way to not only soak up some mineral-rich water (long believed to provide therapeutic benefits to the skin and an assortment of ailments), but also to soothe away any tensions one may have. Hot springs can be found all over the world, among lush green forests on mountaintops or even along a rocky shoreline with the ocean’s waves crashing nearby. There are numerous spots around Taiwan well known for their hot springs, four of which make up the grand dames of Taiwanese hot springs: Guanzilin, Sichongxi, Yangmingshan, and Beitou.
For my most recent hot springs adventure, my father and I took some time to explore Beitou in Taipei. Just a short ride on the MRT metro system from the center of Taipei, Beitou (or officially Xinbeitou, as the MRT stop is called) is an urbanized resort-y neighborhood nestled between geothermal mountains. Stepping outside the MRT station, while you are confronted on one side by a McDonald’s and a Kentucky Fried Chicken (this is the urban aspect), there is also a lovely little park straight ahead in which the neighborhood’s impressive environmentally friendly library stands. Also found in the Qinshui park is an homage to the history of hot springs in this region at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum. This lovely Euro-Japanese building stands at the site of one of the original public baths dating back to the Japanese colonial period during the early 20th century and is well worth a visit to learn more about the hot springs in this area but also to get a sense of another aspect of Taiwanese culture and the Japanese influence upon it.
Surrounding Qinshui park are the dozens of hot springs hotels that have cropped up over the years. While there are many that are either generic in hotel ambiance or geared more towards the younger university party-going crowds (groups of college-aged hip things like to come out here for a night and rock out), there are a few stand out venues that we found.
First, the Sweet Me Hotel was surprising in its proximity to the MRT station (I had it in my head that the good venues would be tucked away up the mountainside; I stand corrected). This sleek hotel not only had friendly and helpful service, but also a stylish spa with wonderful hot springs offerings. With several pools, the indoor hot springs is an easy get-away from life, and for just NT800 (or around USD26) for daytime usage, that’s a pretty good bargain. (The hotel rooms were modern, and the hotel seemed like it would be a solid choice for a chic night away.)
Our next stop worth a mention was the Spring City Hotel. Set a bit up the mountain, this hotel was a good 15-20 minute walk uphill from the MRT station. You can sidestep this walk by either taking a taxi or waiting for the hotel’s shuttle which makes its rounds on an hourly basis. While the rooms seemed pleasant and clean enough, I would recommend this place for daytime usage only. By paying a nominal price, one can bathe in any of the ten outdoor hot springs-fed pools. Each of these pools has a different purpose; my favorite was the sleep inducing one (go figure). This pool had beds from which the jets shot out warm mineral-laden water to relax your muscles and induce a wonderfully soporific state. My father and I hopped from pool to pool for hours, and when we were too warm, we cooled off in the deck chairs in the warm sunshine as we looked out over the mountainside.
Finally, the most luxurious (and fabulous) hotel we found was Villa 32. This member of the Relais & Chateaux group is a peaceful haven that one must visit. (If you can’t afford the $600/night bill, you can also experience this wonderful destination during the day by either booking a spa appointment or paying to use the hot springs facility.) From the street, one has no idea of what lies beyond the entrance way, but once you walk through it, you are greeted with a soothing bit of greenery with a tranquil canal and a simple but modern building waiting to welcome you. While there are private spas in the five suites, the public spa is amazing in itself, with three different hot springs sources feeding the pools. This is a favorite of celebrities looking to get away from the bustle of Taipei.
I must say, while I always enjoy discovering new venues and destinations, this was by far the most relaxing of all my research trips.
Beitou Hot Springs Museum
Beitou Distric, Taipei
Sweet Me Hotel
224 Guangming Road
Beitou District, Taipei
Spring City Hotel
18 You Ya Road
Beitou District, Taipei
32 Zhongshan Road
Beitou District, Taipei