Taipei's hot springs fever warms things up

By Shanzi Chen Translated by Ann Lee

Despite the effects of global warming, which gave the island a nice warm winter, the early part of spring in northern Taiwan still brought some overcast, rainy weather. With temperatures dropping abruptly, we can still expect some cold fronts to pass through in April. All that wetness in the air helps guarantee that there will be plenty of eager visitors arriving from around the island to join the hot springs fever, and experience that instant feeling of coziness with friends and family.

Among all the spots you get to choose from in the Beitou hot springs area, New Beitou and Tienmu XingYi Road are the easiest locations to reach via public transport. All you have to do is take the MRT, followed by a bus ride and you're there. For those who don't feel the urge to drive or do not own a car, this is a convenient way to travel.

New Beitou Hot Springs
The name Beitou originated from the Patauw language, which was spoken by the people of the Pingpu Aborigine tribe. This name directly translates into "witchcraft" in Patauw, because the steam and vapor that rose from the hot springs valleys resembled the white smoke associated with magic and witchcraft. The water of hot springs in New Beitou is naturally heated from underground, and consists of white and green sulphur. The green sulphur comes from underground and the white sulphur from the opening of the hot springs. With the passage of time, the Minnan dialect of the Han people resulted in the name "Bahtou" evolving into "Beitou".

Beitou's hot springs business has over a century of history, the longest and oldest hot springs destination in the greater Taipei area. The construction of the MRT and redevelopment plans related to tourism promotion led local residents to rename the area "New Beitou" to make a break with the old, previous image and environment. Taipei's government and businesses have cooperated to integrate historical and cultural sites and unique local cuisine as part of an effort to promote the enjoyment of a new, healthy spa experience.

If you're looking for a more elegant, romantic spot to enjoy hot springs, there are a few high-end, exquisite resorts to choose from in the New Beitou area. One worth mentioning is the Spring City Resort, which was an early pioneer for creating a five-star hotel environment for a hot springs. Others include the Pacific Wellness Spa & Club and the recent addition Sweet Me Hot Springs Resort. If you are interested in a more private experience, you have the option of Japanese-style hot springs villas, which allow you to enjoy natural landscapes in the privacy of your own outdoor spa area. The Asia Pacific Resort is an excellent choice for this.

All spa resorts provide a complete itinerary and information for customers. This includes the different functions of the spa pools, along with plenty of delicious dishes and medicinal cuisine. This trend has become very popular in Taiwan because people believe they can achieve a mind-body balance through relaxation and by spending time at the spa.

If you want to experience old-style hot springs bathhouses, it's a good idea to visit the venerable Long Nice Hot Spring. During World War Two, Taiwan-based Japanese soldiers gathered here to ease their wounds, and the building exterior has a strong Japanese flavor to it. This Japanese bathhouse separates the genders and tends to attract senior citizens more than other places. If you don't mind the "simple and humble" decor, this place is definitely worth visiting.

Next to the Beitou Hot Springs Park is a public outdoor bathing pool for men, women and children of all ages. Bathing suits must be worn before entering the pool. Beitou Creek serves as the center point of this pool, and five different "longs" (bathing pools) existed during the Japan colonial era. Currently, there are six bathing pools in the Beitou Hot Springs Park. Ticket prices vary between weekdays (NT$20) and weekends (NT$40). The pools have been set off from the bustling streets, so that visitors can enjoy surrounding themselves with big ancient trees and natural scenery. This is definitely an adventure as you can always hear the laughter of other spring-goers and experience the joy of bathing in a natural creek.

Apart from its hot spring culture, the art and history of New Beitou is found on almost every corner. Pay a visit to the grade-three Beitou Cultural Relics Museum, or the Ketagalan Cultural Consulate if you are interested in gaining a deeper knowledge about New Beitou. The other option is to sign up a half-day or full-day tour with the Taipei Hot Springs Association. Having a tour guide lead you throughout the day can provide a perfect, sentimental and relaxing hot springs journey through the area.

New Beitou: Take MRT to Beitou, transfer to New Beitou line.
Buses 223, 216, 218, 230, 266 get off at New Beitou.
Hot Springs Shuttle (Small 25) goes from MRT Beitou Station to Beitou Cultural Relics Museum. You can get off anytime and anywhere when you get to the mountain region routes.

Tienmu XingYi Road
Hot springs in Tienmu originate in LongFong Valley. When spring waters reveal a beige color, this is referred to as a white mineral springs. Tienmu's hot springs district is located between Dun Xu High School and Tienmu Park. The natural heat from underground mostly gathers in the valleys on the east side of XingYi Road. Several years ago, when the Beitou hot springs craze started fading, residents began opening Taiwan indigenous chicken restaurants on this street. Going to SaMaoShan for Taiwan indigenous chicken and a hot springs soak became a popular trend for many people at the time. A couple of years later; as consumers began moving upscale; the other large-scale premium spa restaurants were established. These new high-grade spa restaurants took over the less-than-fancy restaurants, providing today's better-known image of the SaMaoShan Hot Springs District.

Geographically, SaMaoShan lies between YangMingShan and Shilin District. Tourists either come from the top of the hill, or often go for the spa and then dine before heading to the night market. This location is so convenient that it has become a very popular get-together spot where friends and family spend weekends and holidays.
The spa restaurants here are of an international caliber and include a variety of ethnic cuisine from Japan, Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The atmosphere and decorations in these establishments are both intriguing and unique but, whatever the cuisine may be, owners make the fullest use natural decor and landscapes, allowing customers to fully enjoy the scenic hillside views while dining or relaxing in the springs. Cuisine from around the world is a main attraction for all the spa restaurants in SaMaoShan and prices are generally very reasonable, too. Combining a meal and spa starts from NT$300 to NT$400 per person in most places. However, if you only want to enjoy the spa services, it will cost you approximately NT$200 and up. During slower hours, some restaurants charge only NT$100 for public pools. Being able to enjoy great spa facilities at such affordable prices is the main reason that SaMaoShan Hot Springs District is so popular with tourists.

Tienmu XingYi Road: You can find spa restaurants at the first stop. However, you are likely to find more choices at the third stop.

MRT to buses:
(1) MRT ZhiShan Station--bus 508 or 536
(2) MRT ShiLin Station--bus 612 or 216
(3) MRT ShiPai Station--bus 535 or 216

Tips for hot springs enjoyment
-It is highly recommended that you read through the warning notices before entering a pool.
-While sitting in a pool, it is best to stay hydrated with water or sports drink, while avoid the consumption of alcohol.
-Those who have sensitive skin or a history of skin problems should consult their doctor about the type of spring water suitable for their skin type.
-Hot springs water should not be overheated. Before entering a spa pool, always shower, then splash some spring water onto the body. This will help your body adjust to the temperature of the hot springs water.

-Spring water has a lot of minerals and metals. Therefore, it is not recommended that you wash your hair with it. Wash your hair after you leave the pool with clean water, then dry it immediately. It is a good idea to dry one's hair right after washing, to avoid catching a cold.

-Many hot springs visitors enjoy jumping between hot and cold water, which some believe promotes weight loss. However, if done incorrectly, this can also be risky, as sudden temperature changes can put a lot of stress on your cardiovascular system. The proper way to is to ensure that the difference between the water temperatures is 20 degrees Celsius. Spend 10 minutes in the hot springs pool before rinsing with cooler water, starting with the feet and moving up towards the heart. Be sure not to jump directly from a hot pool into a cold-water pool.

-On colder days, dry your body with towels after being in the hot pool. Wrap yourself up in a bath towel and rest for a while. This is a good time to relax your muscles through simple yoga moves or massage. Try to work up a bit of sweat to radiate heat inside your body. At this time, slowly get dressed, avoiding putting all your clothing on too quickly.