Taiwan: Top Destinations for the Cultural Traveler

Soak Up Taiwan’s Hot Springs Culture in These Five Natural Baths

A rejuvenating soak has long been a vital part of Taiwanese culture. Here are some of the top places to take a dip.

Beitou District (Flickr Charles Luk - Flickr/Creative Commons)
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A restorative dunk in hot springs has been an important part of Taiwanese culture for centuries, so much so that the locals consider these thermal waters, which are the result of Taiwan’s numerous volcanoes, “the hot tears of the Earth.” And with some 130 hot springs dotting the island’s tropical landscape to choose from, you don’t have to travel far to take a refreshing dip. Here are five of Taiwan’s best bets for when you need something more than a soak in your hotel room’s bathtub.

Guanziling Hot Springs

It’s not uncommon for people to do a second take when they see Guanziling Hot Springs for the first time. Due to its location on the side of Zhentou Mountain in south-central Taiwan, the water has a darkish-gray tint thanks to the mountain’s abundance of subterranean rock strata. The result is an increase in minerality that some believe has benefits like softening the skin. The area is home to several resorts boasting healing waters, but the most popular attraction is undoubtedly the Water and Fire Cave, a true natural wonder where fire appears to dance atop a natural spring. The phenomenon results from a fissure that releases both spring water and natural gas, which, according to legend, has been continuously burning for centuries, discovered accidentally by a passing monk. Although locals say the flame has decreased in size over the decades, visitors can still witness this anomaly of fire commingling with water.

Beitou District

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Because of its location just 20 minutes north of central Taipei, the Beitou District has become the go-to spot for both locals and visitors in need of an accessible, soothing escape that feels miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Wedged into the mountains, Beitou is often shrouded in mist or blanketed by stream rising from the area’s numerous hot springs, many of which have been developed into private resorts and spas. This preponderance of thermal choices makes Beitou the Goldilocks of Taiwan, with springs available in a variety of temperatures. After a soak, pay a visit to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, built in 1903 by the Japanese government as a bath house for its troops during the military occupation. Today it features numerous exhibits on the area's history and hot springs culture, including a special tribute to the more than 100 films shot in Beitou during the golden age of Taiwanese cinema in the 1960s and 70s.

Yangmingshan Hot Spring Area

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Located within the Yangmingshan National Park, this area at the northern tip of Taiwan is home to waterfalls, grassy fields and a smattering of volcanoes known as the Tatun Volcano Group. This natural area boasts the highest concentration of hot springs in Taiwan, and each one has its own unique mineral makeup and temperature. For example, the water at Coldwater Depression is known for its milky white appearance and “cooler” temperature, which hovers around 104 degrees; other springs, like Macao, are almost scalding.

Lisong Hot Spring

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It takes a little bit of effort to reach Lisong Hot Spring, but it’s well worth the trek. Guides are available for hire to help travelers navigate the springs, which are located in a valley crisscrossed by creeks and dotted by wild orchids. Once there, you’ll be rewarded by a magical sight: a hot springs waterfall crashing down from the side of a cliff stained green from minerals—perfect for a natural shower. Nearby hikers can soak in pools of various temperatures overhung by old growth trees before plunging into the refreshing cool waters of the Hsinwulu River.

Before heading back, explore the nearby photo-worthy cave hung with stalactites.

Chaojih Hot Springs, Green Island

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Chaojih or Jhaorih Hot Springs on Green Island is one of only a handful of known saltwater hot springs anywhere in the world. Here natural hot water bubbles into circular sets of pools on the beach, offering magnificent views and the opportunity to cool down in the ocean waves. Unlike most of Taiwan's hot springs, these waters are sulfur-odour free and open 24-hours from March through October.

Now a relaxing vacation destination, Green Island was once the site of a brutal political prison camp during the 38 years from 1949 through 1987 when the ruling party, the KTM, kept the island under martial law. The old prison site is now the Green Island Human Rights Park which welcomes visitors to wander around the cell blocks and exhibition spaces and pay tribute to the hundreds of former prisoners whose names are engraved on a stone monument on-site.

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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