When summer ends in Northern Taiwan, air conditioners turn off and windows are opened. And though this year has been unusually balmy – not just in Taiwan but around the world – we’re all pretty sure that we can settle in for at least a few months of cool to cold weather here on the Beautiful Island before the plum rains of spring again give way to another blistering summer (air conditioners on, windows closed).
But that certainty is months away, and for now we all have at least five months of solid hot spring weather to look forward to. Taiwan’s location in the geologically unstable ‘ring of fire’ gives it an advantage that makes the earthquakes almost worth it, namely The world’s best hot springs. Though you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a good soak anywhere in Taiwan, Taipei residents are almost as blessed with an abundance of hot springs as they are with restaurants.
Most of my friends are fans of the wild hot springs, that is, places where you have to hike in for an hour or more, for which you’ll be rewarded by the opportunity to soak free and in the buff. But as most of my hot-spring hopping this early in the season is done at night (it’s still kinda balmy), and lately I’ve been bringing guests just off the plane from international flights (hard to believe, but few people want to go hiking through the mountains for 3 hours after a 14 hour intercontinental flight), I’ll be confining this article to my four favorite spots within shouting distance of Taipei city by taxi, bus or public transportation.
Closest to Taipei, these are the only hot springs to have their own station (Xin Beitou) on the MRT line, the waters of Beitou have a distinctive cho dan, or smelly egg smell. Don’t let that put you off though; locals swear by the healing properties of the water. Soaking options include everything from private hotel rooms from NT$2,000-$8,000 for a night’s lodging and spring use to the public hot springs in the park, a bargain at NT$50. Beitou is also home to Taiwan’s hot-spring museum, which is housed in an old Japanese-era communal bath overlooking the mountains. Finally, it’s a quick walk from the museum to the steaming Geothermal Hell Valley (地熱谷), which is a great spot for photos. (Don’t try to soak there though, unless your goal is a horrifyingly painful death.)
Located on the far side of Yaming Mountain (almost at Jinshan, if we’re being honest), this public spa is a must-visit if you have a free evening. Ma Cao is one of the most attractive outdoor spas in northern Taiwan, with Japanese-style pagodas and natural sulphuric pools. The spa is segregated by sex, but both sides offer the same features, including mud baths (terrific for the skin), an electricity pool (it sounds strange, but is awesome. Think of it as an electro massage), and a cold dunk. After your soak you can enjoy a meal in Ma Cao’s always popular hotpot restaurant. If you’re a serious night owl, head here by taxi after gorging at the Shilin night market. The taxi ride from the Jiantan MRT stop should take about 30 minutes and cost roughly NT$500, and the place is open 24/7.
Wulai, southern Taipei
This aboriginal mountain village is a 30-minute bus ride from Taipei’s Xindian MRT stop and is famous for its carbonate spring waters, reportedly good for expanding capillaries and lowering blood pressure. Wulai is one of the best-known hot-spring getaways in Northern Taiwan, and has mostly bounced back from damage inflicted by 2015’s typhoon Soudelor (which closed down much of the town for months and bankrupted a few of the spas themselves). Like Beitou, Wulai has a good mix of pricey hotel spas and less expensive spots. One of the best of the latter is Yen Town, just down the block on the Old Street overlooking the river, where you can soak all you like in multiple pools for NT$400.
Though not technically in Taipei, Jiaoshi is pretty close by train, bus or car, so much so that the town’s long been a popular weekend getaway for Taipei residents looking to hang out, eat seafood and soak in the famed hydrogen-sodium carbonate spring waters. Hot springs are the big local industry in Jiaoshi (there’s even a pool for soaking your feet at the train station), and options range from public outdoor spas to fancy hotels. Jiaoshi is the only place you’ll find a hot-spring-themed children’s park, complete with hot-spring waterslide. Of course, if you’re totally broke, you can always head to the Jiaoshi public park to soak your feet in one of several pools of varying temperatures.
Have other favorite hot springs in the greater Taipei area? Leave us a comment below!
Interested in learning more about Taiwan’s hot spring culture? Join our Bath of the Gods tour, a half-day tour that begins with an exploration of Beitou’s thermal valley and ends with an hour-long soak at an exclusive bath house.