Tue, Dec 31, 2013 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Hot springs take chill out of winter

WINTER WARMERS:Taiwan boasts a wide array of hot spring experiences, from luxurious resorts near Taipei to remote no-frills pools in the south-eastern mountains

By Michael Gold  /  Reuters, TAIPEI

Bring your own towel, but do not worry about a swimsuit, as all gender-segregated hot springs on Yangmingshan, and the nation overall, are “au naturel.”

A more elaborate set-up can be found at Huang Chi, just a few minutes past Tang Lai and down a snaking outdoor staircase that can be very slippery in the Taipei winter drizzle.

Huang Chi’s public outdoor pools simmer with a variety of mineral compositions, including “white” sulphur and “green” sulphur, which are thought to have different health effects.

A unique “head-soaking pool” lets visitors lie in a brook-like area with warm water just deep enough so that only the back of the head is submerged.

About an hour south of central Taipei, the Wulai Valley (烏來) cuts a striking scene.

As at Xinbeitou and Yangmingshan, Wulai’s hot springs span the gamut, accompanied by spectacular hillside treks and colorful aboriginal culture.

A free outdoor hot springs complex on the west bank of the Nanshi River in the middle of the valley stays hot round the clock with water pumped in through a network of pipes.

The amenities are basic — the pools are concrete, there is no outdoor lighting and the “changing room” is a shack strung with a curtain — but the backdrop is charming, the atmosphere is jovial and the chilly river is often shallow and calm enough to enjoy as a respite from the heat of the springs.

For a kitschy dining experience, check out Feicui Valley Restaurant on Wulai Street, the town’s main boulevard.

Although the area’s food is nothing special, customers can soak their feet in a shared trough of flowing hot spring water as they eat.

If you have as at least a day or two to spare, more far-flung hot spring areas offer an adventure without compare.

Guanziling

The Guanziling (關仔嶺) hot spot differs from its peers on account of the muddy composition of the water, which is considered to have therapeutic effects on the skin.

The hilly area in southern Taiwan, about two hours to three hours from Taipei, needs at least an overnight stay to enjoy fully, although the high-speed rail and frequent bus connections leave little to be desired as far as convenience goes.

In Guanziling, the options can be dazzling and daunting to the uninitiated, especially as English is virtually non-existent and the steep mountain roads are maze-like.

Reputed to be the most mineral-pure bathing spot in the area, the Jingguang Shanzhuang resort is a government-run institution managed by the local police department, which also makes it one of the best in value at only NT$100 for an ultra-muddy experience in the gender-divided public pools.

Take as much time as you need to indulge in the silky brown slop, which gathers as sediment at the bottom of the pool and can be spread over the skin.

The more adventurous should consider the ultimate hot springs experience at Lisong (栗松), an untamed wonder in the remote reaches of the nation’s southeastern mountains.

While it is accessible via public transportation and a long, uphill trek, having your own car or motorbike is highly recommended.

From Chihshang (池上), a small town about halfway between the main east coast cities of Hualien and Taitung, head west up the Nanbu Cross-Island Highway to the tiny Aboriginal village of Lidao (利稻), which is a good place to refuel or have a night’s rest at an inn.

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