Getting in Hot Water: Welcome to Taiwan’s Geothermal Springs

If you have never been to a hot spring, the time is surely right for you to take a stress-busting hot-spring vacation in “the Heart of Asia.” 

Thanks to encouraging news from scientists working on coronavirus vaccines, people are once again daring to hope that international leisure travel can resume within months. When the door is finally unlocked, all who found 2020 to be an unusually trying year, and who wish to refresh themselves in one of Taiwan’s marvelous geothermal resorts, are guaranteed a welcome of exceptional warmth. 

Taiwan’s hot springs, long known to and enjoyed by the island’s Austronesian indigenous inhabitants, have been a tourist lure since the last decade of the 19th century.

Soon after a German sulfur merchant established a hot-spring club in what is now Taipei City’s Beitou District, the Japanese took control of Taiwan. The island’s new rulers imported their love of hot springs, and very soon hotels and other tourist facilities were proliferating in Xinbeitou (“New Beitou”), Guanziling in Tainan, and Sichongxi in Pingtung.

At all three locations, you can find buildings that preserve the traditions of the Japanese era, as well as thoroughly modern, luxurious facilities.

Scalding mineral-enriched spa waters bubble to the surface in the island’s north, east, interior, and far south. In some of these locations, upmarket hotels have been built, allowing hot-spring devotees to stay overnight and bathe in the comfort of private suites. Other springs, by contrast, remain just as Mother Nature made them. To access many of them, you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle or good legs and a guide.

Jiaoxi Tangweigou Hot Spring Park

Taiwan’s hot springs are amazingly varied in terms of setting, temperature, and mineral content. Springs near Taipei tend to be acidic and sulfuric, while those in other regions are usually carbonatic and rich in dissolved calcium, sodium, magnesium, and potassium.

What comes out of the ground is cloudier in some places than in others. In Guanziling, the presence of silt particles turns the water a rich shade of brown. At Jiaoxi in Yilan County, the sodium bicarbonate springs are rich in minerals and carbonic acid ions, but the water is odorless and clear.

In Jiaoxi, travelers who lack the time or inclination for a full-body soak can dip their feet for free in the hot-spring creek that flows through Tangweigou Hot Spring Park. Nearby, there are places where, for a small amount of money, you can enjoy the sensation of fish nibbling the dead skin off your feet.

At the foot of Taiwan’s breathtaking mountain ranges, there are over 100 hot springs in which tourists can soak away their aches. The country owes this abundance to its position on the “Pacific Ring of Fire.” This location also means that earthquakes occasionally dislodge boulders. Drawing up a comprehensive list of Taiwan’s geothermal spas is therefore impossible, because a spring may sometimes disappear under rocks in the wake of a tremor.

The same phenomenon can result in a new spring appearing overnight, or an established one drying out. Each time a typhoon dumps huge amounts of rain on fragile hillsides, the sudden reshaping of the landscape may create or extinguish a hot spring.  

From the visiting tourist’s perspective, Taiwan’s hot springs have certain advantages over Japan’s onsen. While nudity and segregation by gender is the norm at Japanese hot springs, swimsuits are worn at most public springs in Taiwan, meaning families can splash and relax together.

Whereas many hot-springs establishments in Japan deny entry to individuals with tattoos, inked skin is no obstacle to enjoying a soak in Taiwan. As in Japan, however, hot-spring guests are expected to wash their bodies thoroughly before entering the spring water, and to rinse off any chairs or buckets they may use in the process.

Letting your towel touch the water is considered unhygienic. For that reason, some bathers balance their towels yogi-like on their heads each time they immerse themselves.   

In springs where the temperature exceeds 45 degrees Celsius, it is important to gradually acclimate your body. Use a scoop to pour some water over yourself, then enter the pool one limb at a time. You may not realize you are perspiring, so bring a bottle of water to enable you to stay hydrated.

It may seem counterintuitive, but rather than showering after luxuriating in a hot spring, you should let your skin benefit from the trace quantities of sulfur, sodium carbonate, and other minerals in the water.

As its name proclaims, the Taiwan Hot Spring & Fine-Cuisine Carnival – which kicked off in October and runs until June 2021 – combines the joy of hot-spring bathing with another of the country’s great passions. It is often said that a dip in a spring followed by a fine meal is an ideal pairing. Since you should not eat much before the soak, you are likely to emerge with a healthy appetite.

As in previous years, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau is joining forces with local governments and operators of hot-springs establishments to offer attractive accommodation-and-dining packages, tour discounts, and special offers on signature merchandise. There are also chances to win luxury bathing-accommodation vouchers.

The Bureau invites travelers to “take a hot-springs trip and savor warm memories for a lifetime” at 19 different resort areas, five of which are in the Greater Taipei area. Xinbeitou is one of them. Another is Wulai, where visitors can experience the culture of the Austronesian indigenous Atayal people as well as spectacular mountain scenery. For those who prefer a coastal milieu, the springs around Jinshan and Wanli near the northern shore are a delightful destination.

Jinshan Hot Spring

One of Jinshan’s highlights is the Governor-General’s Hot Spring. Built in 1939 by the Japanese colonial authorities as a venue for entertaining dignitaries, it served as an army outpost guarding the shore for much of the postwar period. Fully restored at the beginning of the 21st century, it now offers a range of private rooms and outdoor pools.

Four of the 19 resorts are in the eastern counties of Yilan, Hualien, and Taitung – a region very often named by both domestic and international tourists as their favorite part of Taiwan. Other featured hot springs are conveniently close to the population centers of Tai-chung and Kaohsiung.

For details of special events and profiles of major hot-springs establishments, visit the multilingual website. Alternatively, drop by any visitor information center in Taiwan for leaflets and maps.

For additional information about visiting Taiwan, please contact the tourism hotline at 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan) or go to the Tourism Bureau website.