If you fancy heading out of the city of Taipei then Beitou is but a short ride away and can all be done using the easy to navigate MRT system. Here you will find not only the hot springs that make this area famous but also numerous walks, museums and public baths to sample the waters for yourself.
Getting to Beitou
It is stress-free to access the Beitou Hot Springs area as it is conveniently located on the easy to navigate MRT system. You just need to get on to the Tamsui-Xinyi (red) line and alight at the Beitou station. Here you will need to transfer to the Xinbeitou line which is a short line of only one stop (Xinbeitou). On exit from the station you will find several maps and signposts to the areas of interest which are generally accessed just by crossing the road towards the park area.
Also referred to as “Hell” Valley this is the site of the green sulfur springs which are a collection of acidic hot springs. Such springs are due to Beitou’s location between the now dormant Datun Volcano Group and the Taipei Basin. Here the water rises at a temperature of up to 100 °C and pH of 1.2-1.6 – highly acidic and dangerous to bathe in directly.
You are able to walk to and around the one side of a thermal pool and although it is not even in the same realm as those seen at Yellowstone National Park in the US, it is quite a sight to see this just outside of Taipei city. The steam, the heat and the smell are quite overpowering and you certainly wouldn’t want to climb in. Not to worry though as there are public pools that you can visit.
Beitou Hot Springs Museum
This museum used to be the home to the public spa with the baths found on the first floor of the building, leaving the second floor for recreation. The building is impressive itself as it is a blend of Japanese and Western construction and inside houses a number of collections about the bathing culture of the region. It’s on the first floor that you find information in English which is given in chronological order and numbered for easy transition from one section to another. Having visited natural public spas before in England, it was interesting to view how the Japanese colonial period had brought this form of recreation of a bathing culture to Taiwan, just as the Romans had introduced it across Europe.
As you are not allowed to wear outdoor shoes inside the museum you end up exchanging them for provided slippers akin to visiting a bowling alley. Seeing everyone walking around in matching plastic slip-ons (red for girls and blue for boys) is reason enough to visit especially as it is a free exhibit.
Not far from the Beitou Hot Springs Museum (slightly further up the hill), you will come across what was originally a summer house for a famous Chinese calligrapher, Yu You-ren. Having exchanged footwear for the matching slippers (what was the point of lacing my shoes from the museum I thought?) we were able to view a traditional Japanese-style wooden structure.
There isn’t much in the way of English signage however there is an information centre inside which is useful if you want to find out more about the attractions in the area.
We decided to visit the Millennium Hot Springs which weren’t free but seemed to be the most popular choice in the area. Just down from Thermal Valley they offered timed slots to visit as they regularly cleaned out the pools. Swimming costumes were available for purchase if you didn’t already have one and there were toilet, changing and shower facilities for both men and women (separately) as well as coin operated lockers if required. The thermal pools were arranged in a tiered structure with the water entering the top at 45°C and cascading down to pool number three by which point the temperature had dropped to approximately 35°C. Sounds nice but when we visited in July the peak temperature of the day hit mid-30’s so it was too hot to sit in the warmest of the three pools for very long. Luckily there were two much colder pools which we could alternate with when it got too hot.
Top Tip: If you are visiting during the summer months then dehydration is a real danger so be sure to take enough water, don’t spend too long in the hot springs especially if you start to feel unwell and use the showers/colder pools to cool off regularly.
This park area follows the Beitou river, backs on to the Beitou Hot Springs Museum and contains the Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library. Across from the Xinbeitou MRT station we found this park to be a great place for a walk and offered an alternative to having to walk up the road to reach many of the sites of interest in this area. Care must be taken not to enter the river/streams at any point due not only to the temperature but also the chemicals that are contained within it.
Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library
This is Taiwan’s first green library and was even named as one of the 25 most beautiful public libraries in the world. It certainly seemed to attract a large number of both local residents and tourists with many enjoying sitting on the sun-trap of a balcony to read their book. Worth a look if you are walking through the park, decide to visit the museum or find architecture interesting.
Ketagalan Cultural Centre
The first in the country for its theme of indigenous peoples and their culture, it covers all 14 of the groups that came to make up the Taiwan we know today. The centre is home to examples from across the various cultural groups including traditional dress, tools, musical instruments, pottery and many more items that show the distinct identities of each. Alongside the items, the story and origins of these are explained to give you a thorough understanding of their development.
Hiking in the Beitou area
Although we never did – owing to the heat, humidity and our later arrival to the area – there are a number of popular hiking trails. Most of these are signposted from the main road leaving the Xinbeitou MRT station and heading up to Thermal Valley. As with any hiking it is important to consult local advice and ensure that you are prepared especially for the time of year you are walking.
If you are looking for a break from the hectic centre of Taipei and want to experience a little of the contemporary Taiwanese traditions, Beitou is the place to go. With everything conveniently located within walking distance of the MRT, Beitou is easily accessible from wherever in Taipei you’re staying.