An aboriginal legend of the Ketagalan tribe claims that a witch once lived in the northern outskirts of Taipei in the foothills of a volcano. She made her home next to a pond whose piping-hot waters permeated the air with sulfurous fumes and swirling white smoke.
This area, which is situated right in the backyard of Taiwan’s northern capital city of Taipei is known today as Hell Valley or Geothermal Valley, is the hub of Beitou’s hot spring culture. Overlooked by traditional Japanese style inns and luxurious hotels and resorts, Hell Valley’s boiling pond, eerie smoke-filled air, and lush vegetation looks as if it comes straight out of a fairy tale. As every fairy tale is wont to do, there is a message within the scalding hot and extremely acidic waters of that sulfurous pond: Jumping in most certainly means death.
Often teeming with locals and visitors alike, Beitou owes its ever-growing popularity to a natural abundance of hot springs and a tourist infrastructure that includes five-star resorts, cheap public pools, fine restaurants, and traditional Japanese beer halls and tea gardens. Very few cities in the world can boast of a backyard full of world-class geothermal hot springs that have been shaped into a spa connoisseur’s idea of heaven.
Resorts such as the ritzy Spring City Resort are designed for hedonistic pleasure with activities to occupy guests every second of the day. Each room comes equipped with its own hot spring bath, while those who are searching for more of a communal bathing experience are sure to find something on the resort’s extensive grounds, which include warm sulfur hot springs, swimming pools, an extensive health club, fountains, cafes, and areas for children to play in.
Discerning travelers also revel in the opulent private hot spring rooms of Villa 32, Taiwan’s quintessential spa playground. Devoted to providing a top-notch spa experience through its many prestigious services, Villa 32 embraces nature through three types of hot springs, serene waterfalls, and rock gardens, and its guests are treated to lavishly decorated rooms with every kind of modern amenity you can think of.
Nominated by Conde Naste Traveller as one of the most popular new hotels in the world in 2006, and lauded in 2007 as one of the best new hotels in the world by Australian Gourmet Traveler, Villa 32 promises an unmitigated excursion into the land of luxury spas in Taiwan. The rate for a private hot springs suite starts at $180US for three hours.
With all of these blue-ribbon wonders, is there anything left for the frugal-minded? Budget travelers need look no further than the Public Hot Springs for a cheap outdoor bathing option in Beitou. Located within walking distance of Xinbeitou MRT station, the Public Hot Springs offer six piping hot pools filled with milky-white water. The waters top out around 60 degrees Celcius and for a mere US$1.25, a long, lazy day of soaking should be your top priority here.
Finally, if you’ve finished soaking and you’d like to absorb a little local history, don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about the history of Beitou’s spas and bathhouses in the Hot Springs Bathhouse Museum. The museum, which was built in 1913 during Japanese occupation, was once the original spa used by Japanese soldiers, including Japan’s kamikaze pilots of World War II.
Flickr Photo by Shenghung Lin
TRAVEL TIPS – Directions to Beitou Hot Spring Valley
- Take the MRT to Xinbeitou Station. From there, you can walk or get a free shuttle to any number of spring resorts in the area.
- Take the red line to Beitou MRT station. Then catch the shuttle bus or bus #25.
- # 6, 9, 216, 218, 223, 230, and 266 to Xinbeitou
Spring City Resort
No.18, You Ya Rd, Hsin Peitou, Taipei – TELEPHONE:  2897-2345,  2897-5555
- Rooms from US$225 and up
- Spring Suites from US$396
- Private hot springs US$20/person per hour
No 32, Zhongshan Rd, Hsin Peitou, Taipei – TELEPHONE:  6611-8888, fax:  6611-5000,
- Western-styled double from US$529
- Japanese-styled double from US$826
- Private hot spring rooms from US$60 to US$90 for 2 guests for 90 minutes