Taiwan’s position on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” brings it one very tangible benefit – an abundance of hot springs. At more than 120 locations around Taiwan, mineral-enriched waters warmed by the Earth’s geothermal heat bubble to the surface.
For sheer variety, these soothing spas are astounding. In terms of temperature, mineral content or scenic setting, no two are alike. In many the temperature exceeds 45 degrees Celsius, so visitors shouldn’t fully immerse themselves right away, but rather acclimatize by scooping water and pouring it over themselves, then slowly lowering themselves in.
First-timers are often surprised to learn that after indulging in a hot spring, they shouldn’t shower before dressing, but rather let their skin benefit from the trace quantities of sulfur, sodium carbonate and other minerals in the water.
Many springs are conveniently close to major cities. People based in Taipei are fortunate in having on their doorsteps the famous hot springs of Xinbeitou, Yangmingshan and Wulai. East Taiwan is riddled with springs; luxurious hotels have been built at some (for instance Zhiben) while others remain remote and entirely undeveloped, and can only be reached by 4×4 vehicle or on foot. Hikers find that, when their legs are aching, nothing beats a good soak.
When the Japanese took control of Taiwan in 1895, they brought with them a well-developed hot-springs culture. From the foreign tourist’s perspective, Taiwan’s hot springs have certain advantages over Japanese onsen.
Whereas segregation by gender and nudity are the norm for springs in Japan, swimsuits are worn at most public hot-spring pools in Taiwan. Families can splash and soak together in these places, many of which are open-air and set against a scenic backdrop of mountains and forest.