Hot Springs and Spas Abound in Taiwan

With its rich geothermal landscape created millions of years ago, the island of Taiwan boasts more than 100 hot springs. Second only to Japan in its number of natural springs, this Asian nation has much to offer visitors seeking rest and relaxation. Back in 1896 Hirada Gengo, a Japanese businessman established Taipei’s first hot springs travel lodge. For many years after, the Taiwanese enjoyed the island’s natural hot springs, but spas are relatively new to the country.

In the past several years a number of resorts around the hot springs have emerged. Earlier this year, Starwood Hotels & Resorts opened the Sheraton Yilan Resort, in Yilan County. Located on Taiwan’s picturesque northeast coast just three hours from Taipei, the new 180-room property is set amid tea plantations and has eight restaurants, a health club and spa with indoor swimming pool and 39 hot spring houses. The resort also features more than 14,000 square feet of meeting space. When the new expressway between the capital and Yilan is completed in 2006, the trip will take just over an hour.

One of the country’s most spectacular hot springs – located within the Taroko National Park – is the Wenshan Springs which literally translated mean source of wisdom. The properties of the water are said to promote mental well being and some visitors even drink the water. Enthusiasts of hydrotherapy also claim that the springs can relieve all manner of ailments including rheumatic problems and poor circulation in addition to soothing irritated skin. The only upscale property in the national park, the 212-room Grand Formosa Regent Hotel in Tienhsiang, features indoor and outdoor pools, an aromatherapy spa, sauna and steam rooms, fitness center, Chinese and western restaurants, a bowling alley and private karaoke rooms.

Not far from Taipei, in scenic Wulai, winding roads lined with waterfalls and cherry trees welcome visitors to another popular hot springs area. Here, the Atayal tribe, one of Taiwan’s 12 aboriginal groups, is known for its traditional weaving. The Pause Landis, a distinctive hot springs resort, opened about two years ago. The property has 30 rooms – all with private hot springs tub – an indoor/outdoor pool, sauna, steam baths and During Chinese New Year, which this year kicks off on January 29, 2006, Wulai hosts the Hot Springs Cherry Festival.

The nearest hot springs to Taipei are in Beitou which is accessible on the main MRT line. Surrounded by Shamau Mountain, Datun Mountain and Chising Mountain, Beitou is enveloped year round by a sulfurous mist. Discovered in 1894, they were developed by the Japanese who brought their rich hot springs and soaking culture to Taiwan. Here visitors can see the Bathhouse Museum, an original spa once used by World War II kamikaze pilots before they were sent on their missions. Nearby are the bubbling sulfur springs in Hell Valley. Every fall Beitou hosts a hot springs festival which draws visitors for its concerts of nakashi music.

Because many of Taiwan’s hot springs are located in beautiful scenic areas, visitors can soak in one of them while relaxing in a tranquil natural setting away from the bustle of the city – adding a restful dimension to the other therapeutic benefits. Many North American tour operators include day-long or overnight excursions to the gorge in their Taiwan itineraries.