Beitou: Hot Springs and History — A Hot Taipei Tourist Destination During the Cooler Months
Text and Photos: Vision
Hot springs are found all around the island of Taiwan, close to the sea, high up in the mountains, and in between. Many of these springs have been developed into resort areas, which first became popular during the time of Japanese colonial rule from 1895 to 1945. One of the best of these resort destinations – and among the most convenient to get to – is in the Taipei district of Beitou. Located at the foot of the mountains that are collectively known as Yangmingshan, Beitou is an old neighborhood rich with narrow lanes and alleys. At its heart is Beitou Hot Spring Park. Inside and around this park are the following must-visit attractions.
On leaving MRT Xinbeitou Station (see Getting there below), you will immediately see the entrance to Beitou Hot Spring Park across the main road, to the right. Take a walk through this long and narrow park, and check out the shallow Beitou Stream, steaming with hot-spring water. About two-thirds of the way through the park, which slopes upward from the main road, you’ll spot a beautifully restored historic building, today home to the Beitou Hot Spring Museum. This was originally a public bathhouse, built in 1913, at the time the largest of its kind in East Asia. Here you can learn about the history of hot-spring bathing in Beitou while, among other things, viewing a restored Romanesque pool with Roman-style columns as well as a Japanese-style tatami post-bathing rest area.
There is a wide range of options in Beitou for your own hot-spring bathing, including upscale hot-spring hotels such as the Grand View Resort Beitou. If you are on a limited budget, however, and just want to experience the simple pleasures of outdoor-pool soaking together with local hot-spring lovers, head to the Beitou outdoor public hot springs, formally called the Millenium Hot Spring, a few minutes on foot west of the hot-spring museum along Zhongshan Road (open daily; tickets NT$40). For more info about hot-spring bathing options in Beitou and around Taiwan, visit www.taiwanhotspring.net.
Also located inside Beitou Hot Spring Park, between the museum and the public pools, is an interesting building that resembles a giant ark. This is the Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library, an ultra-efficient modern building constructed with protection of the environment in mind and offering a pleasant space for reading and studying. Opened to the public in 2006, the library is housed in an award-winning green building with such features as solar panels on the roof, rainfall capturing/storage systems, and a design that keeps power consumption to a minimum.
At the far, upper end of the hot-spring park, look left and you’ll spot the entrance to Thermal Valley, the source of the park area’s sulfurous hot-spring water. Surrounded by trees, this deep, rock-strewn depression was created long ago by a volcanic burst. The sulfurous waters in the depression’s large pool bubble and spit, the steam sometimes filling the entire little valley on cool days. The Ketagalan people who once lived in the area called the valley “Patauw,” meaning “witch” or “sorceress.” “Beitou” is a bastardization of this original name.
Further uphill from the hot-spring park and the thermal-spring valley, on Youya Road, is the Beitou Museum, an excellent place to learn more about Beitou’s history, indigenous culture, and the Japanese colonial era – the museum building was original constructed in 1921 as a fancy hot-spring hotel for the Japanese elite – and also to taste fine cuisine (Kaiseki-style) and take in irregular cultural performances (in a spacious tatami room).
Xinbeitou Historic Station
Back beside MRT Xinbeitou Station is another heritage building you don’t want to miss, the Xinbeitou Historic Station. Located in the small park on the southern side of the station, this important work of heritage architecture was reopened earlier this year. Originally built in 1916, the station was dismantled in 1988 to make room for the MRT station, and was then purchased, rebuilt, and displayed at the Taiwan Folk Village in Changhua County, central Taiwan, before being returned to Taipei in 2013. After being painstakingly restored once again over a period of four years, the station has now become one of the most iconic historic attractions in the city.