Taiwan is famous for its natural hot springs. One of the most accessible places to experience these if you're in Taipei is in Beitou. It's just a short MRT ride to the Xinbeitou station from the centre of Taipei. The trains on the Xinbeitou MRT line are even painted and decorated to mimic traditional Taiwanese Hot Spring life.
Stepping off the train in Xinbeitou, you will be transported back in time to an earlier time. Even though the suburb is flanked with enormous high rise buildings, a number of buildings have been lovingly preserved.
Heading up a hill nearby, you pass the Ketagalan Culture Centre. The entry is free and the exhibitions are quite well done. We learnt a lot about the many different tribes of Taiwan - their clothing, cooking, housing and lifestyles. Unfortunately, taking photographs inside the cultural centre is forbidden.
Further up the hill you pass the Beitou Public Library. It is lovely inside and outside. It is quite a famous library in Taiwan as it is a green building. It is shaped like a giant tree branch, uses recycled water throughout and has solar panels on the roof that supply the library with electricity year round.
The Library is surrounded by beautifully kept gardens. Many local Taiwanese couples have their wedding photos on the library grounds.
Beyond the library, you pass the Beitou Hot Springs Museum which is also free to enter. Unfortunately, you cannot bathe in the hot springs here. However, you should still check out the museum. The building is Japanese in style with a fresh air open design, little rooms for checkers playing and a very large bath right in the middle.
Keep walking up the hill and finally you will reach the Hot Springs areas. There is a number of fee paying places to experience the Hot Springs of Beitou. We headed into the Beitou Park Hot Spring Spa one evening. It cost NTD $40 per person and we were able to enjoy six different bathing pools over a few hours. The pools range from extremely hot to quite cool. We do suggest you head to the hot springs in the evening as they really are hot! There are quite a few rules you need to follow so we suggest you read the English signs and take note of the what the locals are doing. Unfortunately we were unable to take photos at the public Beitou Park Hot Springs. The most important rules are to wear swimmers (bathers) and to shower before entering the pools. There are showers available for this purpose. Before entering each pool use the ladle to rinse your feet. And don't ever let your hair touch the water. These rules are there to ensure the water stays as clean as possible. There are many hotels and day spas offering hot spring beauty treatments at quite a large fee. However, there are a few places along the Hot Springs River that runs through the middle of Beitou where you can sit in the water up to waist deep and enjoy the hot spring water for free. It's quite common to see locals soaking their feet.
One last thing to check out in Beitou is the Thermal Valley. It is really quite remarkable how this area is so beautiful given the amount of sulphurous steam this place produces. It may not be a place to hang out for hours as it is quite warm down there but the views are beautiful. The lower the temperature that day, the more steam will be visible. If you can manage to get there on a colder day it's quite magical.
To really get the most out of the sights of Beitou, we suggest you visit during the early afternoon and early evening. Check out all the museums and tourist attractions first, have some dinner at a local restaurant and then head to the Hot Springs at 7pm for a night time bath. Don't forget to bring your swimmers.