Today we embarked upon a day trip to Wulai, located south-east of Taipei in Yilan county. It sounds far away, but actually this journey was easy, cheap and definitely worth while. Wulai is one of the nearest aboriginal village’s to Taipei, and was one home to the famous indigenous tribe, Tayal. The journey to Wulai is in two parts, with the first being an easy MRT trip to Xindian station on the green line, and the second being an awesome bus ride through some of the most scenic valleys and mountains I have seen in the Taipei area. The bus drops you at the edge of the village and it is a minutes walk to the main commercial street. This street is filled with stalls and a few eateries selling authentic aboriginal food and drinks, that you wouldn’t find at a night market.
We had great fun walking up and down checking out the different things on offer, and also noticed that there were a great deal of small hot spring resorts offering private rooms for a whole lot cheaper than Beitou hot springs. Although they weren’t necessarily as chic, they were still really good looking and for the value you couldn’t really beat it, some places you could get a private hot spring room for 150 NTD per person.
Our intention today however was to visit the free hot springs (yes totally free) located at the side of the large river running through Wulai, so we staved off the temptation and headed first for the Wulai waterfall. To get there we crossed the bridge after the main street and headed left up a beautiful road called Lover’s Trail, with the old railway system running alongside. This railway was originally used by the aborigines with non mechanical carts to transport goods and has since been restored. The terrain is true wilderness here with steep cliffs covered in rich green vegetation, all the way along. After a fifteen minute walk we reached another small collection of shops and stalls opposite the Wulai waterfall. The waterfall is by no means the biggest I have seen, but it still made an impressive spectacle against the landscape. from here there was an option to take a cable car to the top of the waterfall for even more outstanding views.
After we had our fill of the scenery we headed for the hot springs. The springs are located to the right after crossing the bridge, down a set of steep steps which takes you down to the rivers edge. Almost everyone using these hot springs is a local Taiwanese or an Aborigine, so it can be a bit nerve wracking at first, but don’t be shy, everyone is really friendly and it is definitely worth it. The area is made of a series of pools constructed of stone, and connected to the hot spring water by a massive series of pipes that have been put together by the local population. The system seems a little like organized chaos, with locals connecting and disconnecting pipes to add water to different pools, in order to keep the temperatures up or to restore lost water, or even to wash down the area from leaves. It is important to remember that there is a wash area which you should use before dipping in the springs, its basically another hot spring pool with loads of jugs for you to use to give yourself a quick makeshift shower, and acclimatize yourself to the water while you’re at it. No need to worry about a dress code here either, unlike the regulations of Beitou there was every different item of swimwear being worn. Most men were in speedo’s or tight shorts, but a few wore board shorts. For the women, there was also a full range, with many in full clothes, as well as bathing suits or even bikinis.
It took us a while to choose a pool to start with, and when I dip my feet in I was shocked at the heat. Previously the hottest spring I had been in was Wenshan in Hualien at 48 degrees, I am sure this was hotter. The locals quickly noticed the look on my face, one mimed pouring jugs of water over myself to acclimatize and another pointed to a different pool which I figured meant it would be cooler for me. It was much more manageable here and I settled in and enjoyed the scenery. It really was an interesting place. people were making food and drinks from large pans and dishing it round to friends in cups and bowls. People seemed to come here just to wash, they all used homemade looking soaps or bowls of strange liquids that I was sure was tea, until they started splashing it all over themselves. I am still not positive it wasn’t tea actually. After a while I noticed a small stone hut with a rug curtain with steam rising out of it. Every so often someone would enter, or leave, and I caught site of the dark steamy stone room. It was a make shift sauna built into the cliff and i was desperate to try. I cooled my self off in the water from a stray pipe of cold water and received approving smiles and nods from the locals, before heading to the sauna room. I was totally shocked at home many people were crammed into the small space, I think I counted about 10 or 12. They made room for me, placing me right in the middle. It was very dark inside and It was quite difficult to make out the entire situation but it seemed like a steady little waterfall of hot spring water was passing through one one side, while most of the steam was being generated by a man rhythmically scooping and tossing water onto some clay pipes in the floor. My feet were getting rather burnt by this water being thrown, and splashed everywhere, which might have been worse if it hadn’t been the hottest place I have ever been. I am no newbie to saunas and have spent time in many a Japanese onsen, with a standard 90 degree Celsius saunas, but this was another level.
I definitely enjoyed the experience, and recommend trying this if you go to the Wulai springs, but it is not for the feint of heart. What surprised me most was how long some of the locals must have been in there, I had been watching people enter and leave for a little while, and many of the faces inside had been in there since before I had begun watching. I didn’t survive too long in the sauna but gave it a good go before making my exit through the huddle of people. After this I decided it was time for a dip in the river. A couple of people were diving in from spot a bit further back. So I braved the cold water and took a swim in the river, which was amazing after the sauna. It really had everything that a proper spa or onsen has, for absolutely free, and in a much more natural environment. That is why I think it is the best place to go to a hot spring in Taipei, for the authentic locals experience and of course the great value.
To get here take the MRT from Jiantan, a few hundred meters from Mono’tel. Take the MRT to Xindian station on the green line, changing from red to green and CKS Memorial Station. After this head to outside of the Xindian station on your right, the bus number is 849 and the stop is directly behind the visitor information center. The MRT ride is 40 NTD and the bus is 15 NTD.