Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wulai Hot Springs

This past week I took a day trip to Wulai, a town nearby Taipei that is famous for its mountains and hot springs. The area is rural and mountainous, vastly different from the concrete of Taipei, but it's actually quite simple to get there. A straight bus from the Xindian MRT took a little more than half an hour.

When I got off the bus, there were signs that pointed to the Wulai Old Street. The streets were very quiet and peaceful on this weekday afternoon. Wulai is a little less well known than Jiufen and Danshui, but the emptiness lent its own charm to the place. 

Shops and restaurants lined the side of the street. They mostly sold traditional foods and snacks like wenquan (hot springs) eggs. The restaurants offered some local delicacies like wild boar meat and a fresh selection of stir-fried vegetables. There were also some strange fruits (baby pears?).

At the end of the Old Street you come across a bridge that spans the main river. The water from the hot springs flows down the mountain into this river. A lot of people bathe in the pockets of water along this river, as you will see from later in this post. 

After the bridge, you have the option of taking a small tram up towards the waterfall, another main attraction in the area. We decided to walk up to the waterfall and take the tram on the way back. The little town reminded me of Jiufen because of the little alleys and neighborhoods running up against the side of the mountain. We picked a path and followed it up onwards.

We saw a church of brilliant blue...

...tiny homes hidden from the main street...

Eventually we meandered onto a forested roadway that leads to the main waterfall, and we followed this path for about 1 km. It runs parallel to the tram tracks.

It was a really hot and humid day, so I kind of wished we had just taken the tram both ways! It's a very cute form of transportation. After a bit we made it to the end of the path at the waterfall. It's not too grand, but it's beautiful all the same!

You can take a rickety cable car from this area up to the mountain above the waterfall. It costs around $6USD. We decided to climb upwards on the mountain opposite the waterfall, since there were are few observation decks and a park there.

There were lots of steps and roads, all very well-maintained and paved, and we climbed up and up until we reached a nice little forested park with a lily pond. The area was so empty it appeared abandoned, but all of the facilities were in really good condition.

In late afternoon we climbed back down and took the little tram back to the main part of town for a little less than $2USD. It was a really fun and quick ride. Then we went down to the riverside for the hot springs experience! This is a public area so anyone can just go down and experience the water. Around the town, there are also many hotels that pipe the hot springs water into private hot tubs, if you would prefer that type of experience.

There were lots of people gathered around several stone pools that had been carved into the ground. Most of them were local people, middle-aged and older, enjoying a nice afternoon soak. They were friendly and encouraged us to dip our feet in, but wow was the water hot! It almost felt like it was boiling, and I couldn't even comfortably submerge one whole foot in the water.

There are a lot of health properties attributed to bathing in the hot springs water, which flows from the mountain and gathers into the little pools and stone tubs at the riverside. It's supposed to be really beneficial to your skin. The river itself is shallow but cold, and there were people making laps in the water, cooling off from soaking in the hot springs. 

The whole area had a fun sense of community. People were napping, relaxing, chatting, and swimming. At this time the sun was setting, and the rays lit up the valley. It was such a peaceful and beautiful time of day, so we decided to sit out on the rocks by the river and dip our feet into the cool running water, watching the people swim back and forth.  

In the early evening we headed back on the same bus back to Taipei. It was quite a fun and easy day trip, and I'm glad to know there is so much gorgeous nature in such close proximity to a big city. Perhaps I'll come back to Wulai again and be brave enough to actually experience the hot springs water. 

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