Beitou 北投 is one of those places you go and can’t believe you are still actually in Taipei City. Via the MRT, you can leave the downtown bustle and noise of Taipei City and within an hour be soaking in hot springs surrounded by a lush green park full of a bit of Taiwan/Japanese history.
Beitou District is situated over the Datun Volcano Group. Even though dormant, volcanic activities such as hot springs are still moving underneath the area.
Beitou became a hot spring haven for the Japanese common and elite during their occupation of Taiwan. The Japanese harnessed the hot sulpher spring water, which literally flows underneath the area and emits a sulpher hot spring aroma wherever you walk, and opened countless hot spring bath houses in the area. Beitou Park which is the center of Beitou, was full of walking paths, a bubbling stream, and bridges to enjoy a day in quiet nature.
After the Japanese left Taiwan, Beitou was neglected until the 1990’s when the town decided to renovate the old Japanese infrastructure which brought life back to the sleepy area.
Nowadays, Beitou is a convenient stop on the MRT, and locals and visitors come to enjoy inexpensive hot springs, fresh air, and a relaxing atmosphere. Beitou is a great stop for the day or an overnight.
The MRT runs to Beitou but you need to take the special, colorful train to Xin Beitou or “New Beitou”. It is the pink line on the MRT map.
Get off at Beitou station and change trains.
Once you exit the Xin Beitou station, you will see Beitou Park in front of you. Head in that direction.
Beitou is mapped very well and all the sites are within walking distance. Here are the main attractions:
Thermal Valley is an incredible site when you consider that you are still in Taipei City. It is a 90 degree Celcius “lake” of sulpher hot spring water. The water is always steaming, has a beautiful greenish, blue hue, and of course emits a sulpher hot spring aroma.
This water runs under Beitou and provides the water for all the hot spring baths. Beitou residents can even get hot spring water pumped into their houses for a small monthly fee.
The Beitou Hot Spring Museum was originally a bathhouse built by the Japanese Colonial Government in 1913. At one time, the baths were the largest in East Asia. After the Japanese left Taiwan, the bath house became neglected and deserted. In 1994, a group of local teachers and students discovered the old bath house on a field trip. In 1997, the building was designated a historical site and transformed into the museum.
The museum is a wonderful brick structure to enjoy. Once inside, visitors can learn about Beitou and its hot spring history. The original bathing pools still exist in the structure along with old photos from when the pool was in use.
The museum is a must see when visiting Beitou. Admission is free.
Plum Garden was the summer getaway homestead of famed calligrapher Yu You-ren. The wooden Japanese structure was built in the 1930’s and is surrounded by lush trees and the sound of a bubbling stream.
Yu used this homestead as a way to escape the summer heat as well as his social demands and political lobbying. The structure is in great condition and one can see some of Yu’s calligraphy hanging throughout the house.
The house was also restored using the original Japanese mud plaster method. There is also a section of one wall which shows clearly how the walls were built layer by layer.
Admission is free to Plum Garden.
The Beitou Library is an eco-friendly structure located in the center of Beitou Park. The library was built with wood, steel, and other recyclable materials. The building is covered with windows which bathe the library in light. There is even a large balcony where one can sit, read, and enjoy the greenery of the park.
Visitors may enter the library, but be courteous and quiet as this is a working library often filled with hard working students.
The Ketalgalan Culture Center is located at the end of the park near the MRT entrance. The aboriginal Ketagalan people once inhabited and farmed the Beitou area. The name “Beitou” comes from the Ketagalan word for “witch”.
The Ketagalan believed that the sulpher steam and smell in the area showed that sorcery was going on in the area. They called the area “Patauw” or “home of the witches”.
The Culture Center is free to enter. The second floor has exhibitions of clothing and tools used by the aboriginal tribe. It’s worth a visit.
As you walk through the park and past the thermal valley, you will encounter the entrance to the Puji Temple. You must climb the stone stairs and walk the short path up the hill before you arrive there.
The Puji Temple is an example of Japanese style temple architecture. The temple is in wonderful condition and is constantly up kept. Visitors can enter, light incense, say a prayer, and leave a donation. It’s a tranquil place to relax.
After the Puji Temple, walk further up the hill (there are signs) to reach the Taiwan Folk Arts Museum. The Museum has many examples of Taiwan and Japanese Folk art. It also hosts exhibits on early Taiwan life and culture. There are also classes on Japanese tea ceremony.
There are 16 official Hot Spring Marked hot springs and baths in Beitou. Many of the the baths are “old style” Japanese houses. Men and women are separated and bathers soak in the nude.
One of the most famous public baths is the Beitou Outdoor Public Hot Springs. This bath is located within Beitou Park. The pools are outdoors and shared by men and women so bathing suits are required.
There are 5 pools of various temperatures and bathers can sit and look up to enjoy the green beauty of the park. The hot springs open very early and operate until night. What is unique is there is a time limit for each hot spring “session”. Each session is 2 hours. When the 2 hour session is up, everyone must clear out and the next group of bathers comes in. This is why you may see a line out front at certain times during the day.
Prices are very cheap. 40 NT for adults, and only 20 NT for seniors, children, students, and military.
This author enjoyed a cool evening in the pools soaking and appreciating a starry night sky.
The Ramen noodles in Beitou are not to be missed. The “Man Ke Wu” ramen shop is at the top end of Beitou Park. It’s a small noodle shop and is famous in Taipei. There is usually a line out front during peak times. No need to worry.
Because the shop is small, patrons need to share tables with others. The noodles and the stock are delicious. The pork was tender and flavorful. Try the hot spring cooked egg as an appetizer.
There is also another Ramen shop down near the Ketagalan Culture Center. This author didn’t eat there, but there were lines as well. Why not try both?!?
Beitou hosts a hot spring festival from September to November. There are performances, stone carving, tea ceremonies, and the Witch Season Music Program. People can also join guided tours of the area.
For more information: www.taipeisprings.org.tw