Hot Spring Spa Resorts, a Stone’s Throw from Taipei

March 20, 2004, Election Day in Taiwan.  Politics in Taiwan is very unlike politics in the U.S.  The little country usually draws out 85% of the eligible voters on Election Day.  Taiwanese citizens around the world fly back just to vote.  And that was the reason why I went back to Taipei a week earlier than Phil, so I could vote in the Presidential Election.

I got in early in the morning, around 6am.  As soon as I got back to my parents' house, the polls were open.  I cast my vote and went back home for a long nap...  Even for a frequent traveler, the flight was still 13 hours...  It doesn't get shorter the more often you fly...

That evening, my whole family was glued to the TV, watching the election results unfold.  To make it easier to understand for our readers, let's just say it was a Bush vs. Gore, translated to Chinese.  By then, I was tired of the election.  I just wanted to go somewhere to relax and start my vacation.  At 7pm, I finally got my whole family unglued from the TV and we drove to Wulai, just 30 minutes away from Taipei!  Immediately, I felt the political pressure and stress leaving the atmosphere.

Wulai is a small mountain right outside of Taipei, originally inhabited by the aboriginals, the Atayals.  The Atayals discovered the hot spring about 300 years ago, by following the steam coming from the river bed.  During the Japanese era, the area was developed into a hot spring destination, with low budget bath houses.  It really wasn't until the early 90's the Taipeians put some real money into the area and transformed it into the hot spring paradise it is now.  Dozens of modern boutique day spas and resorts popped up all over the mountain of Wulai.  It is now one of the most popular and accessible hot springs in Taiwan.

The main street of Wulai is lined with little souvenir shops and restaurants featuring organic mountain grown vegetables, wild boars and other games.  The Mountain Cuisine is very light and healthy, traditional of the aboriginal cooking.  The souvenir shops are not the typical tourist traps that sell t-shirts and nick-nacks.  They sell food!!!  It is very popular in Asia to bring cookies, cakes and other local food specialties back from trips for your friends and family.  The American favorite t-shirts, magnets and key-chains are actually hard to find.  That is the reason why I do not have a magnet from Wulai...  (Phil and I collect a magnet from every place we go to.  It's our thing!  Hehe.)

In Wulai, a soak would cost you anywhere from $5 to $15.  There isn't usually a time limit on how long you can stay in the pools.  The "Onsen" (hot spring in Japanese) experience requires the participant to go completely naked.  The men and women usually have separate bath houses, so you don't get to have an eyeful...  You would shower first before entering the mineral pools.  Women (and men) with long hair are required to put their hair into a bun on top of their head so it does not touch the bath.  You are given a towel to keep, but you are not allowed to take the towel into the bath either.  You can fold it up and put it on top of your head and use it to dab away the sweat on your face.  Oh and never dunk your face in the water either.  Even though the mineral pools are constantly filtering, with the natural spring piping through, the hygiene of the bath is extremely important...  in sort of an Obssesive Compulsive, Hypochondria, kind of way...  Lots of rules...  aghh...

After the long bath, hot ginger tea is usually served, with the local specialty rice dessert, mochi.  We sat around and chatted until we were ready for dinner.  I am now completely in vacation mode!

Must See: I know it's difficult for the Americans to be naked with strangers, but do try the hot spring...

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