Over three hundred years ago, there was a place in Taipei, where trees did not grow and the earth boiled. The local aborigines called it Patauw -- the home of the witches, a place of sorcery with a pungent smell and thick fumes in the air. The name morphed in to Beitou and today it is a sprawling line of swish hot spring resorts and hotels as well as heritage homes. Our guide Ivy Chen tells us that Beitou is one of the twelve best scenic destinations of Taiwan. Beitou's hot springs mostly rich in sulphur come in three types: white, green and iron; each with its own brand of medicinal properties. Surrounding Beitou are the forests of the Yangmingshan National park with its share of hiking trails and volcanic summits.
During the Japanese occupation, the homesick Japanese developed this area with hot spring inns. Ivy tells us that this was the favoured place for Japanese kamikaze pilots to spend their last night of 'revelry' with women, drinks and music before setting off the next morning in their suicidal mission.
We visit the Taiwan Folk arts museum, a Japanese Heritage building, with interiors in a melange of Japanese and Imperial Chinese- an oasis of calm with two wooden storeys filled with folk and aboriginal art and offering a set menu for Japanese foods and tea. This used to be a Japanese military officers club. I feel at home instantly, having been to Japan -- a tokonoma, a tatami lined floor and Zen spaces. There is a room devoted to the indigenous tribes of Taiwan who belong to the same language family as far as Borneo, Guam even the Solomon Islands. This villa has been used as a private house, even as a film backdrop. The bathrooms are a piece of Japan- heated toilets that pamper you and even wipe you dry! There are tabi socks to slip your feet inside and bonsai that catch your eye outside the windows. The Plum garden, once the summer residence of the famous Chinese calligrapher Yu You ren is now open for tourists -- there is a spacious courtyard and a Japanese style wooden structure. We peek unabashedly over the walls at the lively scene next door. It is the Millennium Hot Spring run by the government which has six areas of differing temperatures open to the public. It seems to be the favoured spot for social interactions.
On the same stretch is the Beitou Hot Springs Museum with red bricks and tall windows which was once a public Bath-house. Stained glass windows, an erstwhile bathing pool, large halls and the history of the hot springs are open to public view.
Beitou was a popular place for filming movies in the 50s and the 60s and attracted film makers with its hot spring scenery. Further up the road is Hell Valley, a natural sulfur hot spring where the temperature can reach over 100 degrees Celsius.
We stay at the intriguingingly named Sweet Me Resort- a Japanese minimalist hotel in beige and cream tones. Each room has its own private bath filled directly from the hot spring. Ivy educates us on the dos and don'ts of using the hot bath. Dip your feet first for five minutes, and then slowly try the bath. Those with high blood pressure or heart ailments, please refrain. It's a glorious experience - a soak in the bath. It rejuvenates and exhilarates. My tired traveller's feet perk up and I am ready for the next part of our Taipei Chronicles.