Taiwan’s magical hot springs
Over three hundred years ago, there was a place in Taipei, where the earth boiled. The local aborigines called it the home of the witches, a place of pungent smell and thick fumes. The name morphed in to Beitou and today it’s a sprawling line of hot spring resorts. And the hot springs mostly rich in sulphur come in three types: white, green and iron; each with its own brand of medicinal properties.
During the Japanese occupation, the homesick Japanese developed this area with hot spring inns. The guide 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.
Then 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. This villa has been used as a private house, even as a film backdrop. 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. 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.