Saturday, February 2, 2013

Soaking up Taipei (It's a Pun!)

If you're looking to meet older Taiwanese men, this is the post for you.

I found this blog post before our trip and Beitou Hot Springs was immediately put at the top of my list of things to do. Unfortunately we had a bunch of things to do first, but on the Friday before we were to head back to Korea we hopped on the subway and headed out of the city to get steamy. 

Beitou is on the outskirts of Taipei and the metro ride out to the springs was beautiful, as the mountains started peeking through the buildings and everything got a bit greener. When we reached Beitou Station we disembarked and got on a train kitted out like a steam room with 'hot tub' touch screen computers giving you info about the area.

The train only travels one stop and is purely for those headed to the Geothermal Valley area, it's cute though. We followed the crowds to the public hot pools which are a ten minute walk from the train station. As soon as we got off we could smell the sulphur in the air!

For pervy reasons, you aren't allowed to take pictures of the springs so I will just have to use the magic of words. If you don't like words, I've put some random pictures in too!
Taiwan loves crane games. I saw more crane games in Taiwan than I have in my life.
It also loves the excellent cartoon Adventure Time!
After you pay your 80 TWD ($3.30) you head to the changing rooms and put on your togs. Apparently that's unusual as most hot springs expect you au naturel. You can also buy spandex atrocities at the gates if you've forgotten your suit.

The pool complex isn't extensive, just 6 pools varying from ice cold to 46 degrees. Although the internet assured us that weekdays weren't busy, each tiny pool was packed with at least 20 people, mostly comprised of older Taiwanese men who had a good old stare at two curvaceous white people in their midst. We started in the coldest warm pool, a bathlike 35 - 37 degrees. Due to the crowds, it was difficult to get a seat around the rim so we bobbed in the middle instead.

This one had Dong Chim (Poo Needle) Dolls. You might remember him from Delicious Poop!
I hadn't tied my hair up and got yelled at by the sole attendant, whose job it seems is to hand out rubber bands to dummies like me, and tell people off for only going into the pool up to their knees (seriously.)

After a few minutes, Tom wanted to go into the hottest pool - 44 - 46 degrees. I walked with him to the top of the complex - the water falls from the top pool to the bottom, cooling as it goes - and noticed many men with bright red skin that turned a normal colour around their upper chest area, a distinctive water line.

We got in. Wary of the attendant we immersed ourselves and almost immediately felt feverish. It was SUPER HOT. There's clocks through the complex as you're not meant to spend more than 15 minutes in each pool, so we watched the clock and dared each other to last an additional 30 seconds. I think we were in the hottest pool less than 4 minutes, but it felt like a burning eternity.

A little bit of Korea, to remind us of home... Gangnam Style!
Lobster red and sweaty, we got into one of the ice pools to cool down. I haven't been to a jimjilbang in Korea, but I had heard that going between hot and cold temperatures like this can have a euphoric effect - and it's true! After a few minutes in the cold pool I started to feel pretty happy with myself and unable to stand up. It took a few minutes after that before I'd settled down and needed another hit! We were in the pools for about 2 hours, hopping between each one and getting high. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

The public pools are open for 3 hour slots at a time, so we left early to beat the shower queues and went for a walk. A short distance from the pools is the source of the springs in the area - a large green sulphur pool surrounded by suburban homes and sulphur-infused mist.

Still a bit high
Water from this pool supplies the public baths and all of the hotels in the area which offer private baths (for much more than 80 TWD). We followed the stream downhill and back to the train station, and for ultra cheap travellers there are a few spots you can dip your feet in and take a soak for free!

On the trip back to the city we decided to stop in at our third Taiwanese market, Shilin Night Market. It's the biggest in Taiwan (I think) and also... a bit lame! It's incredibly spread out and labyrinthine, with a lot of stalls selling everything from food to clothes to tattoos, but the things we ate weren't very tasty - I think we were spoilt being so close to Raohe.

We did try deep fried milk, which tastes like a crispy vanilla-ish pudding and is a little bit addictive. We also tried the opposite end of the spectrum - chòu dòufu or stinky tofu. The smell of the tofu permeates most of the night markets and reminds me of walking past a sewer in the middle of Korean summer. Fortunately for this analogy, it also tastes like what I'd imagine a hot sewer would taste like. Never. Again.

Fried milk stall - nom!
We also saw this cool dude being cool:

The food was so unsatisfying we ended up doing the same thing we did almost every night - back at Raohe getting treats! Nom. 

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