Taipei Day 1: A Time to Be Bright, and a Time to Get Steamy

Fun Taiwan!

I impulse-booked my ticket to Taipei based on street food alone; I’ve heard the chow was phenomenal. That being said, I didn’t have much of a plan when I landed in Taipei, aside from the Lantern festivities in Pingxi on the coming Sunday. Happily, Taipei was a fun place to play it by ear.

My adventure started on an early Friday morning. Our plane touched down on the break of dawn, and with the Taipei transport being very easy to figure out, I arrived way ahead of everyone in the hostel, including the receptionist. It was a good thing that the Bangka district was precisely where you’d want to be if you’re killing time in the morn. I strolled through the alleys behind our hostel, where the wet market was slowly coming to life. Colorful meat balls and vegetables decked the tables to tempt you to brew a hotpot. Butchers went about carving out whole carcasses of pork, while live chickens clucked away, perhaps in mourning for their fallen comrades, undressed and hawked on display.

The local market comes to life.

And here's my very first lantern sighting!
And here’s my very first lantern sighting!

Just two blocks away was Longshan Temple, where devotees were up and about carrying their offerings of sweets and flowers. It was my first glimpse of Taipei’s romance with lanterns; they do make them very well. My favorite was the giant sculpture of what resembled a water snake god, beautifully adorning the temple’s waterfall.

Busy start for the Longshan Temple
Busy start for the Longshan Temple

It was a bit tricky to figure out how the locals went about their rituals. Most bowed their heads in prayer and followed a path to place incense sticks inside the cauldrons. What especially caught my eye were the devotees who were deep in prayer, then would throw two wooden blocks to the ground. Apparently, just like a game of dice, the outcome of the throw would bear a message as to if the heavens heard their plea.

Finally, I went back to the hostel and thankfully someone was there to buzz me in. After taking a quick nap, I looked for ideas and had a vague memory of someone saying that the hot springs in Taipei make for a nice day trip. The staff at Mango53 Inn were well-prepared; they came bearing maps of how to easily navigate myself to the town of Xinbeitou, and even gave me tips of spots to see around the spa town.

Yes, in Xinbeitou, life can be pretty sweet.
Yes, in Xinbeitou, life can be pretty sweet.

After a quick train ride, I was strolling at the town of Xinbeitou, in search of the famous public baths. Along the way, I chanced upon Taipei’s eco-library; in a town known for relaxation, they did come up with the perfect place to wind down and enjoy a book. Placed in the middle of lush greenery, the library almost looked like a log cabin with a nice view overlooking the stream and the mountains.

Taipei's Eco-LIbrary

Yup, that guy's relaxed alright.
Yup, that guy’s relaxed alright.

I made a quick stop to the Hot Springs Museum (yes, they do take their geothermal matters very seriously) and then after venturing a bit, finally came across the golden source:

Hell Valley in Xinbeitou. The name Beitou actually is a Sinicized word for "witch", as locals thought the area looked like a smoky witch's cauldron. Well, the town certainly knows how to work its magic.
Hell Valley in Xinbeitou. The name Beitou is actually a Sinicized word for “witch”, as locals thought the area looked like a smoky witch’s cauldron. Well, the town certainly knows how to work its magic.

Hell Valley, Xinbeitou

And of course, I couldn’t leave the district without taking a dip in the steamy agua myself. Depending on your level of comfort (and more importantly, confidence), you have a number of options to enjoy a bath in Xinbeitou. The cheapest of the lot is the public outdoor pool (40 NT for admission) in the center of the park, where you’ll be required to wear a swimsuit. On the other hand, if you wanted to be pampered, there are countless high end spas (Villa32 seems to be a well-recommended one) which will require a bit of a trek from the train station, but they’ll make amends with their soothing Japanese-style saunas.

Opting for something in between, I decided to go to the Long Nice Hot Springs bathhouse, which offered indoor baths at mid-prices, around NT 85. It was my first time in a public bath, and I must say, if you want to get over stage fright, this is a good place to do exactly that. No swimsuits here; everyone must saunter around in the buff (for all the men out there, sorry to get your hopes up — pools for men and women are separate). As the shameless newbie, I struggled a bit to fight back my nervous giggles. The other women, on the contrary, seemed to be literally comfortable in their own skin, as they dunked into the scalding (!) pool and nonchalantly chatted away, very much like how I would be with my own group of friends over coffee at Starbucks.

Dusk crept over the sky as I was leaving the Xinbeitou district — with a pampered, sterilized soul. The cover of darkness made it a perfect time to saunter to the Taipei Int’l Flora Expo near Yuangshan station to celebrate the Lantern Festival, central Taipei-style.

2013 Taipei Lantern Festival

And I do stress — the Taiwanese know their strengths very well. The lanterns were cheerful and magnificent, nothing less than a feast for the eyes.

2013 Taipei Lantern Festival

IMG_1381

Speaking of feasts, eyes weren't the only things bulging while viewing the giant lanterns. I left with a happy tummy on Days 1 and 2, as I eagerly plundered the Night Street Market next to the Yuanshan. I'll fill you in with more details on the next post.
Speaking of feasts, eyes weren’t the only things bulging while viewing the giant lanterns. I left with a happy tummy on Days 1 and 2, as I eagerly plundered the Night Street Market next to the Yuanshan. Wait for it — I’ll fill you in with more details on the next post.

More pics, you say? Click here, then!

Casualty Assessment:

  • One-way bus fare from Taipei Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Rail Station – TWD 125 (~USD 4.19)
  • 4-bed Private Ensuite at Mango53 Inn – TWD 300 (~USD 100.55)
  • Single-journey ticket price on the very impressive Taipei metro – TWD 20-60 (~USD 0.67-2.00)
  • Admission to Long Nice Hot Springs – TWD 85 (~USD 2.85)

* Maps galore! The maps that Mango53Inn gave me were a godsend. It may have just been me, but I didn’t find a lot of English sightseeing maps for Taipei online, so I’ve scanned the maps and posted them here. Enjoy!

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