A short 45 minutes drive from Taipei, Jiaoxi is a haven for a Japanese-style hot spring bathing houses.
Jiaoxi’s unique hot springs are odourless and colourless. The hot springs looks like normal water, yet it is rich in minerals. I was amazed how smooth my skin and hair felt after a soak in the Jiaoxi hot spring waters.
The Senlin Fenglu, which literally means ‘forest baths’ in Japanese, opened in January 2011. It is part of the Jiaoxi Hot Springs Park complex. There are three different hot spring baths within the Hot Springs Park. The first are a collection of thermal pools right near the Tourist Information Centre where you can stick your feet in for free. This is lots of fun, especially if you don’t have a lot of time, and there are usually several groups soaking their feet. But of course nothing beats the real hot springs bathing experience.
It costs NTD150 to enter the Japanese-designed baths. They are separate male and female baths, and unlike the usual practice for Japanese-style segregated bathing, patrons must wear bathing suits and bathing caps. The pools are set amongst subtropical gardens, and from the main pool you could gaze undisturbed on the verdant hills rising up behind Jiaoxi. The Japanese-themed wooden architecture was classic and uncluttered, with only a few natural-style jets that complemented rather than distracted from the relaxation theme.
Senlin Fenglu sets a limit of 80 patrons at a time to each bathing house. Yet it rarely gets that busy. Most of the times you would practically have the place to yourselves. It was a weekday, but staff told us it is usually very quiet on weekends, too, because most visitors have not yet heard of these baths, or mistake them for the other, more open baths. The Yilan Government has not yet developed a website to promote the baths, although there are some pictures if you search hard enough on their websites.
And food options for afterwards? The staff at the bathing house said Evergreen does a good quality lunch buffet for NTD500, and a good value afternoon tea coffee and cake combo for NTD160. But if you are after something more local, do what we did and try hard-boiled eggs cooked in hot spring water or thick noodle soup called geng. There are also some park benches and seats inside, so you can take some snacks with in case the hunger pangs hit during a long hot-spring bathing session.
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