Beitou（北投）is northernmost district of Taipei City and is the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of Taipei’s crowded business districts. Recognized for its hot springs, historical sites, and lush green environment, Beitou was named one of the top 10 small tourist towns by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau in 2012.
The name Beitou originates from the Ketagalan aborigine word for the area, Kipatauw (“home of witches”), as many of the local rivers and ponds emit an eerie steam due to geothermal warming of the hot springs. During the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), the area was developed into a hot springs resort. In the early days, Beitou was a renowned red light district where men would go to soak in the hot springs and later feast on delicious cuisine while being entertained by beautiful young female performers. The Taiwanese government began to clean up the area in the late 1980s, and today it is one Taiwan’s major tourist attractions with numerous well preserved architectural treasures dating back over 100 years as well as one of the highest concentrations of hot springs in the world.
Getting to Xin Beitou (New Beitou) – just 30 minutes from Taipei Main Station!
From Taipei Main Station (台北車站), get on the MRT Red Line heading towards Tamsui. You will need to change trains at MRT Beitou Station to the Pink Line, which travels one stop to MRT Xin Beitou Station. This will involved going down one flight of stairs and up another to change platforms. The final leg of the journey is on a remodeled train car complete with large theater screens introducing the area, as well as computerized tables in the shape of hot tub barrels that provide information on everything from sights to dining to hot springs.
Exploring Xin Beitou (each location name can be clicked for more maps and more detailed information)
View Day Trip to Beitou with Escape2Taiwan.com in a larger map
Coming out of MRT Xin Beitou Station, you will see the long narrow Beitou Park (北投公園, MAP#5）across the street on the right-hand corner. The entrance to the park is marked by a water fountain that performs fountain shows on the hour every hour during the day. Inside the park, you will find a number of pleasant trails, streams, as well as popular sites such as the Beitou Library and Beitou Hot Springs Museum discussed below.
Across the street from Beitou Park on the left hand side you will see a tall 10 story building that is the Ketagalan Culture Center (凱達格蘭文化館, MAP#7). The culture center is named after the extinct aboriginal people who originally inhabited Beitou. It is said that 200 Ketagalan people populated Beitou at the beginning of the Japanese colonial era, but none survived. The museum gives a broad overview of the history of 14 different Taiwanese aboriginal groups, with displays of the tools and dress used at the time. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.
After visiting the culture center, continue up the road and on your right hand side, you will come across an old western style building constructed by the Japanese in 1913. The Beitou Hot Spring Museum (北投溫泉博物館, MAP#8) was the main public bath in the area during the Japanese Era. This historic building was restored and re-opened in 1998 and allows visitors a view into the former lifestyles of the Japanese, something that can rarely be experienced even in Japan. Visitors are asked to remove their shoes before entering (Japanese custom) and change into slippers that are provided by the museum. Stroll through the buildings 12 rooms, including 1 tatami mat performance area, and the original public bath in the basement. The building is lit up at night, providing more great photo opportunities.
The hot spring museum is as the name suggests, a museum, so there are no opportunities to bathe here. However, if you find yourself itching to take the clothes off and experience hot spring culture, the Beitou Garden Spa (北投親水公園露天溫泉浴池, MAP#9) is just a little further up the road. The Millennium Hot Springs is the modern day public bath scenically located outdoors next to a river and amongst the green trees. This is a mixed bathing bath and requires use of bathing suits, so you won’t be getting completely naked like in Japanese style baths. Price of admission is a bargain at NT$40, NT$20 if you present a valid student ID. You may either bring your own swimwear or purchase a swimsuit at the entrance.
Beside the outdoor hot springs is another historical building called the Plum Garden (梅庭, MAP#10). The Plum Garden was the summer house for former Control Yuan president and calligraphy master Yu You-ren. The building only opened to the public in 2010, and displays Japanese colonial period wood architecture as well as a number of calligraphy works by Yu You-ren. Visitors may choose to sit down and relax in the quiet house or stroll through the manicured garden. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am – 5pm. Admission is free.
A little further up the road still, you will come across a number of small restaurants and hotels. Between a few of the hotels to your left, you will see a small road that leads to the gates of the Beitou Thermal Valley （地熱谷, MAP#11), also know as Hell’s Valley. Inside the gates, you will first pass a coffee shop / gift shop and just behind you will see steam rising up as high as 100 meters from above the geothermal pools. The amount of steam being emitted changes frequently with mother natures mood. The area is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am-5pm. Admission is free.
By this time, you have probably worked up quite an appetite and there are a number of options for a meal in the little square outside Beitou Thermal Valley. One of the more popular options is Man Lai Hot Spring Ramen （滿來溫泉拉麵, MAP#12). The best, yet simplest thing on the menu is the hot spring egg （溫泉蛋）which traditionally is a soft boiled egg prepared using hot spring water. The egg is topped with shredded seaweed and a sauce. 1 egg is NT$25. Another popular item is the Miso Ramen with braised pork (味噌叉燒拉麵）which is a little different from the original Japanese version, and is literally Ramen noodles in miso soup. 1 bowl is NT$120.
After lunch, it is back on the cultural trail. The next stop just a little further up the road is Puji Temple（普濟寺, MAP#13). Puji temple is across the street from “Kyoto Hotel” and up the flight of stairs to your right. This is a well-preserved Japanese Shingon Buddhist temple.
After visiting the temple, you can walk back towards Xin Beitou MRT Station, this time walking down the opposite side of the park. You will pass various hot springs hotels and eventually come across Long Nai Tang Hot Springs（瀧乃湯, MAP#14). In 1896, Long Nai Tang became the very first hot springs to open in Beitou and has been in operation since. As you can imagine, it is very old and simple, but a historic delight for the more adventurous. The baths are divided into male and female sections, and baths are used in the nude. Bring your own towels and soap, and shower off before entering the very hot baths. There have been rumours that the Long Nai Tang may close in 2013 for renovations or for good, but at the time of writing, there has been no confirmation of a closing date. The hot springs are open from 6:30am – 9pm. Admission is NT$90.
Once you are warm and relaxed, by walking a little further down the road you will arrive at the modern and environmentally friendly Taipei Public Library Beitou Branch （台北市立圖書館北投分館, MAP#15). After opening in 2006, the Beitou Library became Taiwan’s first “green” library by receiving “Green Building” certification. Part of the roof is covered with solar panels capable of generating up to 16KW of power. Rainwater collected by the library’s sloping roof is recycled and used to water the library’s plants and flush its toilets. Eco-friendly paint was used to reduce the amount of toxins released into the environment. Energy is also conserved by using large French windows to maximize the amount of natural light that enters the building, and by using a perpendicular wood design on the balcony and plenty of trees to help shield the building from excessive amounts of thermal radiation. The 2007 architectural awarding winning building is an amazing sight and the natural environment makes this a library that even the most unstudious of students would not want to leave. English books and newspapers can be found amongst the large collection of Chinese materials.
Back near the entrance to Beitou Park, there are two transportation options for getting to our next location.
Motorcycle Service （機車服務／摩托車限時專送, MAP#17)
For history buffs and the more adventurous types, try booking a traditional Motorcycle Service （機車服務／摩托車限時專送, MAP#17) by calling 02-2894-9669 (in Chinese only), open 6:30am-10pm. These motorcycles were originally used by the performing girls who were one of the main attractions to the area decades ago, and the drivers would take the girls from hotel to hotel according to their performance schedules. After the government cleaned up the area a few decades back and the performing girls disappeared, the motorcycle drivers faced the dilemma of finding new clientele or a new job. The service is now used by elderly residents when going shopping or by adventurous tourists to get from place to place. Each trip around the area costs only NT$50 and will provide you with another good travel story. Don’t expect the operator or drivers to speak English, so have the address of your current location and destination ready in Chinese. Helmets are provided!
If you are not keen on the idea of getting on the back of somebody’s motorcycle, there is also a public bus. Bus #230 (230公車, MAP#16) stops in front of Beitou Park every half hour.
On the way to Beitou Museum, if in need of a foot bath, some travellers may choose to make a stop at the Beitou Quanyuan Park Foot Bath Area (台北市泉源公園溫泉泡腳池園區, MAP#18) located half way up the road to the museum. Although a little out of the way, the secluded park offers peaceful walks under its lush green canopy. The highlight of the park, however, is its free public foot bath that is a favourite of the locals. The facilities were renovated in 2012 and consist of a 20 meter long foot bath, shoe change area, and a hand operated pump with cold water to wash off your feet before and after use.
Whichever method you choose, you will want to get off at off at Beitou Museum, also known as Taiwan Folk Arts Museum（北投文物館, MAP#19). Beitou Museum is located up on a secluded hill with beautiful views over the Beitou area. The wooden building was built in 1921 and represents yet more examples of Japanese wood architecture, this time actually in traditional Japanese style. Originally “Kazan Hotel”, this two story building was the most luxurious hot springs facility in the area at the time. During WWII, the hotel was used by Japanese “kamikaze” squadron pilots, and they would have their last meal in the second floor tatami room before the final flight of their lives. It is one of the largest free standing wooden structures that remains in Taiwan from the Japanese colonial era, and was designated as a historic site by the Taipei Government in 1998. After a 5 year restoration project, the building reopened in 2002 and offers a great opportunity to enjoy Japanese gardens, architecture, as well as delicious Taiwanese tea or Japanese cuisine outdoors overlooking the scenery below. Groups can actually reserve to have meals in the second floor tatami room that was used by the Kamikaze pilots. If you are planning to enjoy a full course meal at this facility, it is best to book ahead. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:30am – 5:30pm. Admission is NT$120 for adults and NT$50 for students.
After checking out Beitou Museum, if you still haven’t had enough hot springs, there is one more special place just next door. Marshal Zen Garden, formerly known as Shann Garden Resort (小帥禪園, MAP#20) is where the influential military leader Marshal Zhang Xueliang was confined to house arrest for many years following the Chinese Civil War. The building was originally constructed during the Japanese colonial era, and first acted as the Xingao Hotel. Today it is renowned for its gardens, fine dining with amazing mountain views, as well as luxury private hot springs baths, and public foot baths. Garden admission is NT$150, use of the foot bath is NT$150, and use of the private hot spring baths is NT$1,200 for two people. Free shuttle services are available from MRT Xin Beitou Station for hot spring or dining guests.
To get back to Xin Beitou Station and finish your trip, you can either catch #230 Bus, or call for the motorcycle service.