Tuesday, February 5, 2013 – Day 7
Today we went on a road trip to Zhiben Hot Springs in Taitung. My aunt, her husband, and Grandma make this trip with their mountain buddies once every two weeks. And they’ve been going at it for three years already! I’ll call the mountain friends, the “Mountain Fellowship.” Seems like a perfectly fitting nickname since they are such a tight nit group, like Lord of the Rings.
Getting to Zhiben Hot Springs
We took the train departing from Fengshan Station in Kaohsiung and arrived in about an hour and 45 minutes to Zhiben Station in Taitung. As soon as we stepped out of Zhiben train station, we were welcomed by a gregarious man and hopped into his van. The van ride to the hot springs was only about 20 minutes. Once at the hot springs area, you have many hotel selections. We went to a smaller hotel that is still in development – don’t let the construction turn you off, it has a beautiful view. This small hotel (which I have no idea what it’s called in English) sits on a cliff overlooking the river and mountains. The only word of caution though is that train tickets to Zhiben must be purchased about a month in advance. And it would be best to wear pants and bring a light sweater for the train ride since it gets a bit chilly inside the air-conditioned train.
I was very excited for the train ride because I wanted to see the country side of Taiwan, with farms and mountains. The train ride did not disappoint. It was a very comfortable and enjoyable ride through so many different small towns. We went through produce farms and fish farms on the left side and a bit of the ocean on the right side of the train. We also went through 38 tunnels, cutting through the mountains and got a peek of a few rivers.
Zhiben Hot Springs was nothing like what I was expecting. I was literally expecting hot springs out in the wilderness with large rocks and lots of steam evaporating into the air. Instead, it was a small hotel with several man made pools at various temperatures. There were seven different pools to choose from, you are bound to find your perfect water temperature! The most popular one though is not so much for its water temperature, but rather for its feature – rolling massages using different water pressures.
Hot Springs Etiquette for the Newbies
As I am dazzling over this hot springs facility, everyone is already changing and getting into the water. I was totally lost and had no clue about the hot spring etiquette.
First you grab a large basket to place your belongings and semi-protect it from the elements, AKA water. You then call dibs on any dry area to place your basket and belongings. It’s pretty much a free-for-all and you can place your stuff anywhere. Then you grab your basket and change in a shower-fitting room. These shower rooms have a funky rotten egg smell, but not to worry, it is the water from the hot springs which is rich in minerals and other nature good funk, at least that’s what I told myself.
You have to be careful not to get your belongings wet, I was not very careful and got my towel wet. You can bring a little plastic chair to place your basket or use the hanging hooks to hang your stuff.
The place we went to is very safe and small, everyone leaves their backpacks around the pools in the dry areas. So just put your belonging inside the basket and enjoy and relax the hot springs. Make sure that you leave your slippers with your basket because you can’t walk with your dirty slippers in the pool areas.
What to Bring to Hot Springs
I was thankful I brought a one piece swimming suit, cap, and goggles. Why did I bring that unflattering one piece garment, you ask? Well, I was expecting to visit one of the many hot springs in Taiwan! You can’t come to Asia and not visit one, especially in Taiwan. A cap is required, for men and women, for short and long hair, unless you are bald of course. A one piece swimming suit for women is a LOT more comfortable when you are you enjoying the rolling water pressure massages. Especially if you like the stronger water pressure! You don’t want your tatas to be peeking out of your teeny-tiny bikini!
You should bring two towels to make your life easier. One little one for drying yourself throughout your stay when getting in and out of the pools and one regular size towel for after you shower and are ready to go back home.
There are also several saunas that fit one person. I’m not sure if the hotel provides it but just in case, bring a small amount of salt to exfoliate your body while enjoying the suffocating steam in the sauna.
The Hot Springs Experience
I felt like Goldilocks. This one is too cold, this one is too hot, this one is purr-fect. It was very very hot to my body at the beginning. My dad started splashing me with the hot water while I was giggling and whining that I was burning. After I got used to the water temperature, it was very relaxing. Although I was being a little sissy at the beginning, I was able to enjoy and test each of the seven pools.
When I was inside the 42.7 centigrade (or 108 Fahrenheit) pool, my grandma was ushering me to keep my chest out of the water. Apparently it’s not good for the heart to be submerged in those hot temperatures for too long. My dad said five minutes is good enough and then try to keep your upper body out of the pool.
Let me tell you about the water itself though. At first, the whole place had a funky rotten egg smell but you get use to it quickly. Then when you get in, the rocks are very porous and your feet have a nice friction while getting in. But once you get wet inside any of the pools, your enveloped in a very thin slimy coating all over. That’s the good stuff for the skin – water rich in minerals which is what all the rave is about. More slime please.
So I’m all caressing my skin and being amazed at how soft it felt… Wondering if this water is clean or not… But I figure, it must be clean. Otherwise, why would people flock to hot springs? I then tell myself to shut up and stop worrying about cooties.
After chillaxing in the smaller pools, I headed to the huge pool with the rolling high pressure water. This was very interesting. They have various pressures with various shapes and heights. You just gotta figure out your sweet spot and stay there until you fall asleep. The pools are all very shallow, the deepest pool is the coldest lap pool at maybe four feet deep.
I also got into the saunas to let the steam cleanse my skin. After rubbing salt all over on my body while in the sauna, my skin felt like a baby’s butt. I liked the saunas but it was hard to breath because it was so stanky and of course, there was so much steam.
To use the sauna, you have to use these communal blue slippers to protect your soles from the super hot concrete. Then you grab a small bucket of water and pour it inside the sauna barrel. Then, you set your preferred temperature by pushing on a blue lever at the foot of each of the sauna barrels; the higher the temperature, the more steam you will get. Now you get inside, close the door, sit, and enjoy. If you want to get the maximum amount of steam, you can even pull over this door covering up to your neck.
After an hour or two of hot spring-ing, it was time for lunch. It was as if we were back at the Mountain. Same set up and same tea station with same man being the tea pour-er. We had bento boxes, fresh fruits, and lots of tea to go around for everybody. The Mountain Fellowship comes so often that they have a little space in a storage room to keep their supplies, like the electric stove top, kettles, pots, and cups.
After lunch, we went back into the hot springs. We were at this place the entire day.
Let’s Go Back Home
When it was time to get ready, you get into the shower and clean yourself with hot springs water and use the shampoo and soap dispensers provided. Even though I didn’t use conditioner, my hair was so shiny and silky. After getting ready, I had some free time to roam around and appreciate the scenery. Who knows when I’ll ever be back.
Once everyone was ready, we headed to a balcony with tables and seating while we waited for the drivers to come pick us up to take us back to Zhiben Station. While waiting for 30 to 45 minutes, eggs were being boiled with hot springs and everyone was having their second lunch and snacking on eggs, pastries, and fruits.